This semester, School of Nursing professor Suzanne Bakken needed a postdoctoral fellow to help her work through data relating to chronic illness in Washington Heights and Inwood. But the outside funding available to her was not quite enough to create the new position.
Bakken was nearly out of a much-needed research assistant. Instead, thanks to the provost’s diversity initiative, announced in April, she will have the chance to fund the fellowship for a woman or minority in a position in which they are severely under-represented.
“The initiative provided a new opportunity to recruit an additional post-doc, and, specifically, to reach beyond the type of individuals we have been recruiting in other postdoctoral programs,” Bakken said. “It allows us more resources to recruit a special candidate to the School of Nursing.” The Office of the Provost will pay approximately half of the cost of hiring Bakken’s additional postdoctoral fellow.
Through the new initiative, the University pledged $30 million to recruit and support women in the STEM sciences—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and underrepresented minorities across the University.
“The goal of our money ... is to more closely reflect the national pool of qualified candidates,” said Vice Provost of Academic Planning Andrew Davidson, the most senior administrator involved with the plans.
The $30 million—which is split evenly between funds from the central administration and funds pledged by individual schools—will be distributed over the next three years through a series of competitions between Columbia’s schools. Every few months, Davidson’s office will solicit requests for proposals to fund five different areas: postdoctoral fellows, junior faculty research, faculty recruitment, Ph.D. students, and undergraduate grants. The dean’s office from each school will submit candidates, and a committee, comprised of different members at each competition, will select several winners.
Proposals for funding post-docs were received on June 1, and the committee selected four schools to receive funding for one new post-doc in August: the School of Nursing, the Law School, the School of Social Work, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. A new set of proposals for faculty recruitments from underrepresented groups is due Oct. 1.
The qualifications for the best proposals will change for each of the five targeted positions. When it narrowed down the selections for post-docs, the committee asked, “How are you going to mentor this person? What support would you give to them to help them succeed?” Davidson said. “We want to hear that they are going to guarantee that they will have somebody advising that person who is experienced.”
The four schools that were chosen, Davidson said, had clearly demonstrated that those resources were guaranteed.
“It’s not just about hiring the post-docs—it’s about mentoring and helping them advance,” said Kuheli Dutt, the assistant director for academic affairs and diversity at Lamont-Doherty. The directors have not yet decided which division the new postdoctoral position will be assigned and is still working with the Office of the Provost to determine the exact amount of funds that the central administration will provide for the position. Dutt said that the observatory will search particularly for African-American and Hispanic applicants, who are under-represented among Lamont’s post-docs.
Davidson said that the guiding philosophy of the initiative is to support women and under-represented minorities during key points in their careers so that they are encouraged to pursue the fields they love. “We’re always working at transition points,” Davidson said. “The transition points are where I think we can do something because those are the leaks in the pipeline” that produces the next generation of academics.
“If we don’t have a system that produces black, Hispanic, or female scientists and engineers in proportion to their numbers in the population, or at least in proportion to the number that have interest in these fields, we’re basically losing a major portion of the talent pool,” Davidson said.
Bakken said she believes that this new initiative will help the School of Nursing confront these challenges. “Having that additional resource provided by the provost makes it very possible for us to recruit someone who we would not normally been able to recruit,” she said.