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Three environmental justice and health leaders share their wisdom

Three environmental justice and health leaders share their wisdom

Words of wisdom from three leaders in the environmental health and justice field

We have had many conversations over the years about our shared research, ethics science, the field of environment health, and how to be successful environmental justice researchers.

These two points are especially important for early-career researchers. It is possible to fail as a researcher and there is no guarantee of job security. We have witnessed students and faculty leave or be forced to leave. Although we are still trying to determine the causes of these departures and speculate on possible explanations, we believe some could be due in part to inadequate financial, emotional, and social support by institutions and individuals. These individuals were overwhelmingly people of color and from other systematically marginalized communities.

Many don’t even have the chance. Marginalized racial/ethnic groups areUnderrepresented in academia. Black and Latino people make up 13% and 18% respectively of the U.S. populations, but only 6% of U.S. professors are from these groups.

Research also shows biases within funding from the National Institutes of Health, the federal funding agency that funds academic health researchers who are Black. These differences are partly explained by theResearchers propose topics to be studied. Notably, Black researchers tend to propose studies that examine the health disparities in their communities and study ways to prevent these disparities through collaboration with community groups. This is because historically, they have received the least funding.

Recent developments have included There is a groundswell of interestin addressing health disparities, and working towards health equity, as well as in environmental health sciences. We hope that it will lead to improved health for marginalized populations and more faculty from these groups becoming successful researchers. We wanted to learn from Black- and Latina researchers who have made national recognition for their work in environmental health disparities, as well as for developing interventions that promote health equity.

We asked four questions Dr. Paloma Beamer(Professor at University of Arizona). Dr. Christina H. Fuller(Associate professor at Georgia State University), Dr. Chandra Jackson(Earl Stadtman Investigator in Intramural Science Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences).

We hope you learn as much as we did. We have reduced the length of our responses to keep them concise.

Research addressing environmental injustices and disparities is seeing a better funding environment, but this has not always been the case. Can you share your experiences with difficult grant environments? How did you persevere when you didn’t have much success funding your research?

Dr. Paloma Beamer

It was at one point in my career that it became difficult to get grants funded. A colleague suggested to me that my focus should be changed in order to receive more funding, particularly from industry. I created a research area that looked at the impact of social and environmental determinants on asthma development in a 40 year-old birth cohort. I was able build a team that taught me how write grants, conduct epidemiological analysis, and think critically in a new way. Cross-training was what enabled me to write more NIH grants.

Dr. Christina H. Fuller

I’ve persevered when funding was scarce or insufficient and have done research without it. It is important to establish relationships and invest in community dialogue before funding is available. Although this work is not often funded, it is vital to ensure that the communities are benefitted. I was able to use these relationships for future proposals.

Dr. Chandra Jackson

I am an investigator in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ intramural program. Therefore, I do not need to apply to grants to pay for my salary and research program. However, I would like to collaborate with senior, well-funded researchers who do research that interests me. This is also a chance to improve my grant-writing skills, while structural barriers to funding are being removed.

There have been many discussions in recent years about shifting from a heavy focus on discovery and knowledge production to being more inclusive of service, political and community engagement. Do you support this change? If not, please explain why. Are you able push this agenda forward in your work?

Dr. Paloma Beamer

This is a step towards achieving environmental justice, health equity, and fairness. How many more mice must die before we realize that arsenic can be harmful? Arsenic is a serious health problem. We need to find solutions that address this root cause. I would like to see more opportunities of community engagement to design interventions that address environmental exposures.

Dr. Christina H. Fuller

This shift is something that I support and agree with. This area of research must be grounded in and with people. Many people already have a lot of knowledge. Researchers do not always discover new information. They can instead clarify and clarify data and connections for a new audience with a defined purpose.

Dr. Chandra Jackson

This shift is supported by me because it allows for new knowledge to be generated in many different ways. Research that integrates across the entire spectrum of translational science, from basic science to global health, is essential. Everyone has a role and technological advances have made it possible to combine different scientific disciplines. For example, citizen science approaches are crucial for community engagement.

