R&S RCN Blog Post: Reflections on NDiSTEM
By Imeña Valdes
I was invited by Root & Shoot RCN to attend the National Diversity in STEM Conference (NDiSTEM) organized by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) that was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico during October 2022.
There were about six thousand attendees, which made this the largest conference I had ever been to. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people but one thing that struck me quite early was how many Black and Brown faces I saw in the crowd. Most conferences I’ve attended in the past have been quite homogenous with few pockets of diversity here and there. I had heard previously that the SACNAS conferences were different, but it was incredible to see for myself especially as a graduate student at a PWI (predominantly white institution). It was a breath of fresh air, honestly.
Marcia, Adriana, and I staffed the booth in the exhibit hall where we spoke to so many people about Root & Shoot, the opportunities to get involved, and the affiliated professional societies. Most of the attendees that came up to our table were undergrads and teachers/professors looking for opportunities for themselves or their students. We received a lot of positive feedback about the work R&S is doing but the direct opportunities that we provide aren’t exactly what students were looking for. It would’ve been beneficial to have had one-pagers from the participating societies about what they offer students. As a past student representative for the Botanical Society of America, I’m well versed on all the opportunities and resources BSA has for students, so I did my best to connect them to relevant information.
Additionally, several students I spoke to had questions about how to start studying plants, applying to graduate school, and looking for labs with specific research topics. I think it would be in the best interest for the field of plant science as a whole if the participating societies got together to host webinars targeted to students who like plants but don’t know where to start. These webinars could introduce the various subfields within plant science, different types of jobs you can find (with a BS, MS, and PhD), and how to apply to grad school (potentially expand on the BSA event that is hosted yearly), for example. Considering the exasperating effects of climate change we are already feeling compounded with the fact that we are nowhere close to meeting the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, we need all the help we can get. We need more diverse voices and ideas within our field to make our science better while needing more boots on the ground to implement it. This can only happen once we put our words (and money) into action by supporting students from the literal moment they mention they’re interested in plants and plant science.