Aquatic Ecology & Evolution

Lecture series in Aquatic Ecology und Evolution

Seminars as one example where research groups have agency for correcting the distorted face of science

We are a research division of biologists, more specifically ecologists, evolutionary biologists and conservation biologists. As is true for many fields of science, the foundations of ecology, evolution, and conservation biology (EECB) are attributed nearly exclusively to the works and writings of scientists that are white and male. EECB has a long history of exclusion and has played an active role in creating pseudoscientific justification for racism, sexism, and colonialism, which in modern times translates into discriminatory academic structures and scientific cultures that continue to shape EECB to this day. Changing systemic bias has been excruciatingly slow and challenging because making white scientists recognize the problem is akin to moving mountains. Global events in 2020 have made marginalized minorities and their allies in many fields of science raise their collective voices. This also happened in EECB. As Steward Pickett and J. Morgan Grove wrote in a 2022 article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, “Ecologists have largely avoided race and racism as ecological factors, but events in 2020 have made it impossible to continue to ignore these impacts. …the time has come for the science to more fully acknowledge the existence and impact of systemic racism.”

Acknowledgement of racial wrongdoing is important, but it has limited value if not followed by implementation of strategies to change the system. Representation is key to overcome the racist history and structure of a whole field of science. There can be no justification to perpetuate the white male dominance in ecology, evolution or conservation biology, nor in any other science. It would not only be a continuation of injustice, but - given the state of the world - it would be wholly irresponsible because it would further delay any chance of finding sustainable solutions to the most urgent problems affecting humanity. The question arises, how can we make science more diverse, inclusive and equitable without losing precious time?

We believe that individual researchers, research groups, institutes and universities have a lot more agency than they believe they have in actively contributing to achieving this goal. Visibility and representation in science is something every researcher can actively shape every day, through teaching, through collaboration, in hiring processes, through referencing work of minorities in their own work and by means of inviting speakers to seminars and symposia.

In the division Aquatic Ecology & Evolution ( at the Institute of Ecology & Evolution, we are adopting proactive ways to contribute to correcting the distorted representation of people in our field through the ways we teach, we hire, we collaborate etc. Our scientific seminar series is one way in which we aspire to create visibility. We host about 28 seminar speakers every year. We invite speakers from around the world and we make sure that the demographics our speakers are diverse and inclusive. Here is how we do it:

We invite everyone in the division to nominate seminar speakers following simple rules that facilitate inclusion. When we invite nominations, here is what we write in order to encourage active participation across the division:  

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) are amongst the least inclusive and most white-dominated of all sciences. That this creates a myriad of problems for individual students, researchers and faculty that do not belong to the white class, and that it is also very unsustainable both for science and for society has now been richly documented, and more and better work on this is being published every month. We began a little over three years ago to make an explicit effort to use our seminar series to make a little but visible contribution to diversify the field by inviting predominantly scientists that belong to those groups that are the most strongly underrepresented in ecology, evolution and conservation science. We would like to continue to do everything in our power to contribute to changing the exclusive face of ecology, evolution and conservation. Our seminar series is a little, but visible and appreciated contribution.

With this in mind, we invite nominations from all research groups with two simple rules: to nominate at least as many Persons of Colour as a research group nominates white persons and to nominate at least as many women as a research group nominates men. We would like you to additionally pay attention to overcoming intersectional discrimination. Intersectional discrimination arises if someone is the target of more than one form of inequality, such as being Black and being woman in a field dominated by white men. If you are new to the theme of intersectional discrimination, here is a link to a UN page that is a good place to start

As a result of this approach, we have been able to assemble diverse and inclusive speaker lists every semester for the past seven semesters. Here is a link to the seminar series In addition to inviting EECB scientists from across major demographic groups, we regularly invite scientists and educators that speak about systemic and structural racism and other forms of discrimination in science and society. We believe that becoming aware of the prevalence of racism and other forms of discrimination in academia is very important for the next generation of scientists and educators. We would be glad if our seminar can contribute to this effort in some way.

Operating our seminar in this explicitly anti-racist and anti-sexist approach has had many positive outcomes. These include our students of colour to see, meet and start networking with role models that look like them; our white students to realize that science is not a white domain and not a male domain; our graduate students, Postdocs and faculty of colour meet new peers to share strategies of coping with the white and male dominance in the field; and our white graduate students, Postdocs and faculty to actively (or at least passively) expand their networks.

In the end, this helps us all to learn how to do better science and be better members of the global community.