New Study Finds University Researchers from Minority Groups More Likely to Feel Undervalued and Disadvantaged in Their Careers

February 8, 2021 - Becky Jensen, Caroline Kraft

A multi-institutional team of researchers, including Michigan State University social scientists, has been granted over $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to study "epistemic exclusion." This type of exclusion results from policies and practices within American institutions of higher education that make minority faculty members in STEM fields feel they are unsupported and their research is undervalued.

The research team will use this funding to establish measures that allow for experiences of epistemic exclusion to be quantified and evaluated, allowing for the development of effective interventions. While this exclusion can impact any scholar conducting research that is different from peers in their field, according to research leader and MSU psychologist Dr. NiCole Buchanan, it is particularly pervasive for women and faculty of color.

"Epistemic exclusion can happen to anyone who is doing research outside of their disciplinary norms, but it is not random who has those types of experiences," says Dr. Buchanan. "Due to differing life experiences and social interests, women and faculty of color in STEM fields especially tend to research topics and issues that vary from their peers."

According to the research team, epistemic exclusion impacts academics by limiting their collaboration experiences with colleagues, minimizing grant funding and blocking their research from being published in top-tier academic journals. Given the importance that institutions place on publications in high-ranking journals, faculty who struggle to be published often lose out on promotions and acknowledgements. 

While this exclusion is detrimental to the faculty who experience it, it also negatively impacts institutions of higher education and academia in general by driving out faculty members who would otherwise advance understanding of issues relating to underrepresented groups in the United States. Additionally, research has shown that  minority faculty members are more likely to employ innovative teaching methods in the classroom and spend more time interacting with students than white faculty members. These practices are associated with greater student success.

For the sake of diversifying research and promoting innovation, this study is key to understanding the problem and creating positive change so that all faculty feel valued and that their research matters. 

“Further research on this topic may result in potential interventions and policy changes at institutions of higher education that improve the retention and promotion of women and underrepresented minority STEM faculty at our nation’s colleges and universities,” said Martinque Jones, co-investigator and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas.

To read more about epistemic exclusion, see the research team’s recent publication in The Journal of Diversity in Education.