Oct. 30, 2016

Breaking the Bias Cycle in Science

Article by Juliette Di Francesco (PhD student, Kutz lab, University of Calgary)

Implicit bias can be defined as the unconscious assumptions and stereotypes that influence our actions, perceptions and decisions. Everyone involuntarily tends to make associations between various entities, that can be both favorable and unfavorable, and these don’t necessarily line up with our asserted opinions. Implicit bias is currently a pretty hot topic, and a lot of research is being done in this field.

Implicit biases can have negative impacts on relationships, particularly in work environments, and can, in some cases, lead to isolation. Therefore, the NSERC CREATE Host-Parasites Interaction program organized a workshop, facilitated by Steven Vamosi (Associate Dean in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and Leslie Reid (Associate Dean in Teaching and Learning), to help us identify and mitigate these implicit biases.

We started out with an icebreaker activity during which we paired up with another trainee and shared something we didn’t know about each other. We then worked in groups on case studies. My group was assigned the case of a PhD student repeatedly interrupted, dismissed, and corrected by a Post-doctoral fellow from another lab during regular joint lab-meetings. We discussed what factors might be at play, how we should react in this type of situation, considering the benefits and risks of each action, and what could be done to prevent such a scenario. It was very useful to be faced with some examples of real-life situations, as we can easily be confronted with similar challenges, either as a bystander or the victim.

We finished by discussing how we can mitigate implicit biases in our everyday actions. We should always challenge our first impressions and stay open-minded (imagine ourselves in the other person’s shoes when we tend to judge quickly), express ourselves and share our feelings. We were also encouraged to think beyond credentials, remember to stay aware of other people, include others, and show people the same respect as the one we expect in return. Most important of all, the take-home message was that getting to know people is the key to better understanding their actions, decisions, and behaviors. 

HPI trainees thank Steve Vamosi and Leslie Reid for this enriching workshop, and for sharing their valuable knowledge and insight.