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Chemistry Department Recognized for Success in Building a Diverse Faculty

UC San Diego’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry ranked second in the nation in a new survey of professorships held by underrepresented minorities, reflecting the progress we’ve made in building a diverse faculty.

Chemical and Engineering News worked with the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity or OXIDE, a federally funded initiative to address policies and practices that have historically led to inequities, to publish the new ranking. OXIDE canvassed the top 50 programs in chemistry, determined by levels of research spending, asking each chair how many tenured and tenure-track professors in the academic year 2013-2014 were members of minority groups whose representation on chemistry faculties is lower than in the U.S. population as a whole.

At UC San Diego, that number was 11 percent. Among the top 50 departments overall, only four percent of faculty positions are held by underrepresented minorities, who make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“As both department chair and as a member of the faculty, I truly value having a diverse group of colleagues. It enriches our faculty community and makes us a stronger department,” said Seth Cohen, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Perhaps even more importantly, a diverse faculty means we have a broader group of role models for our students. Students often look to professors as possible mentors and examples of what their own career experiences might be like, and the opportunity for students to interact with faculty who have common backgrounds and experiences is exceptionally important. I am pleased with our progress so far, but also know that we have a lot more to do to continue to diversify our faculty and student body alike.”

Progress comes, in part, through an innovative hiring program implemented by the Division of Physical Sciences. These are the Dean’s Excellence Searches for new faculty - two positions per year that are wide open to applicants working in any discipline within chemistry, physics and mathematics. Most faculty recruitment focuses on particular specialties to deepen or complement the expertise of the existing faculty at an institution. The Excellence Searches are different.

“We told the departments to search for anyone, any field. Above all, they must be an extraordinary scholar, but one with an exceptional commitment to diversity,” said Mark Thiemens, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and dean of the Division of Physical Sciences. “Standard searches aren’t sufficient to move the needle,” he explains. “You have to be aggressive, to go out and find people.”

The approach has led to succes not only in chemistry but in physics as well. “We just hired three fantastic people in astrophysics, and they are all women,” Thiemens said. “That’s a major change. That’s the culture here. That’s how we’ll do it.”