One topic I have been mulling over for a while but have resisted posting on is minority recruitment. Everyone knows that attracting grad school applications to life science programs from minority students is an issue, but the million dollar question is what to do about it. I don't have the answer and it is something I have been banging my head on for a while.
The problem of getting applications, in reality, is an institutional issue. If you look at any success story, such as the UMBC Meyerhoff Scholarship program, two things jump out: A university commitment to attracting and retaining minority faculty, and 2) Putting money towards minority grad student recruitment in the form of scholarships. The good news is that my university is already doing #2 and working aggressively (at least in my college, I can't speak for others) towards improving on #1. However, as it currently stands, we get next to zero (and actually zero last year) minority applicants for the life science graduate programs I am associated with. We have scholarships NOT BEING FILLED because we don't have the applicants. This drives me crazy.
Unfortunately, our college minority recruitment effort is aimed exclusively at undergraduates. When I talked to the individual in charge of this effort, it was clear that they had never considered grad students. The grad school also has someone in charge of minority recruitment, but in after a half hour meeting I was more convinced than ever that the grad school is ineffective in this charge and does not appear to have a strategy beyond "hand out fliers". At all.
So, how does a white male PI recruit minority students to his lab? IME, the only time I have been able to cultivate any interest has been after individual discussions at conferences. Even then, I can't compete with some of the programs that can swoop in and offer more money and a bigger name. The student needs to make the best choice for them and I need to continue to attempt to make my lab an attractive place to minority students. But the catch22 remains - it's hard to foster a diverse lab culture when applicants are so non-diverse. I'm going to see what I can do to help the recruiting effort this fall, so ideas and suggestions would be welcomed.