The Boston scientists on a mission to remove bias in US scientific hiring

Alex Jackson

“One major barrier to scientific innovation is workforce development,” says Elizabeth Wu, one of three scientists behind a new platform that seeks to remove bias in scientific hiring.

Wu, alongside co-founder Danika Khong are setting their sights high, looking to address the $1B annual loss from inefficiencies in scientific recruiting in the US. The Boston-based scientists set up Scismic in November 2017, initially as a tool for early-career researchers to anonymously share information about their experiences in labs.

However, their motivations changed as they observed many talented colleagues, initially enthused with scientific drive, grow disengaged and unproductive in their jobs, feeling stuck in their careers.

“Eventually, the three of us went through career changes and personally experienced the challenges of transitioning from academia to industry,” says Khong. They decided to build a platform, with support from entrepreneur Danny Gnaniah, that could address career challenges and recruiting inefficiencies.

“We wanted to build a way for fellow researchers to find workplaces in academia and industry that would empower them to do their best science, and drive more research into the market,” adds Wu.

Their combined frustrations became the inspiration behind Scismic Job Seeker, an online diversity-promoting, automated recruiting platform for the biopharmaceutical industry. The platform matches scientists to jobs based on expertise and removes sources of bias, with its gender and race-blind matching algorithms, helping increase diversity in scientific hiring.

“One major barrier to scientific innovation is workforce development,” says Elizabeth Wu.

The co-founders highlight that current recruiting processes take over 2.5 months to fill vacancies and often result in poor fitting roles, lowering productivity and delaying scientific innovation. In addition, recruiting processes include sources of biases in candidate evaluation, like candidate name, which have been shown to exclude underrepresented scientists.

Since 1990, STEM employment in the US has grown 79 per cent and computer science roles have seen a 338 per cent increase over the same period. Pew Research Centre statistics show women make up half (50 per cent) of all US workers in STEM occupations, though their presence varies widely across occupational clusters and educational levels.

Women account for the majority of healthcare practitioners and technicians but are underrepresented in several other STEM occupational clusters, particularly in computer science roles and engineering.

However, statistics continue to show Black and Hispanic workers are widely underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Only 9 per cent of STEM workers are Black, while only 7 per cent are Hispanic.

“Our market research and previous studies show that scientists from underrepresented groups face greater barriers in finding jobs, even though diversity has been shown to result in greater productivity and innovation,” says Khong.

“We will leverage our platform to address the lack of racial diversity in STEM. There are currently no widely accessible and scalable services that address diversity at the recruiting stage for scientists.”

The beta platform has so far attracted attention from biotech companies and pharma, as well as over 1,200 scientists so far, mostly in the Boston area. This week, Scismic received a prestigious Catalyst Grant from research technology company Digital Science. The biannual grant award is offered for concepts with the potential to transform scientific and academic research.

“We need to create diverse workforces because diversity ensures the problems of all, or at least of many, will be heard and addressed,” says Khong.

The team hopes to expand and increase awareness of Job Seeker this year across the US and are also looking to enhance the platform with additional diversity and inclusion features.

“Our goal is to help all scientists, no matter their background, find workplaces that empower them to propel ground-breaking science,” concludes Wu.

We invest in, nurture and support innovative businesses and technologies that make all parts of the research process more open, efficient and effective.