Leading Diversity Initiatives as an Early Career Toxicologist

The following article by BDRP member Lauren Walker, PhD, Rutgers University, was originally published in a special “Postdocs Embracing Diversity in Toxicology” issue of The POST-Y, the newsletter of the Society of Toxicology Postdoctoral Assembly. Dr. Walker is currently co-chair of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and a member of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (BDRP) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group. 

Who am I? Why am I serving on IDE committees?

I am a developmental toxicologist studying how environmental chemicals negatively affect placental function. My research seeks to understand how chemicals cause placental toxicity and to determine new strategies to prevent high-risk pregnancies.

I serve on IDE committees because science and higher education have historically been out of reach for many groups of people. Over the last 50 years, we have made a number of achievements toward greater inclusion but there is still more work to do.

How can other interested individuals join?

Reach out within the societies of which you are already a member. Many scientific societies have IDE committees and are often looking for early career researchers to add their perspectives.

How do my personal identities influence my role on IDE committees?

Growing up, I was fortunate to make friends with people from different backgrounds. Through my friendships, I learned about the carousel of life paths and challenges that face different people. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to making scientific training and higher education accessible for everyone. I often refer back to these early life experiences when discussing potential initiatives during committee meetings.

What are the missions of FASEB and BDRP? Who makes up the membership?

BDRP is an international research organization focused on birth defects prevention with about 500-600 members. Its membership includes scientists and physicians specializing in developmental biology, toxicology, epidemiology, obstetrics, and more.

FASEB is a coalition of 29 scientific member societies and over 130,000 researchers with the common goal of developing and promoting policies to advance research.

How did FASEB and BDRP respond to the calls for anti-racism in 2020 including the BlackLivesMatter movement and the ShutdownSTEM movements?

Between 2019 and 2020, the BDRP was discussing the need to advance DEI efforts within the society. The events of 2020 accelerated the pace of those efforts and the establishment of a formal DEI workgroup. Our 2019-2020 President, Christine Curran, also authored a message to members in response to the BLM movement and invited me to author a blog about what people could do individually to address systemic racism.

Likewise, the FASEB DEI Committee doubled-down on its efforts and concluded 2020 with a draft of a concrete, multi-year strategic action plan to address current IDE challenges. The plan will be finalized in the first half of this year.

What future IDE steps are under consideration or development for FASEB and BDRP?

I’m excited that intersectionality is now on the radar of the BDRP and FASEB DEI Committees. By considering the interconnected nature of different identities including ethnicity, socioeconomic class, neurodivergence, (visible and invisible) disability, and gender as we develop programming, we can start to develop effective IDE programming that serves more people.

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