Research Group Manual

Addressing EDI Challenges in STEM

Systemic barriers and biases persistently impede historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields, including those within the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. Women, Indigenous individuals, members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2+ communities confront distinctive and systemic obstacles to equal opportunities in STEM, representing a significant equity challenge. Although the University of Toronto is situated in the diverse landscape of the Greater Toronto Area, which accounts for 73.2% of undergraduate and graduate enrollees, challenges related to racial diversity remain. International graduate students predominantly come from China (42.9%), the United States (10.1%), India (9.9%), Iran (5.5%), and South Korea (2.5%). Notably, 63.8% of international graduate students hail from the Asia and Pacific regions, while only 2.7% come from Africa. Difficulties persist in engaging and adequately evaluating the potential of students from underrepresented groups for success in STEM fields. Although comprehensive data on gender and sexual orientation are unavailable, LGBTQ2+ communities also face barriers and biases. Similar to biases experienced by other underrepresented groups, LGBTQ2+ individuals encounter "fit" bias and stereotypical assumptions. The absence of gender data hinders STEM institutions from being accountable or tracking progress in addressing and eliminating LGBTQ2+ biases. Fortunately, the University of Toronto benefits from its location in the Greater Toronto Area, known for its larger populations and greater inclusion of these groups, offering better access to qualified local candidates. Systemic barriers to EDI in STEM result in fewer applicants who meet traditional recruitment criteria. Reaching and evaluating individuals in need of opportunities can be challenging. However, diversity should be considered merit, as it is a critical element in team building, providing varied perspectives and previously overlooked insights that enhance research and decision-making processes. Many individuals are fortunate not to experience the full extent of discrimination, exclusion, and lack of equity. Those in privileged positions have a unique opportunity to act against these injustices, supporting those who have faced or continue to face barriers to entry and success within STEM fields.


Practices of Li Lab in the team composition and recruitment process

The Li lab deeply values diversity, equity, and inclusion (EDI) in team building, research pursuits and community outreach efforts. We believe these principles enrich our lab, the University of Toronto, and the Greater Toronto area. We extend an open invitation to anyone seeking support or assistance to connect with us. To ensure a broad, diverse pool of candidates can access our job postings, we strategically use diverse-centric social media platforms. We maintain active accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, managed by trainees from diverse backgrounds. This approach not only enhances our lab's visibility but also facilitates engagement with a wide array of individuals interested in our research endeavors. To gauge the efficacy of our recruitment strategies, we ask candidates how they learned about the positions during the recruitment process. By tracking responses, we are able to continually refine our approach. To extend the opportunity to as many potential candidates as possible, our job postings remain open for a minimum of 30 days and are frequently reposted. We focus on the number of applications and their geographical distribution rather than the personal characteristics of the candidates. To limit unconscious bias, a designated trainee conducts the initial selection process by removing any identifiable information from applications. All team members contribute to candidate rankings throughout various stages of the recruitment process, fostering an environment of shared decision-making while respecting individual opinions. We wholeheartedly believe that fostering diversity in our lab is a catalyst for scientific innovation. By embracing the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of our team, we can all more fully appreciate the value of each individual's unique contributions. We prioritize individuals who can enrich our team diversity and contribute to problem-solving, understanding, and collaborative attitudes. As the Li Lab continues to expand, we remain committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. We strive to recruit and retain students and researchers from a variety of backgrounds, including those from underrepresented minorities, women, first-generation college students, LGBTQ+, and those from underprivileged backgrounds. In our lab, everyone is encouraged to bring their unique selves, fostering a culture of open communication, active listening, and mutual respect. 


Practices of Li Lab in providing training and development opportunities

In the Li Lab, we have embedded EDI principles into the core of our training and development strategy. Every fall, a lab member is designated to lead a presentation or group session focusing on a new EDI topic. This is followed by a comprehensive discussion where we delve into the societal and scientific merits of EDI, share personal experiences, and brainstorm methods to embed EDI values more fully into our daily work and lab environment. To supplement these discussions, we frequently share resources provided by the University of Toronto with our trainees. We see these gatherings as crucial stepping stones towards promoting EDI self-learning and fostering a sense of allyship for underrepresented groups in STEM. Furthermore, we encourage lab members to take advantage of EDI workshops hosted by the University and provide a robust list of online resources for further self-study. By making EDI discussions a regular feature of our lab environment, our goal is to foster a team that is not only aware of EDI principles but also equipped to put these principles into action. Personalized development is another key aspect of our approach. Each new member of the Li Lab receives an individualized training and mentorship plan, clarifying their roles, responsibilities, and expectations along with those of Dr. Li. Confidential discussions regarding career goals and any necessary accommodations are held during the onboarding process to ensure that trainees are well-prepared for their journey in our lab. To support continuous progress, Dr. Li holds monthly meetings with trainees, providing an opportunity to monitor advancement toward training goals and offering support and sponsorship as needed. While we encourage open communication and address concerns as they arise, we conduct a formal evaluation at the end of each term to identify and proactively tackle any barriers that could hinder trainee success. Through this approach, we are committed to fostering a supportive, inclusive, and empowering training environment in the Li Lab.

Other Practices of Li Lab in EDI

Emphasizing the use of inclusive language, maintaining open-mindedness and a judgment-free atmosphere, and being conscious of our privileges, we aim to provide a space where lab members feel heard and comfortable. We adopt inclusive and respectful language when interacting with peers and lab members, creating a safe environment where everyone can share their perspectives without fear of judgment. EDI discussions are incorporated into annual meetings or additional sessions to ensure an atmosphere where members feel respected, valued, and supported, thus promoting the open sharing of ideas and perspectives. As part of the onboarding process for new members, they will be asked to complete a short training module on inclusive language and communication. To demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity, we incorporate symbols signifying the Li Lab as an ally to underrepresented groups and land acknowledgment statements in oral presentations, written communication, and lab websites. This includes displaying entryway stickers and icons on websites and social media platforms. Accountability is crucial in ensuring an inclusive environment within the Li Lab. We will address concerns seriously and respectfully, treating all considerations with dignity. If needed, we will consult resources available through the Tri-Campus offices, such as the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, to guarantee adherence to best practices. We also extend our commitment to EDI in our research. We aim to ensure that the therapeutics and preventative solutions we develop are accessible to individuals from low-resource settings. Our goal is to challenge the 'default' assumption that a single group can represent all others. Together, we are shaping a diverse, inclusive, and innovative future for scientific research.