One of my favorite aspects of being a scientist is mentoring and training future scientists. As a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, I have had the opportunity to mentor more than a dozen young scientists. These scientists have gone on to careers in biotech and policy, or are continuing their education in graduate school. Several of these mentorships have resulted in peer-reviewed publications with the mentees (*) as co-authors:
N. Sirison*, N.P. Burnett (2019) Turbinaria ornata (Phaeophyta) varies size and strength to maintain environmental safety factor across flow regimes. Journal of Phycology. (PDF)
N.P. Burnett, A. Belk* (2018) Compressive strength of Mytilus californianus shell is time-dependent and can influence the potential foraging strategies of predators. Marine Biology 165: 42. (PDF)
A.R. Kothari*, N.P. Burnett (2017) Herbivores alter plant-wind interactions by acting as a point mass on leaves and by removing leaf tissue. Ecology and Evolution 7: 6884-6893. (PDF)
Science lessons in under-served schools As a graduate student at UC Berkeley I participated in the outreach program Bay Area Scientists in Schools that taught science lessons to elementary school students in under-served areas of the San Francisco Bay Area. During my time with this program, members of this program taught more than 100 lessons that reached more than 3,000 students.
Uncovering biases in postdoctoral interviews As a postdoctoral researcher, I have developed additional focus areas for outreach and broadening participation in science. I was a recipient of a 2017 National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology for Broadening Participation of Groups Underrepresented in Biology, and with this funding I began serving as a postdoctoral member on the Broadening Participation Committee for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, and I began conducting research projects to address barriers to postdoctoral researchers in biology. My first project from this initiative was recently published in the open access journal Integrative Organismal Biology:
N.P. Burnett, S.A. Combes (2019) Post-doc interviews in the life sciences: An often-overlooked process that is susceptible to bias. Integrative Organismal Biology. (PDF)
Project description: Postdoctoral research positions provide important experience and training to scientists from the time they finish graduate school until they secure a faculty position (or other permanent, higher position), yet many scientists from underrepresented groups leave academia after graduate school. In many disciplines or fields, interviews are one barrier that can prevent stigmatized individuals, such as individuals from underrepresented groups, from advancing their career. In the life sciences, interviews for postdoctoral positions are often conducted or arranged by a research group's principal investigator, who many not have the proper training or experience to design unbiased, standardized, or equitable interviews for numerous candidates. In this project we surveyed postdoctoral researchers in the life sciences to understand the types of interviews they experienced when applying for their postdoctoral positions.
We found that there was a wide range of interview styles and that some components of the interview were correlated with the demographics of the interviewee, as well as other aspects of the interview (e.g., whether it was held in-person or electronically). These results are likely due to implicit biases held by the principal investigator (or interviewing panel) that are exacerbated by poorly structured or planned interviews. In our short article, we urge principal investigators to pay more attention to the structure and style of their interviews with the aim of having standardized and equitable interviews across the candidate pool. Removing implicit biases from postdoctoral interviews could eliminate or reduce one of the barriers facing underrepresented minorities in the higher career stages of the life sciences.