Strategic Action Plan

The MCDB Department is committed to fostering a climate that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) among undergraduate and graduate students, staff, and faculty. A Faculty DEI working group was established in the Summer of 2020. Representatives from the MCDB Graduate Student DEI committee serve on this larger committee and more recently, representatives from the newly formed MCDB undergraduate DEIW committee. Each working group has met regularly throughout Fall Quarter and identified DEI priorities, which are summarized here. Many of the proposed initiatives are already underway, including a commitment from all MCDB Faculty to take the 6-module training course, Recognizing Implicit Bias, through the UC Learning Center. An MCDB undergraduate student town hall meeting helped identify some of the key challenges while a recently conducted climate survey and town hall meetings with MCDB graduate students resulted in a robust list of action items. The Departmental action items and progress reports are posted and updated regularly on a new MCDB DEI website, which also includes a portal for submitting anonymous feedback. The MCDB DEI Committee members routinely respond to the submitted feedback and updates on specific actions are posted to the website.

Undergraduate Program


The demographics of the first-year class of the Pre-Biology major over the past decade generally matches the UCSB undergraduate student body as a whole (30% Latinx/Chicano, 5% Black/African American, 1% American Indian/Alaskan, 28% Asian/Pacific Islander). However, there is a disproportionately lower 4-year graduation rate for Persons Excluded from STEM due to Ethnicity or Race (PEERs) students; roughly 40-50% of PEERs complete the major vs. 68-72% of non-PEERs. Similarly, while Transfer Student demographics are reflective of the overall campus, the 2-year graduation success rate is much lower among transfer PEERs (40-55%) versus non-PEERs transfers (56-72%). Therefore, the main focus in the DEI efforts regarding the undergraduate program is retention and success of PEERs students. The Department secured a second round of funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to evaluate and mitigate this disparity, and in the past six years a number of changes to the lower division courses have been implemented. To achieve increased retention and rate of graduation for PEERs students, we will take the following strategic actions.

General Engagement and Inclusion
  1. Continue to engage with undergraduate students through regular Town Halls and the DEI group to continue to learn as much as possible about how the Department can best address the disproportionate loss of PEERs students from the major.
  2. Increase our efforts to engage minoritized pre-Biology students through increased contact with faculty in the first year. Working with the EOP Office, the Promise Scholars Program and through social media advertising with the assistance of the Biology Undergraduate DEI Committee, the MCDB faculty will continue to participate in annual town halls (in consultation with the Undergraduate DEI committee as needed) and other informational events to connect with students and encourage their participation in our mentoring programs developed through the HHMI initiatives.
  3. Faculty are and will continue to participate in the workshops offered through CITRAL and Instructional development designed to facilitate Inclusive Teaching Practices. More routine discussion in faculty meetings about inclusive teaching and awareness of the challenges faced by minoritized students will help to grow awareness and promote an inclusive climate. These efforts have been supplemented by participation in the ongoing Society for the Advancement in Biology Education Research (SABER) webinars focused on Striving for Racial Justice in Academic Biology and 10 MCDB faculty participated in the UCSB Summer Reimagine Education for the Student Experience (RISE) program, focused on inclusive teaching. Further, we have created a GauchoSpace site of Teaching and Diversity Resources for MCDB faculty to implement instructional techniques that promote equity in academic outcomes.
  4. In conjunction with the Director of the Center for Black Studies Research, Professor Sharon Tettegah, the course “Diversity in STEM” was designed and launched Fall, 2020 quarter with the goal of engaging undergraduate and graduate students in learning and conversation around racism and disparities in STEM and historical contributions of PEER scientists. This course will be expanded and offered annually. An existing class, “Science for the Common Good,” a leadership course associated with the NIH MARC Scholars program, is also focused on issues of DEI in STEM and engages students in opportunities to learn about and address these issues proactively. Students organize events, host speakers, and work collaboratively to address identified challenges.
  5. Redesign the annual welcome meeting for first-year students through faculty, staff and student videos that highlight the commitment of the department to diversity and inclusion. This year (2020), we created student, faculty, and staff welcome videos that are now posted to our website and distributed through social media.
  6. Each year there is a joint MCDB/BMSE Departmental Research Retreat. This year’s research theme was Diversity in Molecular Bioscience (program HERE). Speakers were from diverse institutions and the retreat focused on conversation around diversity. This also included an online discussion, moderated by undergraduate students, on the importance of diversity in bioscience research.
  7. To assess the effectiveness of the implementation of these strategies, we will generate and share an Annual Report that will focus on attrition, academic achievement and general climate assessments. The above mentioned actions will be adjusted based on the results observed.
  8. Committee commitment to look for speakers…
  9. Current and future faculty searches will be conducted with an emphasis on increasing the department’s diversity and inclusion.Being proactive in diversifying the pool of applicants. See below
Specific Curricular Changes

Changes to the curriculum had already begun prior to the call for a DEI Strategic Action Plan and in response to an obvious need to restructure the lower division pre-Biology major, revealed through a recent External Review (PRP) and by our MCDB-HHMI initiative research. However, the town hall and general student feedback have provided further insight about where we should continue to focus attention.

