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Joint MSU, U-M Project Studying Effect of Inclusivity On STEM Faculty Receives $1.4M NSF Grant

hands put together for teamwork

CLIMBS-UP, a collaborative research project between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan (U-M) to study inclusive environments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) within academia, has been awarded a three-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Photo of Kendra Cheruvelil

Dr. Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, professor in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the MSU Lyman Briggs College.

Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, a professor in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the MSU Lyman Briggs College, and Isis Settles, a professor in the U-M Department of Psychology and the U-M Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, lead a multi-institutional team of researchers investigating how inclusivity affects outcomes of early career scholars in STEM fields.

“In our past work, we learned about the ways that open science can increase community-engagement in science, how power dynamics affect the authorship decisions that often determine academic success, and how team climate affects career outcomes in academia, especially for people from marginalized groups,” Cheruvelil said. “This new grant allows us to broaden our scope to study new disciplines, all with the goal of helping to broaden participation in academic STEM careers.”

The project team also includes:

  • Kevin Elliott, a professor in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the MSU Department of Philosophy and the MSU Lyman Briggs College.
  • Georgina Montgomery, an associate professor in the MSU Department of History and the MSU Lyman Briggs College.
  • Erin Cech, an assistant professor and associate graduate director in the U-M Department of Sociology.

The project will be built on the organizational theory of Person-Environment Fit, which suggests that career outcomes are improved when an organization’s work environment matches the needs, skills and values of its employees.

Researchers contend that for individuals in underrepresented groups to flourish, they must be in inclusive climates where differences are valued and everyone is welcome. For example, Cheruvelil said authorship of publications is an important measure of academic success and is a critical area to introduce more inclusive practices.

“Most previous research has focused on inclusive climates in a scholar’s department,” Settles said. “An innovative aspect of our project is that in addition to the department, we examine inclusive climates within research groups and in the larger profession. We think that inclusive climates at all three levels inform early career scholars’ decisions about entering or persisting in academic careers.”

The project will involve quantitative online surveys of 3,500 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and assistant professors in 120 STEM departments across the country. Using a technique called structural equation modeling, researchers will quantify the effect of inclusive climates on career outcomes of scholars at three career stages, in departments with varying institutional prestige, and in disciplines with different norms and cultures.

The team will focus on four STEM fields — biology, economics, physics and psychology — in which racial minority representation in faculty is low and gender representation is either low or moderate.

Cheruvelil said the results will be shared broadly, with the goal of reducing barriers to career advancement for underrepresented, early-career scholars.

Settles added: “The interdisciplinarity of our team has allowed us to study diversity in STEM fields using insights from many disciplines, which is a tremendous strength of our collaboration.”

 – Cameron Rudolph via College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

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