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KPBS’ “Rad Scientist” Podcast Examines Racial Inequity in Academia

KPBS is premiering a new season of “Rad Scientist,” in which host and producer Margot Wohl along with assistant producer and co-host Ikran Ibrahim, highlight the critical work being done by Black scientists in San Diego and examine what efforts can be made to ensure a more diverse ecosystem where science can serve everyone. The show is available now for download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other podcast players.

After recent events involving the killing of unarmed Black people brought discussions about racism to the forefront of the nation, Wohl decided to take a deep dive into the injustice happening in the scientific community. Ibrahim, an aspiring MD-PhD undergraduate at UCSD, wanted to tackle the subject as well and add her perspective as a budding Black scientist.

"This season is about exploring issues in society that are found within scientific institutions, namely racism. But it's also an opportunity to spotlight the amazing work being done by Black scientists in or from San Diego," Wohl says. Ibrahim adds, “I see the beauty of what it means to be a part of ‘Blackademia’ and I want others to have the opportunity to hear that beauty in these stories.”

From graduate students to faculty to those who have left the ivory towers, she interviews these scholars about their research on topics such as microbiomes, autism and neural prosthetics while also discussing how racism has impacted their scientific journey.

"Every scientist I spoke to for season three was equally passionate about their research and about making science a better space for people that, like them, are underrepresented in science. They know better than anyone that there are so many budding scientists who will not become researchers - not for lack of talent, but lack of opportunities, access, or role models that look like them. The task should not have to fall on the underrepresented. We all need to pitch in," Wohl says.

The third season of “Rad Scientist” will feature eight episodes. The first episode will be released on September 2.

Episode One: Melonie Vaughn

Melonie’s desire to study neurodevelopmental disorders stems from watching her autistic brother struggle with navigating school and social relationships. While she continues to expand her knowledge on this disorder as a first year neuroscience PhD student at UCSD, she also pushes for institutional change to support students of color in the program.

Episode Two: Daril Brown

Daril has adapted his work on making speech prostheses into his everyday life. He tests his methods using zebra finches, who learn their songs through childhood, but he also describes adjusting his own behavior and speech to avoid being perceived as a threat in white academic spaces.

Episode Three: Kaylee Arnold

It was a job at the San Diego Zoo that sparked Kaylee’s interest in wildlife disease ecology. While studying the microbiome of kissing bugs, she also questions the value of a PhD given constant reminders of the precariousness of Black lives in America.

Episode Four: Chandler Purrity

After graduating from Howard and studying the response plants have to drought cycles and how that might affect the susceptibility of a region for wildfires, Chandler was shocked at what she found in graduate school - a predominantly white institution where she felt as though her blackness was often deemed “unprofessional.”

Episode Five: Austin Coley

Austin studies psychiatric disorders and recently began as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. While he’s doing what he loves the most, being isolated in a new city due to COVID-19 has been difficult for him, especially in light of recent police violence.

Episode Six: Inemesit Williams

Inemesit fell in love with science while she was at Berkeley, but a few challenges in graduate school made her think her intelligence might serve better elsewhere. She now works at SDSU, running the study abroad programs and international student center.

Episode Seven: Gentry Patrick

Gentry is a professor at UCSD who studies the five Qs - who, what, where, why, when, how - about the destruction of proteins in the healthy brain, and how brain cells make and break connections with each other. However, his love for science goes far beyond the lab. As the Director of Mentorship and Diversity for the Biology Department, he recently launched an initiative to increase diversity in STEM that is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Episode Eight: What Now? The Science of Racism in Science and How We Do Better

In STEM programs across the nation, the representation of Black people in the sciences is disappointingly low, especially in proportion to their population in the US. “Rad Scientist” digs into the roots of the problem and how institutions are trying to remedy this inequity.

“Rad Scientist” is part of KPBS Explore, a local programming initiative to grow the quality and quantity of uniquely local content.

You can subscribe to the series now and catch up on the first two seasons by visiting www.kpbs.org/radscientist, or just search “Rad Scientist” in your favorite podcast app.

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