There have been multiple steps taken to change the MCDB undergraduate program and course offerings to promote student success, especially at the introductory level (the first two years of study). Key points are highlighted below:

Changes to the curriculum had already begun prior to the call for a DEI Strategic Action Plan and in response to an obvious need to restructure the lower division pre-Biology major, revealed through a recent External Review (PRP) and by our MCDB-HHMI initiative research. However, the town hall and general student feedback have provided further insight about where we should continue to focus attention.

There have been multiple steps taken to change the MCDB undergraduate program and course offerings to promote student success, especially at the introductory level (the first two years of study). Key points are highlighted below:

  1. We have begun to offer pilot Introductory Biology courses (MCDB 1A and 1B) that enroll ~120-150 students during off-cycle quarters. These alternative offerings will enable students who fail to earn sufficient grades in these gateway biology courses to still complete the Introductory Biology MCDB courses during the academic year rather than taking them in the summer.
    • Pilot course of MCDB 1A offered in spring quarter (historically offered in Fall quarter or Summer only).
    • Pilot course of MCDB 1B offered in fall (historically offered in Winter quarter or Summer only).
    • By having these off-cycle courses it enables students who succeed in their first two quarters to begin the Introductory Biology course series in the spring quarter of their first year. This was a major suggestion of the most recent MCDB PRP.
  2. Ten MCDB faculty participated in the Reimagining Instruction for the Student Experience (RISE) faculty course offered by Center of Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning (CITRAL) during the summer of 2020.
  3. Offering multiple first-year seminars on popular topics in biology to engage with first-year biology students.
  4. As noted above, development and instruction of MCDB 194/595 (joint undergraduate/graduate course) Diversity in STEM course offered in Fall 2021 (with future offerings each academic year).
  5. Working alongside EEMB and the biology advisors, MCDB faculty are collaboratively designing a data-driven proposal to update the UCSB Biology transfer student requirements to align with other UC campuses.
  6. Continuing to collaborate with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to confront challenges faced by biology majors in the first two years of study.

Graduate Program


The MCDB Graduate DEI & Wellness (DEIW) Committee, in consultation with the Graduate Advisor and Diversity Advocate have been working on strategic action items since obtaining the results of a Graduate Program Climate Survey that was undertaken in the W20 quarter (prior to COVID19). Key points are highlighted here, but a more extensive, detailed report, including broader issues related to wellness and career development, and the Graduate SAP can be found here.

Increasing Graduate Student Diversity

The review of admissions data since 2012, provided by the UCSB Graduate Division, revealed that with regard to diversity, acceptance rates are reflective of the applicant pool, but the applicant pool itself should expand and improvements in successfully recruiting the accepted applicants are needed. A minimal goal should be to have the applicant pool diversity reflect that of the California (if not national) available pool of undergraduates with STEM degrees. Specifically, the percentage of applicants that are from diverse backgrounds must be increased, especially for Native American and Black students. The applicant pool for Native Americans has been historically small (1% or less) and for African Americans, 4-5% of the pool is the historical rate. Acceptance rates and Statements of Intent to Register (SIRs) hover at about the same percentage, but the numbers are very small (in 2020, there were a total of 200 applicants to the PhD program, and only 8 self-identified as African-American/Black and 3 as Native American). MCDB is admitting an increasing number of diversity applicants generally in line with the applicant pool over the past 5 years, but this could be improved. Gender diversity is consistently around 50%-50% both in terms of applicants, offers, and acceptances. Hispanic/Latinx applications have steadily increased to ~17% of the applicant pool with a concomitant acceptance rate and this is similar for Asian American/Pacific Islanders; however, the SIR rate is lower and as noted above, the applicant pool must be expanded as well. International student applications are typically around 35% of the total applicant pool, but much of this at the Masters level. The percentage of International PhD applicants is typically around 35% and the offers and eventual acceptances (SIRs) are about the same.

Thus, our primary efforts in the SAP for the graduate program will be on increasing the number of PEERs students applying and increasing the percentage of admitted students accepting our offer. Our goal is to match or exceed the demographics of the CA demographics and we will assess this on an annual basis to track progress.

