Where in the world…are all the black geoscientists?!


During my graduate work I visited a researcher in Miami to discuss a new dating technique he helped develop. It led to one of the most eye-opening conversations I’ve had around diversity. He was a real cool dude. After we spent several hours talking shop and looking at his lab set up, he opened up to me. He prefaced a turn in conversation with something to the order of “I hope this doesn’t sound weird or anything…” Little did he know, my favorite conversations start off that way.

With a twinge of frustration, he blurted out “Where do I find someone like you?!??” See, he was a white gentleman in his forties that grew up in the Bronx, surrounded by people from everywhere and all shades and colors. Since I grew up in Queens myself, I understood what he was talking about. He was fed up with the lack of diversity in the geosciences (his specific area was oceanographic sciences). He wanted his lab to be different. He wanted to use his position in the scientific community to make things how they should be, where everyone had access to the marine/geosciences. But he couldn’t seem to find any black college students in the field, even in Miami where there’s so much diversity.

I remember looking at him, mouth agape, and admitted I had no idea. I was the only one I knew of as well. Every conference I had been to, every geology class I had attended, every field station I ever visited, I was it. The lone ranger. He asked me about my childhood to try to figure out how I had become a geologist. He was very polite about the whole thing. I was actually really honored to be in the presence of someone like him. A change maker…Or at least an aspiring change maker. It was comforting to know that there were people out there like him, and since that conversation, I have learned of other “old white man” scientists that really put action behind making a difference. And have made their labs a place where women and minorities are welcome and encouraged. (Please note: I am fully aware that someone in their forties doesn’t actually constitute old, especially now that forty is not that far off from my current age.)

I had thought (or hoped?) my experience of oneness was maybe unique to my life history. But having someone who has done research many different places and been in the field for decades, say the same thing, floored me. It started the question in my head: Where are all the black geoscientists? I now know of a whopping six other black geoscientists, four of which I know personally. And honestly, they’re scattered everywhere which is good thing. That’s how change spreads.

But I think a conversation around the geography of the diversity of geosciences is needed.

I was putzing around the internets, looking at data (because that’s the exciting nature of my life) and I ran across two reports that raised a red flag for me. The first was created by AIP (American Institute of Physics) entitled African Americans Among Degree Recipients in Physics and Geoscience (2010). The second was created by AGI (American Geosciences Institute) entitled Salaries and Employment Locations of Recent Geoscience Graduates (2013). As I mentioned in a previous post, I like maps and figures, so naturally, that’s where my eye gravitated.

Below are the maps provided in each study. Is there anything interesting you notice? Anything?

AIP Geography

Figure 1 of the AIP report “African Americans Among Degree Recipients in Physics and Geoscience” published October 2010.

AGI Geography

Map from the AGI report “Salaries and Employment Locations of Recent Geoscience Graduates” published October 2013.

The states where AGI was reporting the jobs are located, is not the states with the highest black populations! To make the point even more clear, API listed which institutions awarded the most bachelor degrees to blacks (see below). And they are primarily in the south…where black people live (surprise surprise), but not where most of the jobs are 😦 .


Table 4 of the AIP report “African Americans Among Degree Recipients in Physics and Geoscience” published October 2010.

Which led to the next set of questions for me: How big is this geography issue? Will blacks with geoscience degrees move to where the jobs are?

Thankfully, the US Census actually gives this data on their website. I took the data on the General Mobility of Householders and converted it to percentages and then only kept race and region. I am not a stats wizard, so I don’t have p-values that will clarify statistical significances of these percentages. Instead I used the highly accurate method called “eyeballing.” (However, if stats is your thing, I would love you very much if you could help me with this. Like, I’d treat you to a nice cup of coffee type of love, not hand over my first child to you type of love.)  Just looking at the percentages provided below, it seems as if blacks and southerners are “movers,” although how far they’d be willing to move is less clear (this is where I could use a stats wizard).

BG Geog Table 10

Modified Table 10 from the US Census. If you’d like the pdf of this table, click here. The pdf is easier to read.

Now, we’re in Outreach territory. Where should we focus geoscience outreach efforts? So that we can get more blacks engaged in the geosciences.

I think there are 4 main philosophical approaches you can adopt to answer this question:

1) Focus on where black people live.

2) Focus on where the jobs are.

3) Focus on where the jobs AND black people are (there is some overlap).

4) Focus on everywhere, i.e. the “gunshot method.”

Which is my favorite? I think this meme will answer that for you…


The gunshot method just feels right.

I’ll be following up with some data and information on these four philosophies so that everyone understands the landscape and resources available to help understand and maybe answer this question. Until then, please share your opinion below.

Is there a geosciences outreach method you prefer? And, if you can, please share why. Also, if you know of any previous research done that might be able to answer this question, please post it below, tweet it to me @BlackGeoRocks or email me at blackgeoscientists@gmail.com. Thanks!



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