Science Chat with Miranda Stratton

March 27, 2024

Dr. Miranda Stratton is the Assistant Director of JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) - Community and Partnerships on the Staff JEDI Team at Stanford University School of Medicine. A cellular biologist turned JEDI practitioner, she is passionate about transforming cultures and creating communities where people can be their whole selves. As a scholar, she has published peer-reviewed articles that guide STEM trainees and their mentors in navigating academic STEM spaces. A former first-generation, low-income (FLI) student and multiethnic woman of color, Miranda is an alumna of the University of San Diego and its McNair Scholars Program. In 2019, she earned her PhD in Biology from Stanford University.

Q: Who initially inspired you to pursue a career in science?

A: It all started with teachers from middle and high school who nurtured my curiosity into thinking like a student-scientist. Mentors like Mrs. Davenport (my first real exposure to another Mexican-American woman with a background in science) and Mrs. Bitterman really helped me feel comfortable with asking questions and being vulnerable with learning. My teachers were great at bringing science into the classroom and exposing us to true research. The late Dr. Carlos Barbas III was also instrumental in furthering my passion for research - he was well-known in the field for work on zinc-finger nuclease-mediated gene editing. I’ve been fortunate to have mentors prior to undergrad that made studying science a reality for me.

Q: With such an interesting and successful career at the bench, what prompted you to think about working professionally in the JEDI space?

A: My decision to pursue a JEDI career really stemmed from my experiences both in academia and in social activism. While I have always been passionate about science, I feel a strong commitment to addressing social inequalities, especially within STEM fields. My involvement in various student organizations in undergrad and grad school also highlighted the importance of creating an inclusive environment and supporting underrepresented groups in the sciences. We are complex humans with identities that intersect with the scientific identity who can’t just hang up our emotions and personal experiences on the coat rack with the rest of our belongings when we walk into lab - we need to be holistically supported and express ourselves authentically in order to have true representation as scientists and academics.

Q: What would be your advice to a student, particularly one who doesn’t have resources or a vast network available to them, wanting to find success in STEM?

A: I would say to build a community around you as best you can. Don’t be scared to ask questions or express curiosity - it’s through teachers and professors who took note of my interest and passion for science who really helped me get to where I am today. I didn't realize at the time, but starting to foster a connection with teachers and professors is what led them to being my mentors, allies, and champions over time. Identify your mentors and realize that despite your current educational level or background, you can consider yourself a  scientist in training, you just need the right coaching to advance to the next level. I never would have dreamed I’d be a graduate student at Stanford. It was because of mentors positioning me in a place to be successful that I was, and that’s largely what I’m trying to give back to others, especially minoritized staff, through my current work on the staff JEDI team, including offering support to research staff .

Q: You mentioned the evolving recognition of diverse identities within STEM environments. Could you elaborate on the progress you've observed and the challenges that persist for women of color in STEM?

A: We're beginning to acknowledge the coexistence of scientists' identities with their social backgrounds, particularly those on the margins of society. The shift is from ignoring or devaluing these identities to celebrating and incorporating them into scientific endeavors. However, systemic issues like competitive cultures and lack of support systems still hinder progress, and provide opportunities to shift STEM environments and cultures to be more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

Q: How can organizations, especially startups, cultivate more inclusive cultures and ensure equity, considering limited resources and HR infrastructure?

A: Startups have a unique opportunity to operationalize JEDI principles into their foundational values, practices, and workplace culture. There are so many early opportunities to embed JEDI into the organizational culture through the scientific questions being answered, as well as throughout its workforce. It's crucial to focus on collective efforts,  and align values with actions through continuous reflection and iteration. Luckily, my team, the Staff JEDI Team has created resources that embed JEDI into the employee experience to assist organizations in this process. We also have published an article in Culture Amp on how companies can operationalize their values and align them to JEDI principles through their organizational mission statements.

To learn more about the Stanford School of Medicine Staff JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Team, visit Contact Miranda and the team at