Specific actions include:

  1. Actively participating in recruiting at the annual Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).
  2. Reaching out to program directors and colleagues at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) across the country, asking them to make their students aware of our program and inviting them to apply. This will be coordinated through Graduate Division events and via individual faculty participation in open houses. Faculty are encouraged to meet with undergraduates when they visit other campuses to give research seminars so that they can inform them about our graduate program; faculty should take advantage of every opportunity to visit HBCUs and HSI campuses, including CSUs and reach out at professional meetings and conferences.
  3. Participating in Virtual Open Houses in fall quarter coordinated by the UCSB Graduate Division to promote applications from BIPOC students from this network; and advertising through the McNAIR, UCLeads, NIH MARC, and HHMI Scholar Networks inviting program participants to apply. This and the above two strategies have already been implemented for the 2021 admissions cycle.
  4. Creation and participation in more Summer research programs that enable and support a diverse group of undergraduates and Masters students to work with faculty. These programs often serve as a conduit for application to UCSB graduate programs.
  5. Graduate Admissions committee members will participate in the Graduate Division-sponsored training for the holistic review process and complete the Recognizing Implicit Bias training prior to beginning the admissions cycle. The holistic review process, including implementation of a rubric, has already been adopted and all graduate admissions committee members completed the 6-module Recognizing Implicit Bias Training prior to the application review process.
Improving Graduate Program Climate

The MCDB Graduate Program Climate Survey revealed that over 75% of respondents indicated a “mostly supportive or better” culture in the department amongst fellow students and postdoctoral scholars, and faculty. About 60% of respondents reported that they felt the department culture was “supportive” or “very supportive” of female, international, LGBTQ, and underrepresented minority students. About 30% indicated that they were experiencing a “somewhat supportive” culture and a few respondents indicated that the student and faculty climate were “not supportive.” The campus climate, overall, was observed as largely supportive. When asked if they had been on the receiving end of an incidence of bias or harassment in the past 12 months, 13% of respondents said “yes” and of these about half were student offenders, one quarter of offenders were faculty or staff and the respondents declined to state for the remainder. This reveals that the Department should assess these issues across the board, not just between faculty and students.

While the major concern of most survey respondents centered on career development, effective mentoring, and financial challenges and uncertainties, some obvious areas for improvement regarding inclusivity. The survey revealed obvious gaps in mentorship - some students feel well supported, others not so much with regard to everything from mental health to career development to actual research projects. Students reported being unsure of how to deal with a lack of mentorship, microaggressions of faculty or fellow students, or stereotype threats and noted the obvious power gap issues. In particular, respondents reported a general lack of understanding and mindfulness toward training and mentoring of PEERs students. Indeed, the recommended action items from the W20 Climate Survey relevant to inclusivity in the program were: (i) raising awareness among faculty regarding the challenges faced by some students in under-represented groups (including PEERs and LGBTQ students); (ii) ensuring that students know how to access, and feel comfortable accessing, various support services on campus (including DSP and CAPS); and (iii) ensuring that students who experience an incidence of bias, discrimination, or harassment feel “safe” in reporting it (and know how to report it) and that appropriate and immediate action is taken. Thus, we have implemented a series of actions to address these larger concerns of inclusivity in parallel with trying to increase diversity.

These include:

  1. Strengthen existing ties across STEM programs to help promote the sense of community among PEERs graduate students even as diversity increases within the program. Specifically, continue and encourage faculty and student participation in and support of: The UCSB Graduate Scholars Program, the UCSB Graduate Students for Diversity in STEM (GSDS) group, and Grad SACNAS as well as other organizations such as WiSE and the UCSB NSF-AGEP and Bridges to the Doctorate Programs. These groups are now connected to the MCDB Grad DEIW group via social media.
  2. Arrange for and require graduate students to attend the workshop "Professional Training for Mutual Respect" Offered through UCSB Green Dot, tailored to a specific program like MCDB and according to the website, such a “workshop for graduate students explores the role we all have in creating environments that are inclusive, safe and supportive for every individual's success. In alignment with UCSB's mission, this collaborative endeavor is facilitated by EODP, Title IX and CARE in an effort to understand how our backgrounds and experiences shape our beliefs, values and actions. Participants will learn skills and tools to acknowledge and address biases and microaggressions in a respectful manner and understand potential policy implications."
  3. Improve awareness and provide training for Faculty to improve knowledge and provide resources for mentoring diverse graduate students by:
    • Providing faculty workshops on mentoring and promoting thriving, diverse lab environments and beyond; track participation in these workshops to help create a faculty culture of learning and mentoring. (We note that MCDB faculty participated in one such workshop offered in F20 quarter, which was based on a summer NIH Training course taken by several UCSB faculty, including an MCDB faculty member).
    • Work with the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships and other STEM graduate programs to extend this faculty culture. Several MCDB faculty work closely with CSEP and there is a shared graduate student culture across several programs including MCDB, BMSE and DYNS.
    • Graduate students support a policy that recognizes and rewards inclusive mentoring and training. They strongly support the requirement of a statement of diversity, inclusion and mentorship self-assessment as part of the merit and promotion process.
    • Spend at least a few minutes of every faculty meeting discussing updates related to DEIW issues, awareness, and graduate student mentoring.
    • Faculty should be proactive, not reactive, and encourage grads to attend workshops for students that address DEIW concerns. Provide faculty with mentoring resources and ensure that they know where to request assistance or refer a student. To this end we have created a faculty resource site on Gauchospace and have increased exposure to available trainings and workshops.
  4. Continue participation as a lead program in the CA Consortium for Inclusive Doctoral Education (C-CIDE). The MCDB graduate program is currently a participant in the program. Follow through with disseminating information and offering trainings across STEM. One of the outcomes of the C-CIDE training is to provide information and active workshops for both graduate students and faculty on holistic review and Mentoring for Inclusivity. The focus is on “faculty development for institutional change.”
  5. MCDB TA Training should involve more consideration of inclusive teaching and disparities (already being implemented in 2020).



