Social Media for the Latina Scientist

By Leticia Cano, Ph.D.

When I began my postdoctoral training at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2006, I was shocked to hear that I was the only Hispanic minority postdoctoral fellow in the entire institute. I was the first choice from a nationwide search for a proteomics position and my interview was all about the science. Somehow my minority status became a big deal after I arrived. I was thrilled to be doing the science; but, I never expected to feel so isolated. In the entire Clinical Center, I found only two other Mexican-Americans. So I began looking for others outside of NIH and had success at a Las Comadres meeting. From their website, this is a “city-based community building/networking group for Latinas to learn about and celebrate the Latino culture and share professional, social, and cultural connections”. There I met a comadre (female friend) who introduced me to the President of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) who invited me to join the AWIS diversity task force. The task force recognized that underrepresented minority women faculty members are nearly invisible so the organization was looking for ways to increase the numbers. Networking was identified as a priority. The AWIS database contained contact information of women who self-identified themselves as Hispanic, Native American, or African American. I began to network with the Hispanic members using the social media tool LinkedIn. About 40% of the targeted AWIS members joined LinkedIn and then connected with me as a contact. Many of the women wrote that they were the only Latina scientists in their program or department. I initially tried to introduce Latina scientists to other such scientists but found this to be time consuming. Therefore, the Latina Scientist LinkedIn group was started to allow members to “virtually” see each other and then network on their own.

Social media can be used to find people with similar interests; and, it is also useful for obtaining information/advice on diverse topics such as moving to a new state, buying real estate, apartment hunting, and job searching. One can also inquire about professional science topics such as the institutional climate, tenure process, salary, grants, collaborations, equipment resources, and educational opportunities. Latina scientists are invited to join the groups listed below. Note that at the 2009 SACNAS annual conference, the LinkedIn and Facebook tools were described by SACNAS staff persons Tanya Beat and Nancy Rocha. The slide presentation from the workshop can be downloaded here.

If you are uncomfortable with social media (and many people are), the best way to meet minority scientists face-to-face is to attend the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) annual conference. I have also met many female contacts at the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) local chapter meetings. By building a support network, future Latina scientists may not have to face the challenge of being la unica (the only one).

Latina Scientist AWIS SACNAS

Leticia Cano, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Nevada, Reno and founder of the Latina Scientist groups. Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Image credit: Prawny/
The citation for this article is:
L. Cano (2010) Social Media for the Latina Scientist. DiverseScholar 1:1.

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last updated 3-Jan-2011,
originally published 1-Feb-2010