DEI, Workforce, and Outreach
The success of this strategic plan requires innovation, creativity, and a multidisciplinary and diverse workforce. This appendix details actions that can achieve a more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI) environment for the growth of the needed workforce. The Community Planning Process (CPP) report presented consensus views on the needs in these areas:
“Diversity is expressed in myriad forms, including all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, gender expressions, national origins, religious affiliations, sexual orientations, family education level, disability status, political perspective—and other visible and nonvisible differences. Equity ensures equal opportunity and the impact of those opportunities in equitable outcomes for all persons; requiring zero tolerance for bias, harassment, and discrimination. Inclusion is the deliberate effort to ensure that our community is a place where differences are welcomed and encouraged, different perspectives are respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging.”
Data show that the fusion and plasma science research communities have significant deficiencies in workforce diversity, with participation of women and minorities below national averages for other subfields of physics and engineering. This means we are not accessing the available talent pool, and that lack is a clear barrier to our success. The problems involve more than recruiting talent into the field. Retaining diverse talent is affected by the culture within the community, and a community that is not welcoming and supportive will have a difficult time retaining diverse populations. Embracing equity and inclusion is the key to addressing this issue.
A recent policy change by the Office of Management and Budget placed significant limits on workforce and outreach programs at DOE. This policy, intended to reduce duplication of education and outreach activities at federal agencies, had the unintended consequence of eliminating discipline-specific outreach and workforce programs that were not being duplicated at other agencies. Specifically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) limits eliminated an important graduate fellowship program and placed restrictions on undergraduate research programs executed by DOE. However, DOE has been able to continue offering opportunities for undergraduates through the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program, which brings students to national laboratories for research experience. What was lost was a broader undergraduate research program that placed students at a wide range of institutions, including universities and industries, where they could participate in a broad spectrum of FES research. A new program created by DOE, the Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program, provides resources that enable students to spend a portion of their graduate programs working with mentors at national labs. Although the program is useful, it does not replace the former graduate fellowship program. The SCGSR cannot be used as a tool to recruit graduate students into the field. It is designed specifically to help students already committed to working in a research area to obtain access to cutting-edge facilities and national lab researchers so that they can complete their thesis work. A graduate fellowship program, however, can target a diverse population of undergraduate students and be used to recruit them into areas supported by DOE.
The following sections detail actions that FES can take to address DEI, workforce, and outreach needs. Though listed separately, the three areas tie together: Effective expansion of the fusion and plasma science workforce requires tapping into the full talent pool, which better reflects the diversities of race, gender, background, and identity, and enacting policies aimed at improving the work climate in the community and institutions to increase recruitment and retention. The dual efforts of improving DEI and developing workforce, in turn, stem from effective outreach that ranges from energizing the imagination of K–12 students and the general public to actively attracting undergraduates and graduate students into the field. This includes expanding and retaining plasma and fusion faculty at colleges and universities throughout the nation. In addition, there are significant opportunities for recruitment of established scientists and engineers working in areas other than fusion and plasma into both the federal program and private fusion and plasma-focused companies. Progress on any one of these fronts will improve all three desired outcomes.
Since the CPP report was community based, many of the recommendations are aimed at the fusion and plasma science research community as a whole rather than at any single funding agency. The CPP report made some recommendations on DEI and workforce, all of which should be acted on. Here we have identified specific recommendations that are actionable by DOE or other federal agencies. We call out a second set of recommendations that DOE could advocate in partnership with other federal agencies and research institutions.
Recommendations actionable by FES
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
For a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment in the field of fusion and plasma science and technology, we recommend the following actions:
Conscious or unconscious bias based on gender, race/ethnicity, or other personal and scientifically irrelevant characteristics can interfere with an equitable funding process and should be discouraged by FES-funded programs. The impact of such bias can be minimized by, for instance, implementing double anonymous peer-reviewing of proposals. Similar review processes have been successfully implemented in other agencies, such as NASA and NSF. These review processes often utilize a two-step approach, where evaluation of institutional and personnel capabilities is carried out after an initial anonymous technical review.
