From October 26th -28th 2023, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Diversity in STEM Conference (NDiSTEM) organized by the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) held in Portland, Oregon. This opportunity to attend and showcase my interest in plant science was provided by the Root & Shoot RCN.
This year’s NDiSTEM was a massive event, attended by several thousand individuals and hundreds of vendors from different areas of STEM, as it was also the 50th anniversary of SACNAS and many celebrated the transformational impact of the inclusive national network. While I do not identify as Hispanic or Native American, I was still in awe of the number of scientists of color I met and could relate to throughout my days. I had wanted to attend the NDiSTEM conference last year but realized it was too late. Being able to attend this year allowed me not only to connect with other scientists of color but also to emphasize my own passion for plant science with the handful of students who were curious. I truly feel that the national organization I represented, the American Phytopathological Society (APS), does a great job in membership inclusivity and diversity for most contributing Universities/Partners. However, when it comes to leadership, that is when the TRUE diversity of SACNAS stood out to me. I could see that the people who spoke of diversity extended all the way to the top and did not rely on a few individuals to hold the burden of upholding equity.
I spent my time during the conference in the exhibit hall where I was able to speak with many students and professors about the Root & Shoot RCN. Initially, many people thought we were a national society of our own but when they understood the goal of the network as a method to increase DEI in ALL plant science societies, they were impressed and gave positive commentary on our opportunities. I remember vividly discussing with 3 students, all undergraduates, about the opportunities of graduate school in plant pathology and perhaps the schools to look at that align with their desired pathosystem. Hearing their passion for plant science further enhanced my own and reminded me of the importance of just sharing the opportunities of this field with others. This was further emphasized when I attended the Professional Development Session put on by the RCN that brought in a panel of biotech representatives. Speaking to professionals with a cohort of other plant science students not only allowed me to see the bright future of plant science but also helped me broaden my own network. The session let me connect with a few professionals who have had a journey in plant science that I would like to parallel and will keep in contact with. Attending NDiSTEM was an incredible and unforgettable experience and I hope that in the future, I will be able to see some of these youthful faces at the national conferences for APS.
Roshni Panwala is a Plant Pathology Graduate Student pursuing a PhD at the University of Florida. Her interests involve understanding microbe-microbe interactions within the phytobiome during disease control applications. She is an active member of the American Phytopathological Association (APS).