May 01, 2022

Mentoring future scientists to boost diversity

By Cytiva

Science is fueled by continuous learning. Meet the scientist who is focusing his attention on coaching and developing students from diverse backgrounds who need the opportunity most.

Sebastian Falk is a structural biologist at the University of Vienna / Max Perutz labs leading a research group that’s investigating the structure and function of proteins, and how they work in RNA metabolism. In line with his curiosity-driven mindset, Sebastian also teaches at the university where he is educating the next generation of up-and-coming scientists.

“My contribution to society is educating students both as undergraduates, teaching them, but also mentoring Ph.D. candidates and postdocs to become independent scientists. So, that's very important to me.”

It is also very important for Cytiva.

Science is a school of learning. Mentoring in this field is essential as it inherently involves building on the knowledge of your predecessors. Sebastian remembers his time as a mentee under the tutelage of one professor who took the time to explain complicated ideas while showing him still-unanswered questions. Especially important to Sebastian was the freedom to work in a lab on self-directed small projects with the ability to seek guidance when he needed it.

At the Max Perutz Labs in Vienna, Sebastian embraces this model with his students, now as a mentor himself. His role, he says, is to encourage his mentees to think critically about problems and the best way to approach them, while also allowing them the freedom to determine the direction and purpose of their work.

Sebastian’s mentorship style is also influenced by an awareness that not all opportunities are created equal: it is one thing to seek to teach the next generation of scientists, it is another to lend this tutelage to those who need it most – women and others who are still underrepresented in the STEM community.

“It's really important that we increase the diversity in science to make it accessible to people that have not had the luxury that I have.”

This commitment and feeling are echoed by Cytiva and has led to our collaboration with the Biomedical Science Careers Program (BSCP), which works towards greater diversity and opportunities for people of color and disadvantaged individuals within the biomedical and life sciences.

In 2021, Cytiva announced it aims to help young people visualize a career path in the sciences, and enrich the sector with greater diversity, by committing to provide the BSCP with 151 000 USD, coupled with expertise, talent, and time to support our shared goal.

On our podcast, Discovery Matters, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Joan Reede, President of the BSCP. In the episode, we learned what more we can all do to further diversity and inclusion in our industry. Dr. Reede shared a personal story about treatment she received when she turned down a job. The hiring manager asked her “Could I just put your name in, because I need some black names here?” explained Dr. Reede, “When you're a person of color, that is not an unusual type thing. People aren't always bold enough to say it.” As a person of color, she says the question of whether you’re being seriously considered for an opportunity or merely included to check a box is an ever-present concern. She stresses the importance of recognizing the ability, skill, potential to make meaningful contributions and excellence that candidates bring. Inclusion, belonging, and ability to succeed are critical.

Accordingly, diversity for any organization should not be considered a light-hearted commitment, but woven through its values in a way that every employee is actively striving for it. Cytiva associates have risen to the challenge, taking ownership of mentoring BSCP students and encouraging the success of the budding scientists. One Cytiva associate and alumnus of the BSCP, Djadé Soumana, shared with us the impact of Cytiva’s partnership with the non-profit organization. He brought the BSCP to the attention of Cytiva’s leadership who “unanimously” wanted to do more than a one-time donation; they wanted to create a long-term partnership that would result in a far more valuable progression towards inclusion in the sciences. Djadé now proudly calls Cytiva “a place [where he] can explore many different careers and career paths. It’s a place that supports [him].”

Sebastian echoes the sentiment about the importance of inclusion and diversity: The more diverse the individuals are who come together, the better the innovation and the better the outcome.

We could not agree more.

Learn more about Sebastian Falk and the Discovery Makers