Nov. 30, 2018 — The second annual UF Diversity Graduate Research Symposium, held in the Reitz Union on Oct. 31, showcased the research of 100 students across UF’s graduate programs, highlighting the important work being done by students of all backgrounds and identities.
Latoya Allen, a doctoral candidate in the department of neuroscience, helped organize the symposium with fellow members of the UF College of Medicine diversity committee and the UF Black Graduate Student Organization. She says the event, which included oral and poster presentations from UF graduate students in biological sciences, social sciences, humanities, computer science, engineering, math and physical sciences, proved that diversity in science research leads to better results.
“If you have many people from different backgrounds — scientifically and personally — you’re going to have more ideas. More ideas means better science,” Allen says. “An inclusive environment is better for everyone. If you’re not in a diverse environment, and you feel like you’re the only one like you, you can feel isolated. That’s a tough thing to fight. The diversity committee and this event helps to bridge that gap.”
Attended by UF President Kent Fuchs, Ph.D., UF chief diversity officer Antonio Farias, Ph.D., UF Graduate School dean Henry Frierson, Ph.D., and various student organizations, the event also served as a networking and professional development tool for students, providing them with an opportunity to enhance their communication skills with those outside their discipline, Allen says.
“We made sure a number of diverse faculty members were present so students could see the career opportunities available to them,” she says.
The idea for the symposium was born during a meeting of the UF College of Medicine diversity committee, which was founded in 2015. The first iteration of the UF Diversity Graduate Research Symposium occurred in 2016.
“We saw there was a need to connect diverse students across campus, to give them ways to support each other through the various challenges they face in graduate school,” Allen says. “We didn’t exclude anyone, but we made sure to highlight our diverse students.”
A completely student-run event, the symposium was made possible by sponsorships from various UF centers and departments, along with gifts from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and companies based in Alachua’s Progress Corporate Park. Allen says she hopes the 250 attendees and 100 participants left the event with an unshakable feeling of hope and inspiration, a sentiment that carried the committee throughout the planning process.
“I hope the students left that day feeling empowered in their diversity and empowered to stay at UF to complete their research,” she says. “I hope the day inspired that motivational feeling you get after hearing a phenomenal talk. It’s important for students to know they can still impact their communities — even as students — with the support of a few friends.”
Allen graduates soon, but she hopes new students will carry the torch and make the 2019 symposium an even larger event than this year’s.
“I hope this grows in the future, and we can maybe include an undergraduate student component, some workshops or a second day of programming,” she says. “But it won’t continue if we don’t have students who want to take this on.”
To become involved in organizing the 2019 UF Diversity Graduate Research Symposium, contact Latoya Allen at email@example.com.