A SACNAS pre-conference 1-day workshop on October 28th 2015

Background story

This workshop was based on the idea that we can learn through stories. And to explain how the workshop was run, I want to tell you a story.

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have run a number of workshops focusing on finding new ways to overcome the major obstacles that hinder underrepresented groups from studying biology. Interesting ideas have emerged from these workshops, and progress is definitely being made. However, through running these events we became aware that many faculty members had developed their own personal ‘bag of tricks’ that helped them mentor their students in all sorts of interesting and effective ways. We also learned that these faculty tended not to talk about their techniques, because they all seemed so obvious that they thought everyone must know about them already.

So, about a year ago we approached the NSF with a very simple proposal. We wanted to find and interview these faculty members so that we could document what actually worked. It’s important to note that we saw this as being very tactically focused. The stories we wanted to collect were not going to change an institution’s strategy. Rather, they would be aimed at answering the question, “What one thing could I do today that might broaden participation?” Fortunately, the NSF’s Biology directorate supported our idea, and we set to work.

Throughout 2015 we had the chance to talk with many interesting, enthusiastic, and ingenious people. We have gathered stories, and tried to summarize what’s working. We definitely haven’t finished the process, but we are now at a stage where we want to share the stories, build a community, and amplify the effects of these bags of tricks. And that’s why we ran a workshop.

What did we do?

We wanted to attract 20-30 curious, enthusiastic participants who are prepared to share stories (large or small) about what has worked for them. As you have probably guessed by now, this workshop did not involve lectures! Instead, we spent a day together learning from successes, forming new partnerships, and inventing new tactics.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at You can also learn more about the project by exploring our website.


John Cabra Ph.D.
Associate Professor
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Chase Hall 244
State University of New York, Buffalo State
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, New York 14222