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Mitigating Bias in a Fellowship Evaluation Process: the Case Study of 51 Pegasi b

In 2017, we launched 51 Pegasi b, a postdoctoral fellowship program providing exceptional scientists with the opportunity to conduct theoretical, observational, and experimental research in planetary astronomy. But despite the Foundation’s genuine commitment to advance women in the fields of physics and astronomy, we encountered serious diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges.

Determined to do better, the Foundation worked with Dr. Joyce Yen— director of the University of Washington’s ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change— to gather feedback from the scientific community, and seek guidance from DEI experts. This case study, authored by Dr. Yen and published in Nature Astronomy, illustrates how incorporating lessons from social science research into the application and evaluation processes helped interrupt and mitigate a number of biases (implicit, anchoring, confirmation, and others), identify scientific excellence, and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. This resulted in a more diverse set of candidates for the 51 Pegasi b Fellowship.

Although we feel happy about the current improvements, we will continue our efforts to advance more types of diversity, and the inclusion of underrepresented groups in the fellowship’s new applicant pool.

Read the case study in Nature Astronomy and a Q&A feature with Dr. Yen in the University of Washington (UW) News.