Black, Hispanic, Latino, and American Indian people account for roughly 40 percent of the United States population. But in oceanography, fewer than 10 percent work as researchers and scientists. Diversifying the marine science community is a core mission of a National Science Foundation-funded science and technology center based at WHOI, called the Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP).
This fall, six recent college graduates joined the C-CoMP community as the inaugural Bridge-to-PhD fellowship class to expand racial as well as cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic representation in ocean sciences.
For the next two years, the fellows will be financially supported by C-CoMP and mentored by scientists and postdoctoral students from WHOI and several participating universities. They will work in labs and at sea on research specific to their science interests and career goals, gain experience needed to strengthen their graduate school applications, and prepare academically for the rigors of graduate degrees and doctoral work.
Their involvement is an opportunity to continue diversifying the marine science community, said Dr. Liz Kujawinski, director of C-CoMP. Diversity provides fresh perspectives to address current and future global problems, like climate change
“If we don’t have all on hands on deck, from a broad range of communities, we lose the chance to incorporate everyone’s creativity into the challenges we face,” Kujawinski said.
In September, the fellows arrived at WHOI and at universities in Georgia, New York, and Ohio. In addition to regular meetings with their on-campus host mentors, they engage in ongoing virtual discussions with C-CoMP personnel on a variety of science-related topics, including proposal writing, ethics in research, and science communication.
The fellows eventually hope to be role models for others who share their backgrounds.
Carl Gibson, 23, a fellow studying marine microbiology at The Ohio State University, said that he was one of a few Black students in science classes at his Sacramento high school. He found the same while earning a biochemistry degree at the University of Chicago.
“I never had a Black STEM professor,” he said. “It can be difficult to imagine success in a field where no one looks like you.”
The Bridge-to-PhD fellowship in C-CoMP is modeled after the successful Bridge to the PhD Program in STEM hosted by Columbia University. Operating since 2008, Columbia’s program sees more than 80 percent of its scholars pursue graduate study in STEM disciplines, said program director Dr. Kwame Osei-Sarfo. Others have pursued advanced degrees in business, law, and medicine.
For consideration, Bridge-to-PhD fellowship in C-CoMP applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree and show an interest in pursuing graduate work in ocean sciences, such as through college coursework, internships, or laboratory experience.
As a group, the fellows meet several times annually for professional development. In October, this included three days at WHOI. In early April, the group will travel to Bermuda for team building and training in oceanography, including hands-on sample collection and science communication lessons at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.
In their applications, the diverse group shared a common intent: to bring what they learn back to their communities. Below, the six fellows provide snapshots of their paths to the fellowship and their visions for the future.