Authors: Aude Ikuzwe Sindikubwabo, Latavia Thompson, Jenea Adams
The last two quarters of the year are typically busy in science, with conferences happening in various fields. In-person meetings allow you to stay updated in your field, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and enjoy freebies. Larger conferences draw thousands of participants, fostering knowledge exchange, exhibition visits, and networking. These experiences influence scientific progress by forming new connections and collaborations, creating a cycle of success. Despite the digital age, in-person interactions remain invaluable. These are the experiences every scientist should be able to enjoy if they wish.
In computational biology, diversity and inclusion are vital for innovation. For Black women in this field, attending conferences is crucial. Our nonprofit aims to leverage the unique benefits of face-to-face interactions to empower Black women globally and advocate for inclusive frameworks in conference planning.
The Power of Presence
For many Black women scientists, while the connection to the broader community is valuable, we are too used to being the only Black woman, or one of the only, at an event. Especially conferences in the biomedical sciences, where discussions on disparities within our communities are highlighted, but the scientists and the data do not always reflect the lived experience of the issues proposed; it can feel alienating. For those who even make it to a conference despite visa restrictions, prohibitive reimbursement schemes, dependent care plans, building accessibility, and other systemic hurdles that disproportionally affect marginalized scientists, this is not a feeling we should be accustomed to, especially not in computational biology.
The drive to accelerate opportunity is at the heart of our nonprofit's mission. In-person conferences provide a unique platform for Black women (and other marginalized scientists) to see, meet, and interact with others who share their passion for computational biology. The experience of witnessing accomplished leaders who look like them fosters a sense of belonging and reinforces the belief that they, too, can make significant contributions to the field.
Below, we share photos of Black women immersing themselves in the vibrant atmosphere of conferences, engaging in thought-provoking discussions, and forming connections that transcend geographical boundaries. These snapshots capture moments of inspiration, mentorship, and shared enthusiasm – moments that become the building blocks for future success.
This November alone, BWCB Leadership and Members Unlocked Key In-Person Conference Experiences
American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG): BWCB Leadership (Nyasha Chambwe, PhD, Melyssa Minto, PhD, Jenea Adams; pictured at Nanopore reception) and membership (Jasmine Mack, MS, MPH) attended the annual meeting, presented posters,(gave oral presentations) and convened with other groups (BlackInGenetics) in Washington, DC.
Google Tech Equity Collective Innovate: BWCB was represented by Programming Coordinator and Treasurer Melyssa Minto, PhD, at the inaugural Tech Equity Collective Innovate meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. In March 2023, BWCB received its first grant from Google's Tech Equity Collective Impact Fund, which seeks to empower companies and organizations to uplift Black people in tech. With many of BWCB's members coming from a tech background or harboring skills desirable in the tech field, we're grateful to represent the bridge between tech and the life sciences. Dr. Minto connected with others in the inaugural tech Equity Collective Impact Fund cohort and engaged thought leaders in bringing technical workshops and training tips to BWCB members.
Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS): Nyasha Chambwe, Ph.D. (Board Member, Assistant Professor, Feinstein Institutes) attended ABRCMS in Phoenix, AZ as a judge in the computational and systems biology category. She also delivered a scientific expert lecture titled Biological Determinants of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cancer.
FASEB RNA Processing in Cancer: Jenea Adams attended the first-ever FASEB RNA Processing in Cancer conference in Houston, TX, presenting a poster and connecting with long-time BWCB member Angela Brooks, Ph.D. (Professor, Biomolecular Engineering, UCSC).
Society for Neuroscience (SfN): Kaylyn Clark (Penn) attends the annual Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington, DC, connecting with BlackInNeuro scientists.
What Can We Do?: A Call to Action to Diversify Conferences
While celebrating the strides made with some of these meetings, we recognize there is still work to do. To truly accelerate opportunity in computational biology for Black women, we propose concrete steps to diversify conference attendees and speakers:
Scholarship Programs: Establish and promote scholarship programs to support Black women attending conferences. Scholarship programs ensure financial barriers do not hinder participation and open doors to those who may not otherwise have the means to attend. We have created a Travel fund to do just this! Consider a one-time or recurring contribution to BWCB's Travel Fund to fuel in-person conference experiences for BWCB members. Learn more at https://www.blackwomencompbio.org/donate.
Speaker Mentorship Initiatives: Cultivate a pipeline of Black women speakers by implementing mentorship programs. Connect experienced speakers with emerging talent, guiding abstract submissions, presentation skills, and navigating the conference landscape.
Inclusive Programming: Encourage conference organizers to prioritize diverse perspectives in their programming. A diverse range of topics and speakers ensures attendees a well-rounded and inclusive conference experience. BWCB has a searchable membership database and a speaker list that we encourage you to use for this purpose.
Collaborative Partnerships: Forge partnerships with organizations that share our commitment to diversity in computational biology. Working together, we can amplify our impact and create a collective force for change.
Conclusion: Bridging the Gap for a Brighter Future
Black women deserve fulfilling and welcoming conference experiences. We have a chance to make that happen.
In-person conferences serve as catalysts for change, and BWCB is dedicated to bridging the gap for Black women in computational biology. By actively engaging in these transformative experiences, we not only empower individuals but contribute to the overall advancement of the field. Let us continue to build a community that reflects the rich tapestry of talent within computational biology, ensuring that tomorrow's opportunities are accessible to everyone, regardless of background.
We call on conference organizers to make space now to ensure their programming is accessible and enjoyable to all. Even in our experiences this year, we recognize that all were within the United States and that an immense pool of talented scientists live and work outside these borders. We urge organizers to host these high-value conferences outside the US as well, seeking places where we can connect with our peers across the continent of Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. BWCB is proud to enter a partnership with three major bioinformatics and computational biology conferences for 2024. If you would like to partner with BWCB to enable conference attendance for our members or are looking for a curated list of speaker suggestions, email email@example.com. Together, we can accelerate progress and pave the way for a more inclusive and innovative future.