Microbiologists For Diversity

October 22, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

At age 11, Ariangela Kozik set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. This venture into science was the start of a lifelong love of science for Kozik, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at U-M where she studies microbes that live in our lungs.

Kozik and others recently planned Black in Microbiology, a week of virtual events that highlighted the value scientists from minority backgrounds bring to the field. The events drew thousands of attendees from across the university and the globe.

(left to right) Ariangela J. Kozik, PhD, Filipe Cerqueira BS, PhD Student, Chelsey Spriggs, PhD

Finding inspiration  

Black in Microbiology week (#BlackInMicro) formed in the wake of similar events for different disciplines that were held during the summer. During Black in Neurology week, Kozik and Dr. Kishana Taylor realized the importance of such events and spoke about starting something similar for microbiology. 

“We’re in a pandemic caused by a microorganism that has disproportionately affected minority populations here in the U.S.,” Kozik said. ”Dr. Taylor and I saw it as more important than ever to work on the representation of black microbiologists in our field so we can help identify and overcome the structural and systemic barriers that lead to devastating impacts from things like COVID-19 in certain populations.”

A team of microbiologists and science communicators formed to create Black in Microbiology, an organization devoted to the development, representation, and engagement of Black microbiologists in the scientific community and the general public at large.

Kozik and the team got to work, but with the planning beginning at the end of July and their hope to host events in the fall, time was short. Fortunately, the push for visibility gained major boosts from publications like the New York Times

A successful debut

The week-long event started at the end of September and wrapped up at the start of October. It was a big success — reporting more than 3,000 registrants from all over the world. In fact, every continent except Antarctica was represented and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Like similar events, Black in Microbiology week was hosted entirely through virtual platforms such as Twitter and Zoom. Topics covered many things under the microbiology umbrella, including the novel coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement.

“We hope to dispel the notion that the talent pool for Black scientists does not exist,” said Chelsey Spriggs, a research fellow in cell and developmental biology at U-M. 

It is part of the team’s mission to connect scientists together and build a community of knowledge and support. With #BlackInMicro, they did just that.  While advancing ongoing work, they are also able to share experiences and learn from one another. 

“Representation is important.” said Filipe Cerqueira, another Ph.D. student at U-M who participated in the events. “More often than not, we are one of only a few like us in a room. Isolation becomes a hindrance when you’re trying to be successful and no one around you has similar life experiences for you to relate to.” 

Along with representation, support and visibility are needed for minorities in certain fields. Black in Microbiology was right on time. 

“The best way to overcome barriers is to support black scientists that are interested in dismantling those barriers,” Cerquiera said.

Looking to the future

The future of Black in Microbiology as an organization is bright. The team behind it has plans for K-12 engagement designed to inspire future generations of scientists. 

“We look forward to planning additional programming and cultivating partnerships with institutions, funders, agencies and companies,” Kozik said. “Once those are in place, I’m excited to see where we can go from here.”

Website: https://blackinmicrobiology.org/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlackInMicro
Email: black.in.microbiology@gmail.com

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