Nov 28, 2022

"Science is better when it’s inclusive"

EDI@Tanz committee builds grassroots support for equity, diversity and inclusion in research

EDI committee
By Eileen Hoftyzer

A new equity, diversity and inclusion committee at the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases aims to generate grassroots support among faculty, students and staff in creating an inclusive environment at the Centre.

“The relatively modest size of the Tanz Centre community means we can talk directly to people here to encourage them to pay more attention to equity, diversity and inclusion and appeal to them to challenge themselves about their unconscious biases,” says Naomi Visanji, assistant professor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology and principal investigator at the Tanz Centre. “Our goal is that committee members are not the only ones working on these new initiatives, but that we engage the whole Tanz community to help us identify their needs, provide us with ideas and join us in the various projects where they can.”

Visanji volunteered to chair the committee last spring, initially to help fulfill the requirements for a large grant application; however, she says that the Tanz community has shown significant enthusiasm for the group and a growing appreciation of the importance of diversity in science. Currently, twelve faculty, students, trainees and staff participate in the committee, with the goal of identifying EDI-related issues at the Tanz Centre and coordinating efforts to address those issues.

“The committee originally came from a specific need, but it’s already grown into something that is genuinely having a positive impact here at the Tanz,” she says. “We’re not just ticking a box.”

One of the committee’s first initiatives was a survey of all faculty, students and staff at the Tanz Centre to learn more about how members understand EDI and experience the work environment. Anna Vasilevskaya, a final-year PhD student with Professor Carmela Tartaglia, led the work on the survey together with Lauren Levy.

“I wanted to join the EDI committee not only to learn more about the barriers that exist in academia, but also to be active in addressing these barriers. And the first step to addressing them is to become more aware of them,” says Vasilevskaya. “We wanted to see where the Tanz is doing well in creating an equitable, diverse and inclusive environment, what can be improved, and how we can address these areas to better serve our community.”

The survey provided valuable baseline information about EDI at the Tanz Centre that will help the committee measure their impact. Committee members were particularly surprised that 30 per cent of the respondents said they had experienced an unwelcome comment at work, but also that 60 per cent didn’t know what to do after receiving or learning that someone had received an unwelcome comment.

Based on this information, the committee plans to develop roadmaps to help direct people who have experienced an unwelcome comment or their supervisors on next steps, and how to access the Temerty Faculty of Medicine or the U of T’s resources if needed.

Committee Looks Forward to Working with Tanz Community

Dr. Philip McGoldrick, a research associate working in Professor Janice Robertson’s group, is leading the initiative to increase uptake of the university’s unconscious bias training and increase awareness of implicit bias. With more organizations requiring training in this area, including CIHR requiring unconscious bias training for reviewers, McGoldrick says this training provides important professional learnings.

“My own experience with the training and implicit bias tests was really illuminating. We often don’t realize that we have these opinions and biases and how they can shape our interactions and behaviours,” says McGoldrick. “As researchers, we have a lot of collaborations among Tanz members and externally, and it’s important that we recognize how these biases can shape our interactions with each other at work and in our lives more generally.”

The committee’s other projects include promoting the Positive Space campaign to make the lab areas more visibly welcoming to people from the 2SLGTBQ+ community, advocating for greater accessibility in the research facilities for people with physical disabilities, maintaining a Tanz Community Pantry to reduce food waste and address food insecurity, and reaching out to organizations that work with high school students to help increase awareness of and interest in scientific research among students of all backgrounds.

Both McGoldrick and Vasilevskaya are excited about the committee’s initiatives, the pace at which work is being done and the impact of their work. And they are looking forward to getting input from the entire Tanz community on ideas for future projects.

“Having a diverse group of people at Tanz and on the committee brings in so many different ideas and perspectives that make me think and reflect on issues I may not be aware of, and how we can improve the environment at Tanz,” says Vasilevskaya. “Ultimately we’re here to serve the community, and being able to collaborate with all the members, learn from their experiences and gather new ideas is valuable.”

Visanji and the rest of the EDI@Tanz committee hope that their efforts to make the Tanz community more diverse and the work environment accessible and welcoming to people from many different populations will ultimately lead to even better research being done at the centre.

“Science is better when it’s inclusive. Diversity is good for research,” says Visanji. “We all want our research to be as relevant as possible, and being diverse and inclusive drives that by incorporating people with a wide variety of problem-solving approaches and perspectives.”

The EDI@Tanz committee members are Naomi Visanji (Chair), Ari Berlotserkovksy, Louis Chan, Shehab Eid, Jenny Griffin, Ain Kim, Lauren Levy, Philip McGoldrick, Hania Qamar, Liam Ralph, Meng Tian and Anna Vasilevskaya. Contact the committee at