On whitening the CV

I heard yet another news story* recently about the beneficial effects of whitening the resume for job seekers.

I wasn't paying close attention so I don't know the specific context. 

But suffice it to say, minority job applicants have been found (in studies) to get more call-backs for job interviews when the evidence of their non-whiteness on their resume is minimized, concealed or eradicated. 

Should academic trainees and job seekers do the same?

It goes beyond using only your initials if your first name is stereotypically associated with, for example, being African-Anerican. Or using an Americanized nickname to try to communicate that you are highly assimilated Asian-Anerican. 

The CV usually includes awards, listed by foundation or specific award title. "Ford Foundation" or "travel award for minority scholars" or similar can give a pretty good clue. But you cannot omit those! The awards, particularly the all-important "evidence of being competitively funded", are a key part of a trainee's CV. 

I don't know how common it is, but I do have one colleague (I.e., professorial rank at this point) for whom a couple of those training awards were the only clear evidence on the CV of being nonwhite. This person stopped listing these items and/or changed how they were listed to minimize detection. So it happens.

Here's the rub. 

I come at this from the perspective of one who doesn't think he is biased against minority trainees and wants to know if prospective postdocs, graduate students or undergrads are of Federally recognized underrepresented status.

Why? 

Because it changes the ability of my lab to afford them. NIH has this supplement program to fund underrepresented trainees. There are other sources of support as well. 

This changes whether I can take someone into my lab. So if I'm full up and I get an unsolicited email+CV I'm more likely to look at it if it is from an individual that qualifies for a novel funding source. 

Naturally, the applicant can't know in any given situation** if they are facing implicit bias against, or my explicit bias for, their underrepresentedness. 

So I can't say I have any clear advice on whitening up the academic CV. 

__
*probably Kang et al.

**Kang et al caution that institutional pro-diversity statements are not associated with increased call-backs or any minimization of the bias.

29 responses so far

  • The Other Dave says:

    I do the same as you. I get excited when it looks like someone has access to extra money bags, for whatever reason. But I think that's the whole point: Create more chances for underrepresented groups, to correct an imbalance.

    I have never heard of whitening one's CV. That's depressing on so many levels.

  • Anonymous says:

    How on earth can you avoid listing your first name on your CV?

    "I get excited when it looks like someone has access to extra money bags, for whatever reason."

    I totally get this. But, having been on the other side of it as well, I can tell when the main reason someone wants me is to check off a box or because they think I might be free. Not a good feeling or the way I want to start a working relationship. Maybe that's part of the motivation for whitening, too?

    "So if I'm full up and I get an unsolicited email+CV I'm more likely to look at it if it is from an individual that qualifies for a novel funding source."

    How about evaluating the qualifications first, and then, based on that, asking about the funding situation?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Delusional and not listening ^.

    Dude.

    AYFK?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Training grant slots, new grant, available supplements, available philanthropy......

    Why are any of these more or less "free" to the PI?

  • sara says:

    The same goes for international trainees - they come with the option of getting funding from their home country. Which can be appealing.

    On the other hand, I was advised during my training to NOT put any activities that were associated with being a parent. Some of these were substantial efforts of scientific outreach and grant writing even, but because they had to do with my kids' school, I risked being 'mommy-tracked' by listing them. Was told that if I were a dood I could have kept them.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Not sure that would be a great idea for a dad either.

  • jojo says:

    For the applicants, how about google-stalking the person you're about to email to see if they have EVER had an african american trainee? If they have the chances that they will be excited to have another for the reasons you state / be less biased are much better.

    For the PI trying to attract such students, are you allowed to say on your OWN website that you have additional funding that is only available for applicants from underrepresented groups?

  • Grumble says:

    "How on earth can you avoid listing your first name on your CV?"

    My wife has a foreign first name that is nearly unpronounceable to Americans. She puts her American nickname as her first name on top of her resume. Everyone at work calls her that anyway.

