Rainbow Science Network: Inclusive scientists, inclusive science

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After six months of design and preparation, the Rainbow Science Network (RSN) launched in October and is ready to assist in fostering a fully inclusive environment in research groups in the Eberly College of Science.

Through this initiative, prospective research team members at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and technical levels in the LGBTQ+ community can readily identify research groups where faculty members have received training in LGBTQ+ issues and are committed to fostering a fully inclusive environment. The RSN page, which can be viewed here, provides information for both faculty interested in getting involved and students looking for research opportunities. 

Faculty interested in maintaining and indicating their inclusive research environment are able to join the RSN after meeting application requirements: completing two training courses offered by the Penn State Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, having one other member of the group complete both trainings, and committing to reminding their group once a semester about their pledge to foster an inclusive scientific community.

Students interested in identifying labs with an inclusive research group are able to access lists of faculty members who are part of the RSN community. While the RSN is primarily geared toward undergraduate researchers, it also serves as an indicator to prospective graduate students, postdocs, and research staff about the atmosphere of lab groups. The organization has also compiled links to undergraduate research opportunities in the sciences.

Claire Thomas, associate professor of biology and of biochemistry and molecular biology, is one of the RSN’s creators. As someone who is an advocate of equality in all aspects of society, Thomas has worked to incorporate LGBTQ+ inclusivity in both the State College community and academia. She created The 100% Sign organization which asks that everyone be approached first and foremost as a fellow human being; was chosen to speak for the State College Borough in 2019 when it received a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index; currently serves on the American Society for Cell Biology’s LGBTQ+ Task Force; and has served as chair of the Climate and Diversity Committee for the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 

As the idea for the RSN developed, Thomas worked diligently to bring it to fruition with the assistance of Kristin Finch, the college’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and with input from Brian Patchcoski, director of the Penn State Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The organization was also supported by Douglas Cavener, the college’s former dean, and current Eberly College Dean Tracy Langkilde.

“We know that diversity in science makes for better science,” Thomas said. “Through the RSN, we hope to attract more talented LGBTQ+ people into scientific research to make our science better."


Last Updated April 15, 2021