The Recipe for Success for Minorities in Academia

  • April 14, 2022
iJOBS Blog

By Adriana Jones

We always focus on the future and things will be better (wrong approach); everyday do something you enjoy and make one step at a time towards your goals. – Dr. Renata

Choosing a career path with multiple directions seems daunting enough. With a PhD, there are so many avenues that you can traverse to incorporate your interests, skills, and personal goals. At the same time, what if you had to consider other factors such as equality, diversity, or perhaps scrutiny from colleagues? The reality of being a minority amongst your peers may feel like a magnifying glass focused on you, expecting only perfection at all times. There is always competition amongst colleagues, and everyone should be placed on a level playing field.  The panel of phenomenal women from the “Women from Under-represented Groups in Academic Biology” event hosted by iJOBS shared great insights into their journeys to becoming successful academics, regardless of their ethnicity or gender.

The most commonly asked question for career panelists was what was your drive to pursue academia versus industry. Everyone had their own opinion on what is important in choosing a career. However, a common theme amongst all the women was the desire to perform your own research and have a sense of independence and autonomy. Working in industry, you may not have the time for independent research since your priorities must align with the goals of the company. For those individuals who seek independent research, working in academia might be right for you.

You don’t have to have life planned or know what career path, but keep your eyes and ears open for certain moments. – Dr. Rivera

Once settled on a career path in academia, the panelists provided advice on factors that can make you more successful in your job hunt or in your career. There is “not a straight road” for success, as stated by one of the panelists. A solid background and expertise in your field will help you climb the academic ladder, however, be aware that you must crawl before you climb. This means you must take many steps to ultimately reach the top. The journey to reach the top is well worth it, but it takes tenacity and grit to continuously push forward. As Dr. Rivera nicely put it, “you don’t have to have life planned or know what career path, but keep your eyes and ears open for certain moments”. Ideally, everyone should pursue their passion because success will surely follow.  There is no pre-designed plan for every scientist’s trajectory. However, combining certain traits with personal desires is a recipe for success. Dr. Douglas clearly explained that the steps to success include organization, setting priorities, and expecting failures in the midst of adversity. Some other practical traits that can be developed over time include working with mentors, accepting opportunities for growth and training, eliciting your creativity, and giving 110% on any task.

recipe for success flow chart
Recipe for Success flow chart, as created by Adriana Jones.












The panelists also provided insight into the work/life balance of a PI, and how to juggle responsibilities from work. Sometimes you may be redirected to focus on such things as grant writing, teaching, and potentially public service. As a result, you may be pulled away from the bench. However, there is still the potential of intellectual contribution (i.e., study design and hypothesis development) while the students and postdocs pursue the lab work on the research side.  Balance is key for success, because it leads to efficient use of your time and better prioritization of your work activities.

Another aspect of success relies on the culture of your institution and the environment that you're exposed to. As a minority, there will always be bias in a majority of roles that you play regardless of if it comes from interpersonal relationships or environment. As a result, it requires an individual to perform at their peak at all times to avoid scrutiny from colleagues. “Your success speaks for yourself, and your achievements speak even louder. [It is important to be] self-resilient and believe in yourself”, stated by Dr. Amariliz. It is hard to overcome internal and destructive thoughts, but as companies continue to become more diverse, the magnifying glass will slowly move away.

One concluding thought that I hope will resonate with you is to always establish positive collaborations and network. Define what success means to you, and never compare your successes to another individual. “Know your strengths and don’t compare them with others; instead, this is what makes you unique”, Dr. Vasquez.

Whatever experiences or obstacles you had from being from an under-represented group, you must be prepared to overhear demeaning comments. After internalizing and digesting it, you must always move forward, and learn to be over prepared to escape criticism. Often others may question your ability and how you got here; but simply disregard and remember to be your best at all times. – Dr. Arinzeh


This article was edited by Junior Editor Gina Sanchez and Senior Editor Natalie Losada.