The MCDB faculty representation in terms of female faculty has made significant progress in the past decade (currently 8 of 38 active Senate Faculty), but this still does not meet the availability in the Molecular Biosciences (~ 50%). Further, the ethnic and racial diversity of the faculty lags significantly and overall in STEM has remained flat over the past 10 years. While the lack of diverse role models in the training pipeline is a known factor, interventions to date instead have largely focused on fixing the pipeline. This is not working. There is a critical need to intervene in how we recruit, hire, onboard, retain, and promote faculty from underrepresented minority groups; including changes to the academic culture and environment that faculty must navigate to succeed. Offering training workshops alone is not going to solve this challenge. There must be deliberate efforts at the campus and departmental levels to diversify the faculty. We must proactively expand the diversity of the pool of applicants and work to enhance the transition and retention phases by educating our existing faculty to support these new faculty and providing a welcoming community that enhances their success.

We Propose the Following Changes
  1. Increase our efforts at outreach to identify and recruit faculty applicants early. We need to proactively expand the pool of applicants prior to the year of application. It is critical that we identify a diverse group of candidates before they are in the applicant pool and promote their consideration of faculty career paths. To this end, faculty have been submitting suggestions for speaker pools compiled through various professional organizations and graduate students have been engaged and included in the process of inviting speakers. Further, we will increase efforts to identify and recruit applicants through the UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.
  2. We will emphasize diverse speakers for our research seminar series to proactively identify candidates for potential hires with DEI in mind. This builds on the theme of the 2020 BMSE-MCDB annual retreat focused on topics of diversity. This focus was spear-headed by the graduate student committee who led the recruitment of research speakers from diverse research and personal backgrounds that focused on the theme of diversity in science.
  3. The MCDB Department is participating in the UCSB STEM-wide ASPIRE-IChange project led by Prof Sharon Tettegah (Director, Center for Black Studies Research) and Vice Chancellor Belinda Robnett, coordinated through the UCSB Office of DEI. This, and a planned NIH-FIRST project submission (led by Prof Beth Pruitt) that includes MCDB faculty will serve as a platform to launch coordinated recruitment and hiring initiatives across STEM at UCSB. These efforts may not directly or immediately lead to positions in MCDB but will foster the Transition and Retention aspects of diverse faculty in STEM across the campus and will help guide our own hiring practices. Such intentional approaches have been shown to account for more than 70% of successful diversity faculty hires. Diversity hiring approaches are needed at the search phase to identify and cultivate a diverse pool for advertising and a multi-prong approach is needed in the recruiting and hiring phase.
  4. All Faculty Search committee members will be required to take the specialized JEDI training offered by the campus DEI Office prior to initiating a faculty search.
  5. As noted above, faculty have committed to the UC Recognizing Implicit Bias Training, but additional trainings related to our DEI goals are available, related to many department activities including faculty/student recruiting, advising and teaching. We will work on developing training for faculty to promote a climate support of DEI, focusing on both best practices for interviewing and discussing faculty and graduate student candidates as well as identification of any climate issues. Our immediate plan is to have at least 18 of our faculty and staff participate in the JEDI workshops offered through campus DEI Office (faculty commitment has been met and this is currently being scheduled).


We recognize that this plan will evolve as we learn and that much of what is proposed here may seem like small steps as we face the challenge of systemic racism. We anticipate a Comprehensive Climate Survey that includes undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, staff and faculty and that will help guide future aspects of this plan. By continuing to expand diversity and inclusivity training, implementing curricular changes, and focusing efforts on recruiting diverse students, faculty and staff, we hope to consistently increase the diversity of our department and promote the success of everyone.