Policies that promote work-life balance are essential to achieve better gender and financial-background equality and will improve the overall diversity of the workforce. Although FES has limited power in implementing parental leave policies, a topic that is part of a broader national conversation, the agency can take further action to support family-friendly policies among its funding recipients. For instance, FES should work with principal investigators to adjust milestones and deliverables to accommodate research team members who take family leave. FES has already adjusted deadlines due to the exceptional conditions during COVID-19, which proved that the avenues for these deadline changes exist.
DEI and workforce improvements should weigh into the awards process. This can be achieved by implementing a requirement in proposals for the consideration of DEI efforts as an integral aspect of the review process for institutions seeking funding from DOE FES.
To attract the best talent and recruit individuals with the skills that the program needs, and to retain them and grow our workforce, we recommend the following:
As recommended in Chapter 2, restore DOE’s ability to execute discipline-specific workforce development programs that can help recruit diverse new talent to FES-supported fields of research. We recognize that this requires action beyond DOE.
Reinstate and create fellowships to help recruit and retain top students from a diverse applicant pool into FES research areas. Fellowships for new graduate students are critical to recruitment. Expand direct support for students and postdocs during their tenure (such as internships and SULI for undergraduate and SCGSR for graduate students) and for early career scientists (such as the DOE Early Career Research Program). These programs improve recruitment, facilitate collaboration, and mitigate power imbalances. Programs should emphasize broadening the recruitment pool and increasing opportunities for women, underrepresented minorities, and other underrepresented groups. The programs should support work at national laboratories, universities, and private companies.
Expand and create programs designed to increase and retain faculty positions at universities and colleges, including faculty start-up grants to incentivize departments to increase their existing fusion or plasma science faculty numbers or to start such a program outright. Although existing Early Career Awards (ECAs) support new junior faculty, no program exists within FES that encourages colleges or universities to hire fusion or plasma science faculty in the first place. Such programs have been successfully implemented at other funding agencies (e.g., NSF’s Faculty Development in the Space Sciences Program). Such programs can address equity and diversity by expanding and aiming such efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Efforts to support retention of faculty should also include expanding ECAs to non-tenure-track researchers at universities and implementing joint university/national lab faculty development programs.
Recruiting the best workforce requires reaching out to a broad sector of the public at every educational level. Although we are aware of the limitations imposed by OMB regulations, we request that FES support outreach to attract a diverse future workforce and publicly promote the role of plasma and fusion in society.
There is an opportunity to use FES resources to promote plasma science and, in particular, fusion science. Actions to do that should come from FES, given that NSF does not currently support fusion science research or outreach, and thus such outreach can be conducted only by national labs. The goal of these outreach activities is to create a broad entrance to the plasma and fusion science and technology workforce pipeline, which will allow access to the wide variety of specific skills required to execute the program.
These FES resources can support the development of a new public-facing website for plasma science and fusion, potentially in collaboration with other programs or agencies, and in coordination with existing resources of this kind. Such resources could also support pre-college outreach to engage the youngest minds with the FES program and inspire students to consider careers in plasma and fusion science. Student outreach approaches could include student design competitions, which have proven successful for the promotion of other scientific fields.
Collaboration with Other Agencies and Institutions
In addition to highlighting recommendations considered directly actionable within FES, the committee encourages FES to engage with other federal agencies and stakeholders on broader DEI and workforce development recommendations laid out in the CPP report.
Institutions should engage DEI experts to advise our community and develop assessment tools. Such programs, including those led by the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics, have been successfully implemented at FES-funded institutions.
FES-funded institutions and events should adopt and update policies that promote a welcoming workplace environment, including articulating and adopting codes of conduct for conferences and workshops that outline parameters for respectful interactions among attendees; requiring training on bias, cultural competence, and bystander intervention; and investigating how to assess reports of harassment.
DOE and FES-funded institutions should create a welcoming and accessible environment, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, for all members of our community. All institutions funded by or working in the several fields of FES should expand recruitment pools (geographically, fields of study, types of institutions, etc.) and identify underrepresented areas with linkages to the workforce development topics outlined above.
Create parental leave policies by working with institutions on more uniform family leave policies to economically support up to 12 weeks of leave taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This includes allowing continued support for personnel during principal investigator leave, supporting flexible hours and telecommuting, and access to lactation space.
Institutions funded by or working in fields of FES should develop flexible postgraduate education options and facilitate employment of scientists and engineers with BS/MS degrees at FES facilities. The facilities should have BS/MS development programs.