    The conundrum is, what happens when she applies for a job where the hiring manager is someone from the same country her name is from? I've told her to use her real name in those cases, but she didn't listen to me. And didn't get those jobs, either!

  • Grumble says:

    "For the applicants, how about google-stalking the person you're about to email to see if they have EVER had an african american trainee? "

    Uhh, how would you necessarily know whether any of the trainees are African-American? While almost everyone has a picture online somewhere, those pictures are not always easy to find.

    "For the PI trying to attract such students, are you allowed to say on your OWN website that you have additional funding that is only available for applicants from underrepresented groups?"

    That funding is available to ANY PI who has a R01 (from NIDA; not sure about other institutes). The supplement must be applied for, with a specific trainee in mind, and could be denied. AFAIK, no PI is just sitting on minority-specific funds, looking for someone to spend it on.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What Grumble said. It changes the possibilities. Still gotta hustle!

  • Anony says:

    Also having been on the "other side", I imagine Anonymous has been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they aren't good enough and/or that they have gotten where they are because they are a minority.

    I have heard this since middle school, when I was accepted into a specialized public school. A teacher told me to my face that I was accepted because of my background. It didn't matter that I have straight A's and some talent. I have heard similar many times since, including a few months ago when I sat on a faculty committee. And that's not including what has been said behind my back.

    So yeah, sometimes you want to know that you achieved something independent of your minority/underprivileged status.

    I'm not saying "white-washing" a CV is ok, or that we shouldn't use diversity supplements and whatnot. But Anonymous is not delusional.

  • Anonymous says:

    @DM: Yeah, the possibility that you might evaluate a resume based only on the qualifications is really wacko, no? Those people who cover up the names first are obviously nut jobs!

  • Established PI says:

    I have wondered about this issue quite a bit in light of various studies showing that job applicants with stereotypical African-American names got fewer callbacks. It would be great if someone could to a study relevant to science along the lines of the one Jo Handelsman did on the impact of female names in evaluating lab techs. Sure, getting a supplement-eligible applicant is great, but it would be no surprise to learn that perceived minority status (A.A., Asian) may be a net negative.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Anonymous- are you really this clueless about the way academic training works? Every trainee *costs* in biomedical sciences- they get a stipend. This has to come from somewhere and funds are finite. If I exhaust one source of $ on trainee X, then trainee Y cannot be considered until another source of support is identified.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Anony-

    Yeah. You are absolutely correct. But if the choices are no slot/job/opportunity or the one that comes with the minority label... My position is that one should take the money and run. This business is too hard and too uncertain to pass up opportunities.

    Now if you have choices, that's obviously a different situation.

  • Anony says:

    Oh, I know. I have benefited from minority-specific funding for myself and for my trainees. But I am definitely ambivalent about it.

  • Anonymous says:

    @DM: you are assuming that all opportunities are good ones, and that some PIs wouldn't take a minority candidate as just an extra pair of hands in their lab simply because they know that they can get funding for them. Those "opportunities" are ones I have no trouble passing up.

    But there is nothing preventing you from taking a look at a CV and, if that seems interesting/competitive to you, then inquiring about possible minority status. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That's an awkward conversation at best, anonymous. And the point remains... That conversation never takes place.

  • Anonymous says:

    Really? How about, "Your background seems like a great fit for my lab, but unfortunately, I can't support any more students/postdocs with my current grants. If you are a member of an underrepresented group, however, I might be able to apply for funding for you. Are you?"

    What is so awkward about this?

    I think its' much less "awkward" than making assumptions about people's race, etc., from pictures on Google or from names.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why don't you reread this thread, including your own comments, and figure out why a PI might not be keen to have that particular chat.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh, right. I forgot that the most important thing is that the PI not be made to feel the least bit uncomfortable in this process. So it's totally fine to make the applicant bear the burden of dealing with the PI's implicit and/or explicit biases.

    Your comment makes no sense, BTW. I'm willing to bet that many who whiten their CV would have no problem revealing minority status *after* someone has expressed interest in them based on other factors.

