Damon Runyon News

October 6, 2020

By Damon Runyon Fellow Tikvah K. Hayes, PhD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School

Mentors serve integral roles in molding the next generation of scientists. When I started my postdoctoral fellowship, I was a member of Dr. Levi Garraway’s laboratory and was extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of having a Black mentor guiding me as I developed my independent research program. Unexpectedly, 6 months into my fellowship Dr. Garraway accepted a position at Eli Lilly and dissolved his laboratory. With his departure, I found myself in an environment without any Black research faculty mentors, wondering how I should move forward. I was fortunate to join a neighboring laboratory and am ever grateful for the opportunities and support my current mentor, Dr. Matthew Meyerson, has provided over the last few years.

Unlike many of my colleagues, mentors who share my experiences are scarce in the current academic landscape. The search for Black mentors in my specific field led me beyond my institution and even my state. As I survey the academic landscape, I keep circling back to the low representation of Black faculty in STEM. This is too often attributed solely to a weak pipeline, but that is only a piece of the problem. Many qualified Black faculty candidates aren’t getting the same opportunities as their colleagues, as is reflected in data collected by the NIH, which argues that without intentional intervention the disparity will continue to grow. Tackling this impediment will require significant institutional investment and a strong commitment to creating a more diverse environment. As I think about the next generation of scientists, I believe they deserve to have mentors that are reflections of them. You can’t aspire to become what you can’t see.

Originally published in Cancer CellDiversity Drives American Science