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Hinton plans to use ASBMB committee post to advocate for diversity & inclusion in science

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    Advocate for diversity:  William & Mary biologist Shantá D. Hinton joins the Public Affairs Advisory Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). She says she wants to use her position to advocate for diversity in the scientific community.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William & Mary biologist Shantá D. Hinton has become a member of the Public Affairs Advisory Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

The ASBMB publishes three open-access research journals and has a membership of more than 12,000. Hinton, the Class of 2021 Associate Professor of Biology at William & Mary, joins the advocacy panel of the society, a group that regularly communicates with representatives of federal funding agencies, members of Congress and other influential individuals and offices. Hinton says she wants to use her position to advocate for diversity in science.

“I want to make sure that the discussions about diversity moves forward with dialogue about genuine inclusion of minority scientists,” she said. “It is important to understand that the need to implement equity and fairness is not about charity.”

At William & Mary, Hinton focuses her research on a group of enzymes known as pseudophosphatases, especially a promising protein known as MK-STYX. The lab staff includes a technician and three master’s students, but the Hinton lab is largely staffed by undergraduates.

She explained that her conception of “diversity” extends to the independent research programs, HBCUs and the many institutions that stress undergraduate research. She hopes her work can help such high-functioning, but often overlooked, institutions gain higher visibility, especially when it comes to opportunities for federal funding.

“Serving on this committee provides an opportunity to advocate for science. It is important for scientists to effectively communicate with everyone in today’s society,” she said. “The Public Affairs Advisory Committee serves as such a platform, while networking with scientists and political advocates across the nation.”

Hinton said she is looking forward to honing her scientific communications, outreach and advocacy skill with the other committee members and the ASBMB staff. She said she intends to include a few students when ASBMB members pay calls on the funding agencies and on Capitol Hill.

One of the messages she wants to get across on these visits is to remind officials about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on scientific research: “The pandemic closed most labs, except those focused on the virus, for 6 to 12 months and maybe longer,” she said, adding that pandemic shutdowns have also choked travel and delivery of scientific supplies.

But most of all, Hinton said, she hopes to convince the right people that the work of Black, Brown and woman scientists should be judged by parity, and not charity.

“Scientists that look like me are very capable of having a successful research program,” she said. “We should not need to present a ‘sob story’ to receive funding approval — or wait half a decade before receiving continued funding.”