Diversity as a Life Skill: Collaborations between SACNAS and the NPA

By Alberto I. Roca, Ph.D.

There is strength in numbers and resilience in multiple talents. Through participation in the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) annual meeting and committee activities, postdocs not only exercise these qualities, but they also explore communication and leadership skills that complement the technical training inherent in research projects. The capacity for productive professional relationships is critical for postdocs who move into managerial positions such as principal investigators or administrators. Interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds further enhances these skills. The NPA Diversity Committee is your resource for learning about issues facing minorities in the sciences as well as diversity topics in general.

Over the last two years, the NPA Diversity Committee has been collaborating with members of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (www.SACNAS.org) to provide resources and events that champion postdoctoral diversity issues. SACNAS has over 30 years of experience encouraging underrepresented students to pursue graduate education for science research, leadership, and teaching careers. Their phenomenal success was recognized by a 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the National Science Foundation. My efforts to help SACNAS with postdoctoral issues were influenced by the wonderful collaborations that resulted from the first annual NPA meeting in Berkeley, CA. Early members of the NPA Diversity Committee came together at that meeting to support mutual interests in underrepresented postdocs. Recently, this cause was institutionalized by the SACNAS Board of Directors through the creation of the Postdoc Committee that is co-chaired by SACNAS Board member Dr. Lidia Yoshida and myself. Participation in SACNAS activities is open to everyone.

The growing relationship between the SACNAS Postdoc and NPA Diversity Committees has brought strength in numbers enabling the co-organization of several landmark events. The first collaborative effort occurred at the second COSEPUP Convocation on Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience in April 2004. A breakout session was moderated by Dr. Arti Patel (then Diversity Committee chair), Ms. Melanie Sinche (Director, Office of Postdoctoral Services, UNC-Chapel Hill), and myself that focused on the theme “Diversity in Science: Promoting the Success of Minority Postdocs”. [Session summary notes]

Later that same year at the 2004 SACNAS annual conference in Austin, TX, a Minority Postdoc Summit gave funding organizations and academic institutions the opportunity to discuss best practices for recruiting, mentoring, and promoting underrepresented postdoctoral scholars. The organizers were Dr. Arti Patel, SACNAS postdoctoral member Dr. Juana Rudati, and myself. (More details were in the fall 2004 issue of the POSTDOCket.) Additionally, NPA administrator, Kenetia Thompson, and postdoctoral volunteers from around the country staffed a joint NPA-SACNAS exhibition booth. NPA materials were distributed and questions were answered from among the 2000+ conference attendees. Planning is in progress for postdoctoral activities at the 2005 SACNAS annual conference in Denver, Colorado from September 29 to October 2. In particular, there will be a career development workshop on diversity postdoctoral fellowships. The program officers on the panel are Dr. Anthony Rene of NIH NIGMS, Dr. Michael Sesma of NIH NIMH, Dr. Barbara Kneebone of the National Research Council/Ford Foundation, Ms. Carter Kimsey of NSF, and Dr. John Carlos Garza representing the University of California Office of the President. [Current conference and postdoc events]

Most recently during the 2005 NPA annual conference in San Diego, California, a panel on “Perspectives in Diversity” was organized by Dr. Jabbar Bennett (Office for Diversity and Community Partnership, Harvard Medical School), Dr. Arti Patel, and myself. Speakers included Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Montoya (a cultural anthropologist and member of the Chicano/Latino Studies Program at the University of California, Irvine) and SACNAS Executive Director Dr. Refugio Rochin. Dr. Montoya noted that the language of a diversity “pipeline” can have particular social ramifications. A pipeline literally extracts natural resources and transports them a long distance for refinement and consumption. The final product can be unrecognizable to its original form. Thus, how does the scientific enterprise ensure that the minority talent pool is not, figuratively, treated like a gasoline commodity for burning? To begin to address these issues, Dr. Rochin described how SACNAS uses its conference, newsletter, and chapter meetings to provide an environment where students, postdocs, and professionals can practice their science without compromising their cultural heritage.

We invite you to participate in these activities. You will find this experience to be truly rewarding as you strengthen your diversity skills. More information about these events can be found at the Diversity Committee page of the NPA website as well as at www.minoritypostdoc.org. The latter website is maintained by the SACNAS Postdoc Committee and is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Alberto I. Roca, Ph.D. is co-chair of the SACNAS Postdoc Committee, a member of the NPA Diversity Committee, and a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Irvine.


The Diversity Panel at the 2005 NPA annual conference. From left to right: Jabbar Bennett, Refugio Rochin, Arti Patel, Michael Montoya, and moderator Christopher Blagden.


The Postdoc Booth at the 2004 SACNAS annual conference. From left to right: Mia Ong, Alberto Roca, Juana Rudati, Lorena Navarro, Tasha Belfiore, Jabbar Bennett, and Arti Patel.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of the NPA POSTDOCket. The original article on page 5 can be downloaded here.

last updated 12-Sep-2006