GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 3-10
Presentation Time: 10:40 AM


JOHNSON, Erynn, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511; Earth & Planetary Sciences, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511; Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY 14850, CARTER, Aja M., Electrical and Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104 and SCHROETER, Elena R., Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695

The geosciences are among the least demographically diverse fields across the STEM disciplines. The lack of diversity in paleontology is particularly concerning as the field enjoys a broad public interest that should be an asset in recruiting students from diverse backgrounds. As educators, paleontologists reach a large audience of prospective future scientists, ranging from children to undergraduates taking general earth history courses. Yet fewer and fewer students from underrepresented groups are retained in the field at increasingly higher academic levels. This disparity is at the expense of the field as studies have demonstrated that demographic diversity gives rise to greater innovation. If not addressed, the lack of diversity in paleontology will stifle innovative approaches in the study of ancient life.

The state of diversity in paleontology has spurred many important discussions about attracting more underrepresented students. However, we suggest that some of the primary obstacles to diversity stem not from attracting students but retaining them; that there is a lack of concerted effort to make continued participation in paleontology accessible to underserved students (a group that shares significant overlap with underrepresented students). If the most exciting, integral parts of paleontology (e.g., field work, museum visits, lab work) are not made more accessible for students that do not have the private resources to support their participation, we miss tremendous opportunities for the field to serve as an introduction to elements of scientific literacy. Further, we effectively bar diverse students from participating in research at higher academic levels by failing to provide the experiences they need to progress.

Here, we outline common paleontological teaching practices and highlight how their traditional applications may present barriers to underserved students. We then propose approaches to these activities that we have found helpful to make paleontological study more accessible for students who are both underserved and underrepresented. As current educators and former students from underrepresented and underserved groups, we hope that our insights will be useful for educators and research mentors looking to make opportunities in paleontology more equitable and inclusive.