We’re reaching the end of our second year of this five year NSF BIO-LEAPS-funded award. Here are some of the things we have accomplished in the past year.

Inclusive Conferences Working Group

Following several community listening sessions, members of the Steering Committee volunteered to lead a Working Group to address the objective of ensuring that plant science conferences are welcoming and inclusive to all. The ROOT & SHOOT RCN Inclusive Conference Working Group (ICWG) was launched in August 2022 to generate an RCN-wide system that develops and implements practices and policies that promote a safe and inclusive conference environment throughout the plant sciences.

The ICWG was made up of a diverse set of volunteers from across the RCN-participating societies, including early career researchers (e.g., graduate students and postdoctoral researchers). Together, the ICWG centers equity and care for others in its efforts to enable a powerful shift in the safety and inclusiveness of our conferences.

The ICWG had as its charge to generate recommendations, codes, and guidelines relevant to this goal for all seven societies. (See more on the structure and composition of the ICWG here). ICWG participants received a stipend of between $200 – $600.

Key recommendations

  • An RCN-wide Community Agreement for conferences and participants, outlining principles and standards that support equity and inclusion
  • A reporting structure that ensures accountability and compliance with the Community Agreement
  • Recommendations for a transparent site selection process that incorporates considerations regarding safety and inclusion of all potential attendees
  • Guidelines for practices that improve conference accessibility, including for those with disabilities and young families
  • Guidelines for inclusive selection of speakers and equitable programming

While all of these are important, the Steering Committee chose to focus initially on the first two recommendations: a community agreement, and a reporting and accountability structure. To this end, we contracted with two of our Experts with expertise in these areas to work with us on these tasks (Dr. Bathabile Mthombeni is the University Ombudsman at Binghamton University, and Dr. Laura Minero is a licensed psychologist with expertise in systems of accountability and restorative justice).

The pair attended three of our 2023 conferences (IS-MPMI; BSA + ASPT; ASPB), providing onsite ombuds support as needed. To follow up, they will work with all the plant science organizations to develop innovative systems of accountability to support the goals of the RCN-wide community agreement. Traditionally, organizations have taken punitive approaches to addressing community code violations, but we feel that punitive approaches are harmful and disruptive to the community and counter to our goals of creating a more equitable and inclusive discipline. Instead, we seek to bring those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. We are particularly excited by this innovative and bold partnership, which we believe will lead to a novel strategy through which to “call in” members of our community who engage in anti-social behaviors.

Additionally, following recommendations from the ICWG we contracted with AdvanceGEO (https://serc.carleton.edu/advancegeo/index.html) to host two “Bystander Intervention” workshops for organizational leaders, conference organizers, and prospective meeting attendees, which were held in June and July 2023. These interactive sessions describe different types of exclusionary behaviors that affect recruitment and retention into STEM and the academic practices and institutional structures that allow for exclusionary behaviors to persist. They also provide training in personal intervention strategies to protect and support targets of exclusionary behaviors “in the moment”. We plan to repeat these trainings in early 2024, before the Maize Genetics Cooperation meeting.

Consulting Services

Movement Consulting (https://www.wearemvmt.com/) are a consulting collective led by disabled, neurodivergent, queer women and nonbinary people at multiple intersections of class, race, and ethnic experiences. They specialize in “Transforming Organizations into Radically Nourishing Spaces”, with a particular focus on STEM organizations. In March 2022 we embarked on a year-long training program for society leaders, which concluded with a set of “Capstone Projects” developed by each society independently (see https://rootandshoot.org/capstone-projects/).

The capstone projects will serve as launching points for our next efforts and Working Groups, and include topics such as culturally-responsive mentoring, cultivating inclusive leadership, and re-evaluating the processes for society awards and elections.

Exhibiting at conferences

The ROOT & SHOOT RCN hosted a booth at Botany 2022 (joint congress of BSA and ASPT), SACNAS (2022), and MANRRS (2023), and has plans to exhibit and host a workshop at SACNAS 2023. We have generated several flyers that profile plant scientists and provide information about careers and opportunities in plant science. The grant covered the cost of staff travel, exhibitor fees, and booth give-aways, as well as providing funding for early-career plant scientists to attend the events and co-host the booth. The Steering Committee decided to focus our efforts on exhibiting at SACNAS and MANRRS to highlight opportunities in plant science at these events, rather than spending money to host a booth at any future plant science events.

For the SACNAS 2023 conference, the ROOT & SHOOT RCN submitted a workshop proposal  “Navigating Your Way to Careers in Plant Biotechnology Companies”. We recently learned that the proposal has been accepted. The goals of the session are to increase awareness and instill enthusiasm for plant science industry careers among SACNAS members. The session will provide a thorough introduction to the opportunities and recruitment practices at plant agricultural biotechnology companies. The goal is to inform and nurture trainees toward potential future employment and/or internships in companies in this sector by providing them with specific, actionable information (descriptions of required skills, CV and resume evaluation, and interview preparation) along with networking contacts, which will help them navigate their pathways toward corporate careers.

ROOT & SHOOT Travel Awards

The objective of these funds is to provide opportunities for students (BS/MS/PhD) with an interest in plant sciences to participate in a conference early in their career. In an effort to provide them with a safe and guided experience, we offer the travel awards to student/mentor pairs. Because of a lack of lead-up time, we made no awards during Year 1.

In November 2022, we opened a call for applications for student/mentor pairs of which at least one person was a member of SACNAS or MANRRS. We were advised by Movement Consultants in the development of this program – for example, we had initially planned for the mentor to be a faculty member, but after consultation we left the role of the mentor open. (See https://rootandshoot.org/how-we-selected-the-root-shoot-travel-awardees/ for more information on the application and selection process). We awarded 10 awards of up to $3000 per pair (see https://rootandshoot.org/announcing-the-2023-manrrs-sacnas-travel-award-recipients/ for information about the awardees).

We have created a feedback form to collect data about their experiences (with advice from Movement Consulting), and we will use this feedback to improve the process. We have also asked for volunteers to serve on an online panel discussion to be held in August or September to help us promote the travel award program for 2024. Applications will open September 2023 and completed applications are due November 10, 2023.

As always, we welcome feedback from any members of the cummunities served by the ROOT & SHOOT RCN. To receive occasional emials with updates and information about opportunities, please sign join the ROOT & SHOOT mailing list here.

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