We get a lot advice. I imagine you do too. What is the worst piece professional advice you have ever received.

Dr. Paloma Beamer

One person told me to improve my accent.

Dr. Christina H. Fuller

I was once told I shouldn’t pursue community-engagement in my research because it would lead to biased research. This assumes other research frameworks are impartial, which is not always true.

Dr. Chandra Jackson

Because I had received an offer from a more prestigious institution, I was advised not to interview for this position. However, the appearance of being a high-ranking individual does not necessarily translate into tangible benefits. A person should only interview for a position at an institution that offers the most material or social support to help them achieve their goals.

What was the most valuable piece of advice you have received throughout the years? Do you have any advice for early career researchers?

Dr. Paloma Beamer

One of my mentors as an assistant professor gave me the best advice: Never agree to anything without first checking with my mentor. As I grew more experienced, I realized that I needed to take the time to think about the request and determine if it would be beneficial for my career or the work I am passionate about. I would recommend to early career researchers that they find mentors to help them prioritize the things that are important to them and the communities where they live.

Dr. Christina H. Fuller

I advise you not to be discouraged by naysayers or attacks on your research’s validity simply because it is topical or inclusive. Use the scientific and non-scientific tools you have as a researcher and human being to elevate your research around your interests.

Dr. Chandra Jackson

The following advice is mine: (1) Be authentic. (2) You must define your professional and personal success. Do not rely on the definitions of others. (3) Find mentors who share your values and are successful in your field. (4) Set healthy boundaries early and take care to yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. (5) Be ready to and feel comfortable speaking up. Marginalized groups and individuals tend to shrink or assume that their contributions will be less significant. However, unique backgrounds and experiences fuel innovation. They are also intrinsically and demonstrably valuable.

We are grateful to have had the chance to learn from these three leaders.

We leave you three of our favorite takeaways.

You can define success for yourself

Our own experiences and those of many others in academia have been filled with failure and scrutiny. To be promoted or to get tenure, you must be the best in your field. It’s not surprising that many junior researchers are plagued with imposter syndrome.

Dr. Jackson advises us to not focus on what others define success and to think about what it means for us to be successful. This can help us find happiness and fulfillment, whether it’s our first publication, a grant or a job.

Research success can lead to high rates of satisfaction, as one might expect. Burnout. Only accept and take on tasks that you are most interested in.

Be creative

We should also define our own success. The work of the super stars you admire was done in a different time period, with different funding and questions. Today’s paths to success will undoubtedly look different.

We should aim to have mentors at all stages of their careers. Each mentor has complementary expertise and their primary focus is to raise us as researchers and individuals through tangible sponsorship.

Drs. Jackson and Beamer also offer great advice for those with success stories. Dr. Fuller points out that even with limited funding, incremental but important progress can be made, especially in local communities.

Keep your moral compass strong to persevere

We use the term justice when we speak of environmental justice because it is imbued in a notion ethics and morality.

While it is normal to experience hardships in academia and research, those who are committed to advancing justice, equity, and those from historically marginalized groups will often face more difficult times.

The three respondents shared vivid examples of indirect and overt threats to their research. Their persistence is not only admirable but necessary. It is not uncommon for rejectionpapers to be rejected or not cited, despite their relevance and rigor. Grants that don’t get funded are expected. But, we can still persevere despite the pain.

We would be able to fight for justice and equity with meaningful institutional and structural support.

Dr. Daniel Carrin is Assistant Professor at Yale School of Public Health, while Dr. Carlos Gould at Stanford University is a School of Earth Postdoctoral Fellow. Both are senior fellows in the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice Program.

This essay was created by the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice fellowship. Agents of Change empowers scientists and academics from historically marginal backgrounds to reimagine solutions that will benefit the planet.

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