How scientific societies can make science more inclusive — through travel

Travel awards — small grants to support attendance of scientific conferences — offer a unique opportunity to recruit and support underrepresented minorities into scientific research and careers, according to a new report and analysis published earlier this summer.

The authors of the article, published in the journal CBE—Life Sciences Education, are contributors to ACCESS, a meta-organization of diversity and inclusion initiatives across multiple scientific societies, among them CSUN Professor of Biology MariaElena Zavala. The coauthors first make the case that travel awards can pay unique dividends for recruiting of URM students and developing their careers, then examine the characteristics of the travel award programs run by ACCESS member societies, and survey responses from recipients of travel awards given out by the American Society of Cell Biology.

On the one hand, scientific conferences are a key venue in scientists’ professional development, providing venues to present their research and to meet and network with peers and senior colleagues; but on the other, registration for conferences and the travel and lodging expenses for attendance is a substantial barrier to students with reduced economic resources. Travel awards can reduce the disparity associated with access to conferences and associated events, the authors note, and can be linked to formal professional development resources and programming to further benefit recipients. Moreover, receipt of an award and attendance of a conference can substantially improve a student’s sense of belonging in science, and motivation to continue in the field.

The full report is available on the journal website.