In 2002, Sebastian Velez, now a graduate student in evolutionary biology at Harvard University, won an award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) that enabled him to attend a conference where he met "the big names in evolution" such as Stephen Jay Gould and Francisco Ayala. "The AIBS award is what sparked my career," says Velez.
The AIBS is again offering grants of $1,000 to undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented minorities to present their work at a scientific meeting of their choice. The aim of the awards is to allow researchers like Velez to attend conferences they otherwise might not be able to afford, and at these meetings to network with influential scientists, says Susan Musante, education and outreach director at AIBS. It is hoped that some of these contacts may lead to mentoring relationships, she says.
National Science Foundation statistics from 2003 report that 7% of life science faculty members with doctoral degrees are from African-American, Hispanic, or other underrepresented minorities; these groups collectively form more than 25% of the US population.
Emilio Bruna, a 2003 award winner and now an assistant professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, says the AIBS awards fit in with an overall strategy for boosting diversity in academia, though he adds that grants would be more effective if they covered additional opportunities such as field trips and summer fellowships. For information about eligibility and to apply, go to www.aibs.org. The deadline is January 15, 2007.