Queer in STEM Symposium seeks to improve path for LGBTQ scientists at Yale
A recent study in Science Advances confirmed what many LGBTQ students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) already know: They are more likely to feel excluded in science programs and less likely to remain in those fields.
It’s the same concern that led Eric Patridge — who completed his postdoctoral research at Yale in 2012 and was a research associate at the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery — to found the organization oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), which seeks to give LGBTQ students and postdocs a supportive community to help them continue in their chosen field. The organization now has 116 chapters at colleges and universities across the country, including both an undergraduate and graduate chapter at Yale.
“Credibility is a major thing LGBTQ people face in their careers,” says Patridge, who is now a knowledge engineer at the biotech startup Viome. “They are not necessarily given the opportunity to be at the table, to be heard, and to have leadership roles.”
Patridge points to a study he led in 2014 that showed a lack of support for LGBTQ faculty and persistent “heteronormative climates” in the sciences. The study showed that faculty who were out often felt marginalized and were more likely to leave their chosen fields. “Being out in STEM fields did affect their careers,” Patridge says.
Maria Trumpler ’86 M.Phil., ’92 Ph.D., director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources and senior lecturer in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale, says she can relate to the feeling of isolation that comes from being different in the sciences. She left her study of physiology in graduate school because she was the only female student and there were no female faculty.
“I thought: ‘I’m one of the guys, it’s no problem,’” Trumpler says. “But I was so lonely and isolated. No one wanted to have conversations. In retrospect, they didn’t know what to make of me.” Trumpler instead pursued a degree in the history of medicine and the life sciences.
The brightly colored, art-and-poster-adorned LGBTQ Resources Center where Trumpler has her office — housed in the former School of Management space on campus — aims to alleviate some of the alienation LGBTQ student, staff, and faculty scientists may feel. Trumpler says the center now sees about 70 visitors a day, up from 30 per day last year, and they pride themselves on being “comfortable and low-key” with a welcoming policy and baking supplies always on hand in the center’s kitchen.
The resource center is also the meeting space for the graduate chapter of oSTEM, which is hosting the first Queer in STEM Symposium at Yale on April 12. Mac Crite ’18 M.Phil., who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale and studies viruses in Daniel DiMaio’s lab, started oSTEM.grad at Yale in 2015 with Chris Lim ’16 M.Phil. because no group like it existed on campus. They were motivated by the Queer in STEM Project, which has been tracking outcomes for LGBTQ people in STEM since 2012 and has highlighted the importance of more welcoming and supportive work environments.
“The ‘Queer in STEM’ study is how we proved to the administration that our group would be important,” says Crite, who uses they/them pronouns. “Students and professors are less likely to feel comfortable and be out in science departments. We wanted to change some of those cultural differences.”
While there are still relatively few faculty self-identifying as queer, Crite says oSTEM has helped bring together more LGBTQ scientists at Yale, provides a social network, and “supports any issues that may arise.”
The Queer in STEM Symposium will bring to campus the researchers instrumental in uncovering outcomes for LGBTQ scientists — Jeremy Yoder, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the California State University-Northridge; Daniel Cruz-Ramirez de Arellano, an instructor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of South Florida; and Joey Nelson, a postdoctoral Thinking Matters Fellow Stanford University. These researchers behind the Queer in STEM study have recently launched the second version of their survey about LGBTQ experiences in scientific and technical careers. Crite says the symposium will offer students the opportunity to hear from out scientists about their careers and work and will serve as an important validation.
“I’m hoping it’s a way for people to get together who are inclusive and supportive of those who are queer — to show queer scientists that there are people out there willing to support them,” they said.