  • The Other Dave says:

    ""Your background seems like a great fit for my lab, but unfortunately, I can't support any more students/postdocs with my current grants. If you are a member of an underrepresented group, however, I might be able to apply for funding for you. Are you?"

    I write almost the same thing to people all the time. Except I don't say "underrepresented group". I say something like "But if there is some way we could get extra funding to support you, then we should talk". Because, as already noted above, some people might have support from their home countries, or whatever. I am still waiting for the child of a billionaire to walk in and tell me their parents will fund the lab if I hire them.

  • Banditokat says:

    I'm biased towards accepting parents, women and minorities in my lab. People get shitte done, done want to hang out with me as their 'parent' and have been thru some shitte. Put those fellowships on your CVs.

  • DJMH says:

    Journal editors are not known for their outreach to minorities, so if someone has good papers in decent journals from their grad work, it doesn't matter if they're green with purple spots--their CV will be attractive to any rational PI. (That is not to claim that all PIs are rational, though.)

    If there's no or weaker pubs though, that's where I bet it would be worse to show evidence of minority status....only white guys get to bullshit about their greatness with no proof, dontcha know?

  • Juan Lopez says:

    A couple of years ago I was interviewing potential graduate students. One of them was very smart AND minority. Even more, she was of a minority in which the disease we study has a much higher prevalence, but which is very badly under represented in research (read - I know zero PIs of that minority). I told her that this was a good opportunity. That she could make an important contribution and have advantages when applying for funding.

    She was not happy with my comment. Maybe I didn't say it right. Maybe she was upset at thinking that I saw her as a source of money more than a smart individual. She didn't apply to my Lab. I wish I could have that conversation again and do it better.

  • Crystaldoc says:

    I am not a URM but have had trainees that are. I have thought that for most (practically all?) R01-funded PIs to whom a grad student might apply for a postdoc, the availability of R01 minority supplements would be such a huge plus that you (the applicant) would definitely somehow subtly want to bring out this information in your application, not hide it. Perhaps this is a special case for the specific job category of student transitioning to biomedical postdoc. I do not believe this is greed on the part of PIs, or seeing just the money and not the trainee; rather that there just is no money for any other kind of applicant, so I would not waste my time or theirs pursuing the idea of recruitment, whereas for the URM, I would look further to see if the candidate is qualified and potentially a good fit for my lab. URM trainees may take offense at this calculation, but I hope will not, because I believe it in no way compromises my commitment to the person in terms of training and mentoring if recruitment proceeds.

    Because of my perception that URM status is a plus rather than minus at the student-to-postdoc transition, as an advisor writing letters for URM students, I have purposefully mentioned their prior support on URM training grants, special travel awards, etc., thinking that this is a way to get would-be mentors to pay attention. If the students are secretly trying to whiten their CVs, maybe I am ruining their plans by outing them. I am open to changing my preconceptions, and my approach to letter writing, if there might be any data, or even consensus of anecdata, to indicate bias *against* the URM candidate in the specific case of students seeking biomed postdoctoral positions ...

  • Lirael says:

    I'm curious, DM, do you see this as applying to disability status as well (since I know the NIH considers that in some of its representation-boosting programs)? My observation has been that a surprising number of academics can be real jerks about disability (especially if it's not a visible disability or if it involves the brain in some way, e.g. dyslexia or ADHD). But it's true that it also opens up at least one extra funding source for trainees.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I suspect similar issues would be at play.

  • piel says:

    I guess I've taken the opposite approach in the past. As a Latinx scientist, there's really no way of whitening my CV, which explicitly acknowledges my URM status (education, fellowships, etc.). When applying for postdoc positions, I (naively) thought that if a PI was aware of my URM status, they would be more likely to look at my application materials, etc. (since I could potentially be "free"). Unfortunately, my feeling is that most PIs have never heard of the supplements or many of the other URM-specific funding opportunities (Ford Foundation, NSF, etc.).

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