The Department of Energy is seeking proposals to encourage diversity from grant applicants Science | Whuff News

Researchers seeking funding from the United States’ single-funder for the physical sciences will now need to think about how they can structure their efforts to encourage greater participation by researchers and students of color and other underrepresented groups.

This week, the Office of Science of the Department of Energy (DOE), which has a budget of 7.5 billion dollars, announced on its website that researchers are responding to funding opportunities, including those in the office of 10 national laboratories , should include Promoting Inclusion and Equality. Research (PIER) Plan at their request. “It must describe the applicant’s activities and plans to promote equity and inclusion as an integral part of advancing scientific excellence in the research project.” The plan cannot simply restate university or institution policy and will be evaluated as part of the application’s eligibility review.

“It’s timely and important for them to make this change,” said Nadya Mason, a physicist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who served as chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Minorities in Physics. “Prior to this, there is a feeling that the DOE is not concerned with the impacts that are not being investigated.” However, Apriel Hodari, a physicist and principal investigator of Eureka Scientific who studies the culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, says that the success of this initiative depends on researchers who approach their diversity efforts with the same kind of expertise that they use. their science. “If we’re not going to be that level of dishonesty, we’re just going to be bullshitting.”

The new requirement is just one part of the Office of Science’s broader efforts under the administration of President Joe Biden to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in both the organization and the working community. For example, the office’s Access to Science New Science Program aims to fund work at institutions that have previously been underrepresented in its research portfolio, such as minority-serving institutions. With new funding requirements, the Office of Science is now challenging DOE-supported researchers to contribute to the effort, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of the Office of Science, explains in a statement on the agency’s website.

“It is time to do more to encourage our research community to consider what contributions are see they can act to increase scientific participation and ensure that their scientific and environmental efforts are equal and inclusive,” says Berhe, who grew up in Eritrea and was the first person of color to direct the Office of Science. “Everyone has a role to play.

Historically, DOE’s support fields are among the least diverse in science. For example, in the United States between 1999 and 2020, Black people earned just 0.5% of Ph.Ds in physics. The new requirement puts the DOE more in line with the National Science Foundation, which has long required grant applicants to report on the broader impact their research will have, notes Mason, who has funding from both agencies.

The biggest challenge will be to keep researchers from treating the requirement as just another checkbox or interfering with the work of smaller scientists, Hodari says. He says: “It’s usually the first time people ask, they need anyone they think can help them and ask them, ‘We did this.'” Hodari, who is black, says he was treated like that when he worked behind a doctor. Much has been written about what works best in promoting diversity, he says, but it is the researcher’s responsibility to read the material and take it seriously. “You have to do your homework,” he said. “I don’t expect a middle schooler to walk into a quantum theory class and understand tensor calculus, do I?”

Another potential pitfall is that researchers will interpret the requirement to mean they need to come up with elaborate plans, when something simpler might be more effective, Mason said. If, say, 5% of the grant goes to various issues, then “I’d like to see that 5% go to really high-quality training and educational experiences for one or two students a year, rather than to a very broad program that nobody really puts enough into.” or attention or effort.” Mason says he hopes the DOE will provide education on what efforts work best. However, the DOE website states that, as every project is different, it will not provide examples of good PIER plans.

Still, Mason says, he’s encouraged by the initiative. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “I believe that most physicists—even most white physicists—need a diverse community and representation.” The DOE will now require them to consider the issue.

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