Dr. Carolyn Brinkworth shares research about diversity in science with campus

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Brinkworth presents research on the critical nature of bringing diversity into science labs. AVERILL MEININGER / THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary welcomed Dr. Carolyn Brinkworth to campus April 17 to speak with students, professors and community members about diversity in science. Her presentation, “The Power of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence in Geosciences,” specifically analyzed the successes that diverse individuals have pioneered within their academic domains.   

Brinkworth is the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Her work at UCAR has focused on developing more diverse environments in research laboratories, in hopes of bolstering opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM. 

Brinkworth was introduced by Rowan Lockwood, a professor of geology at the College. Lockwood highlighted the achievements, education and career accomplishments that had led Brinkworth to her current work. 

“I met Carolyn at a workshop that she helped to facilitate in Boulder, Colorado and I was really impressed with what she had to say about diversity and inclusion in the geosciences and how she said it,” Lockwood said. “She has really great on the ground experience of working in this field and finding and identifying allies.” 

After this brief introduction, Brinkworth began her talk by conducting an exercise where members of the audience partnered up and asked the question “Who are you?” to one another for a minute. Through this exercise, Brinkworth pointed out that diversity can be so many other things than what initially meets the eye. 

“We make so many sweeping generalizations about people and about what people believe and what people think and how people are going to react based on what we think their identities are, and people are so much more than what we can see,” Brinkworth said. 

“We make so many sweeping generalizations about people and about what people believe and what people think and how people are going to react based on what we think their identities are, and people are so much more than what we can see,” Brinkworth said. 

After this brief exercise, she segued into discussing how people should conceptualize their identities in science. She stressed the importance of valuing your identity in science, and supported this claim by presenting the research of several other individuals including Scott Page, an economist at California Institute of Technology.  

Brinkworth explained that Page has done extensive work looking into diverse versus homogeneous groups in order to understand which type of group will function more successfully. Page’s research demonstrates that the diverse groups consistently complete better work. 

“He found that diverse groups routinely out-performed homogeneous groups, who are comprised of the highest individual performers,” Brinkworth said. “You get a bunch of individual performers, the best performers, and they all look the same  they’re going to be less effective than diverse groups.” 

Brinkworth revealed that the reason behind success in diverse groups stems from how they think together. Diverse groups think more creatively, examine more solutions to complex problems, and promote higher order thinking within themselves. Brinkworth continued this conversation by delving into the “why” of inclusive excellence, detailing the importance of different heuristics in solving complex tasks. She then explained that when individuals know ahead of time that a group will be more diverse, they anticipate differences of opinion, and will subsequently prepare and refine their arguments more effectively in advance.  

 Brinkworth’s presentation emphasized the importance of avoiding complacency in expanding diversity of thought in academic environments. According to Brinkworth, people must surround themselves with people who think differently than themselves to maximize critical thought, and, when applying this concept to science, Brinkworth informed the audience that papers published by diverse groups are often better received than ones written by homogenous groups.  

In closing her talk, Brinkworth emphasized how individuals can most effectively approach improving diversity in their academic and professional environments. She explained that change will not come if it is forced upon people; instead, change comes when it is talked about and its benefits are clearly visible. 

“The last thing I want to say to you all is really thinking about, [being] very, very clear about why you’re trying to make change,” Brinkworth said. “And communicate that ‘why. You don’t get to make change unless you can make the argument to people about why diversity is important. And those changes need to be communicated both in terms of data and statistics but also in terms of people’s personal stories.” 

After listening to Dr. Carolyn Brinkworth speak, Tricia Thibodeau Ph.D ’19 expressed her thoughts on the presentation and how it uniquely applied to her role as a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. 

“We’re in the process, not only VIMS but all of William and Mary, of having these diversity, equity, and inclusion task forces, where we are trying to identify where William and Mary can improve in issues of diversity,” Thibodeau said. “I felt it was important to come to this talk to hear a different perspective on doing diversity and inclusion at a different institute.”

“We’re in the process, not only VIMS but all of William and Mary, of having these diversity, equity and inclusion task forces, where we are trying to identify where William and Mary can improve in issues of diversity,” Thibodeau said. “I felt it was important to come to this talk to hear a different perspective on doing diversity and inclusion at a different institute.” 

Thibodeau said she appreciated Brinkworth’s mention of several specific steps that can be taken to improve diversity in offices, including managing departmental change. She also felt it was crucial to talk about some of the underlying issues surrounding the lack of minority students in sciences, and highlighted the challenges in establishing change and enhancing diversity in education. 

“I think one thing that is hard, regardless of your STEM field, is that it takes more than one person,” Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes in higher education it can be difficult to find your niche, in terms of where you can make a difference.” 

Brinkworth explained that although there is an arduous path ahead to reach greater diversity in sciences, the results of change will be worth it in the future.  

“Diversity makes science better,” Brinkworth said.   

“Diversity makes science better,” Brinkworth said.