Sugimoto, Monroe-White Awarded NSF Grant to Study Diversity in Scientific Workforce

Posted April 13, 2022

A new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is helping two members of the School of Public Policy community investigate how structural racism harms science.

Thema Monroe-White, who received a Ph.D. in Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy from the School of Public Policy in 2014, will serve as principal investigator of the project. Monroe-White is currently an assistant professor of data analytics at Berry College. She is joined in this research by Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Tom and Marie Patton School Chair in the School of Public Policy. Monroe-White and Berry College received two-thirds of the grant, while the remaining third came to Sugimoto and Georgia Tech.

The research project is estimated to run through March 2025.

“It’s important that we take the time to study how structural racism can impact science, which oftentimes presents itself as being objective and free of bias,” Monroe-White said. “We can’t maximize the good of scientific innovation and discovery until we know that they won’t end up harming marginalized groups.”

Sugimoto and Monroe-White will also seek to measure how including people of color and members of historically marginalized groups in the scientific workforce benefits the field as a whole. The grant will allow them to recruit a cohort of 12 fellows, consisting of doctoral students from a variety of disciplines and countries. Together, the fellows will discuss how their lived experiences have influenced their research design.

“Our research aims to empirically examine the degree to which diversity in the scientific workforce creates a more innovative and robust scientific system,” Sugimoto and Monroe-White wrote in their project’s abstract.

Monroe-White and Sugimoto recently contributed to two papers related to this research. The most recent one, titled “Avoiding Bias When Inferring Race Using Name-based Approaches,” was published in PLOS ONE in March. Before that, they contributed to “Intersectional Inequalities in Science,” which published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in January.

In the PNAS article, Sugimoto, Monroe-White, and their co-authors note that the scientific workforce is not representative of the general population. Analyzing millions of scientific papers, they seek to understand the relationship between scientists and the work they do. Their study is novel in its emphasis on the intersectional nature of scientists’ identities, particularly race and gender.

“Our results show that minoritized authors tend to publish in scientific disciplines and on research topics that reflect their gendered and racialized social identities,” the authors write. They argue that this “suggests a relationship between diversity in the scientific workforce and expansion of the knowledge base.”

With their NSF grant, Monroe-White and Sugimoto plan to develop algorithms that will take into account more context behind published academic articles. This will, they hope, monitor such factors as intersecting race, ethnicity, and gender inequities in research spaces. The researchers also plan to expand their work to South Africa and Brazil, which both have high levels of scientific productivity.

All algorithms and publications used in this research will be open access.

“Academic institutions are incredible spaces for innovation, but, like many types of organizations, they can also serve to reproduce inequities in science,” Sugimoto said. “I’m grateful to be able to work with such a wonderful team to generate evidenced-based solutions to reimagine a more just and innovative scientific system.”

Related Media

Contact For More Information

Grace Wyner

Communications Officer

School of Public Policy | Sam Nunn School of International Affairs