The opportunity came at just the right time for Yeimy Rivera.
She was nearing the end of her graduate program in solar physics at the University of Michigan and starting to think about next steps. Rivera decided that part of what she wanted in a postdoctoral position was the chance to expand her professional network beyond the research scene in Ann Arbor. Then she discovered the Research University Alliance (RUA), a collaboration focused on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in academic STEM careers.
Rivera visited the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) for three days in March 2019 as part of the program. She connected with staff, including her host astrophysicist, Katharine Reeves, learned about the work in solar physics and astrophysics, and gave presentations about her own studies. The experience led to a job last month when Rivera started as a postdoctoral fellow with the CfA’s Harvard College Observatory.
“It puts you ahead of the curve in a sense,” Rivera said of RUA, which funded the trip through a $1,500 grant. “You are given the opportunity to present at seminars [on your work] at different departments and start building your own collaborations, which is what one strives for as a Ph.D. student.”
RUA has served more than 45 participants like Rivera, leading to multiple postdoctoral positions and faculty appointments. Twelve students and postdocs from Harvard have been funded, and six other young scholars have visited. Harvard has been affiliated with the collaboration since 2018 and tentatively hopes to hold a conference for program participants in 2022.
RUA is a partnership between nine top research universities led by UC Berkeley. Along with Harvard, other members include California Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, UCLA, University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, University of Michigan, and Stanford University. The group plans to establish partnerships, including with historically Black colleges and universities.
“The very simple premise of what this program started with — and then expanded to — is to give underrepresented minority students, later-stage graduate students, and postdocs an opportunity to form their own network with the premise being that they don’t have existing traditional networks that others may have,” said FAS Assistant Dean for Science Zoë Fonseca-Kelly.