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Written by: Alia Hidayat and Eeshan Bhatt

 

Black scientists and students are underrepresented in higher education, especially in oceanography. Despite making up 12.7% of the US population1, just 6% of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2017 and just 7% of doctorate recipients from 1998 and 2018 were Black.2,3 This disparity is particularly stark in ocean sciences, where just 58 doctorate degrees were awarded to Black students from 1976 to 2016, a little over 1% of the total degrees given.4 This is attributed to a variety of reasons, including a dearth of representative mentors, different career interests, implicit or unconscious bias during various selection processes, and other socio-economic disparities. 5

 

Improving diversity and representation in all areas is critical in order to identify and solve problems experienced by all communities; the power of the scientific method relies on bringing in diverse voices and experiences. By collaborating across various viewpoints, we expand the space in which we can observe, measure, and experiment on hypotheses. In addition to structural changes to remove barriers to higher education for Black students and faculty, there is a need for increased visibility of the achievements of the individuals already existing in these fields, which are often erased in mainstream narratives. Black History Month was created in part to do just this. Black History Month was created in 1926 by African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher Carter G. Woodson.6 It was officially recognized in 1976 by Gerald Ford, who advocated for the celebration as a way to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”6 In elementary and middle school we often learned about famous Black Americans and their important contributions to American history; rarely did we learn about scientists, especially modern ones. We feel it is critical to rectify this. For prospective and current students in science, the ability to see role models and pathways in science inspires confidence.

 

In this vein, the Broader Impacts Group will be publishing a series on the accomplishments of just a few Black scientists in marine sciences to celebrate Black History Month. Graduate student writers will highlight a Black scientist in their field of expertise and discuss their scientific contributions and broader impacts. As graduate students, we want to convey the importance of this science in our fields and the broader impacts that everyone can appreciate. 

 

Keep an eye out for our first post this Friday, February 7th on a Woods Hole local figure: Dr. Ambrose Jearld! 

 

References: 

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates – 2011-2015. Retrieved from: https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk
  2. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). The Condition of Education 2019 (NCES 2019-144), Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty.
  3.  NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) (2019, December 3). Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities 2018. Retrieved from: https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf20301/report/u-s-doctorate-awards#race-and-ethnicity
  4. Bernard, R.E., Cooperdock, E.H.G. No progress on diversity in 40 years. Nature Geosci 11, 292–295 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0116-6.
  5.  Hodapp, T., Brown, E. (2018, May 30). Making physics more inclusive. Nature. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05260-
  6.  The Library of Congress, About African American History Month. Retrieved from: https://africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about/

 

Eeshan Bhatt is a NDSEG Fellow at the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in the Mechanical Engineering and Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering Departments. Alia Hidayat is an NSF GRFP Fellow in the Biological Oceanography Department. The views expressed in this post are entirely their own.

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