July 21, 2020

10 Simple Rules for Building an Anti-Racist Lab [Article]

The authors of this article—Dr. V. Bala Chaudhary of DePaul University and Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe of University of California, Merced—acknowledge at the outset that building an anti-racist laboratory (that is, one that confronts racial inequities) is going to involve more effort and actions that “ten simple rules.” However, they present ten rules as a starting place for PIs and lab members (and because that’s the called-for format for the “Ten Simple Rules” series published in PLOS Computational Biology).

These rules can be implemented immediately. As the authors put it, “No additional committees, focus groups, or surveys required.” So without further ado, the “ten simple rules” are as follows:

  1. Lead informed discussions about anti-racism in your lab regularly.
    PIs and lab members should educate themselves about covert racist incidents that can arise in the workplace, such as microaggressions, tokenism, white savior complex, and tone policing. Normalize talking about and reporting racism, in all its forms. Consider adding the “Minute for Diversity Slide” into all of your lab meetings.
  2. Address racism in your lab (and field) safety guidelines.
    Recognize that BIPOC may require additional support to keep them safe at work. For example, working late or odd hours may increase the frequency of harassment by campus security who challenge a researcher’s right to be in an academic space.
  3. Publish papers and write grants with BIPOC colleagues.
    In collaborations, provide BIPOC colleagues opportunities to make intellectual contributions, not just provide labor. When organizing events, invite BIPOC as co-organizers and leaders, not just as participants. Connect with BIPOC scientists through organizations like SACNAS and ABRCMS and online communities. Follow new people on social media.
  4. Evaluate your lab’s mentoring practices.
    Recognize that conscious and subconscious racial biases can adversely affect mentor-mentee relationships. PIs should help BIPOC mentees build a broad network of mentors and should seek out training in culturally aware mentoring. The Department Committee on Diversity and Inclusion will be organizing training opportunities for PIs and other members of our community.
  5. Amplify voices of BIPOC scientists in your field.
    Read papers by BIPOC scholars in lab journal club and cite the work of BIPOC scientists. Feature BIPOC scientists in classes that you teach. Invite BIPOC scientists to speak about their science, not just their DEI work. Use online resources like Diversify STEM Conferences, Society for Black Brain and Behavioral Scientists, and #BlackinNeuro to identify scientists to amplify.
  6. Support BIPOC in their efforts to organize.
    Advocate for and provide spaces for affinity groups and safe spaces for BIPOC members of our community. Encourage and support efforts by members of your lab to be actively involved in organizations like USN or MBSH and the Department Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
  7. Intentionally recruit BIPOC students and staff.
    Evaluate lab hiring practices for racial biases. Advertise positions broadly (e.g. post on lab websites, JobRxiv, and send to organizations for BIPOC scientists) rather than relying on the usual, insular academic networks for technicians, postdocs, etc. (A good Twitter thread about hiring practices can be found here. ) Outline the steps your lab is taking towards representation and equity on your lab website (e.g. see the example from the Stevens lab here at Harvard).
  8. Adopt a dynamic research agenda.
    URM PhD recipients innovate more than their majority counterparts, but are more likely to have that work discounted [3]. Be flexible with your lab’s research agenda to fully capitalize on the diversity of approaches that members of your lab may bring to the table.
  9. Advocate for racially diverse leadership in science.
    Don’t just mentor BIPOC trainees; sponsor them. Connect them to your networks and help them secure positions. Nominate BIPOC for status elevating roles. 
  10. Hold the power accountable and don’t expect gratitude.
    Recognize your privilege: white scientists are praised for DEI work, while BIPOC scientists are often punished for or discouraged from DEI outreach [4]. Don’t engage in performative action that doesn’t actually reduce racial inequity. Use institutional mechanisms to hold yourself and your colleagues accountable.

Action items for our community

  • All of the above!
  • Already implementing some or all of the above? Share your ideas with the Department Committee on Diversity and Inclusion! Email Soha_Ashrafi@hms.harvard.edu.  

Key Terminology

Anti-racist: Actively confronting and fighting racial inequities. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi writes, “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’” [2]

BIPOC: Acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color

DEI: Acronym for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


[1] Chaudhary, Bala, and Asmeret A. Berhe. 2020. “Ten Simple Rules for Building an Anti-racist Lab.” EcoEvoRxiv. June 18. doi:10.32942/osf.io/4a9p8. 

[2] Kendi IX. How to be an Antiracist: One World/Ballantine; 2019. 

[3] Hofstra, B. et al. “The Diversity-Innovation Paradox in Science”. PNAS 117 (17) 9284-9291. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1915378117.

[4] Mitchell, Koritha. "Identifying White Mediocrity and Know-Your-Place Aggression: A Form of Self-Care." African American Review 51, no. 4 (2018): 253-262. doi:10.1353/afa.2018.0045.