Upon establishing our lab at Stanford, we discussed and adopted a new poster to emphasize the values we have as a group. The poster is inspired by a template created by Stanford alum, Dr. Sammy Katta.
To adapt the template for our lab, Professor DeSimone took a pledge affirming our commitment to continuous allyship for marginalized and underrepresented communities in STEM, a commitment he has emphasized throughout his career and a key part of the lab’s culture. Learn more through the examples below
In his career, Prof. DeSimone has mentored 80 graduate students through PhD completion—half of whom are women and those from underrepresented groups in STEM. As Director of the NSF Science & Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes at the University of North Carolina from 1999 to 2009, his leadership also helped facilitate Center-supported research opportunities for 170 African American students. In 2010, he received the AAAS Mentor Award for his efforts to advance diversity in the chemistry PhD workforce.
In 2000, leadership by DeSimone lab members (then at the University of North Carolina) led the American Chemical Society’s Polymer Division to relocate a key meeting to another state in light of an NAACP boycott against South Carolina due to the state’s decision to continue flying the Confederate flag over its Capitol building, which the state continue to do until 2015.
In 2020, the journal Angew. Chem. published an essay espousing racist and sexist views. A member of the journal’s International Advisory Board at the time, Prof. DeSimone swiftly coordinated a response resulting in a mass resignation by 16 IAB members, including all American members. The group issued a strong statement about their action.
In the DeSimone lab, we value diversity in all of its forms. We learn the most from those we have the least in common with, and as we grow as a lab, it is critical to build our teams with both disciplinary and human diversity in mind from the start. We believe that the best way to innovate in the lab is to bring together talented, hard-working individuals who have a wide range of academic backgrounds and life experiences, and—stemming from these backgrounds and experiences—unique interests, skills, perspectives, learning styles, and problem-solving approaches.
There is no more fertile ground for innovation than a diversity of experience. And that diversity of experience arises from a difference of cultures, ethnicities, and life backgrounds. A successful scientific endeavor is one that attracts a diversity of experience, draws upon the breadth and depth of that experience, and cultivates those differences, acknowledging the creativity they spark.Professor Joseph M. DeSimone
The above quote, which has appeared on Professor DeSimone’s website since his early career, captures the importance of building diverse teams to drive innovation, as well as to support group members who bring different perspectives to the team.
Indeed, a growing body of research of supports the notion that diversity, and especially human diversity (i.e. demographic or identity diversity), is a fundamental tenet of innovation. A team’s potential for innovation becomes greater when individual differences converge in a supportive environment[2,3,4].
However, recent research also shows that underrepresented students, despite driving scientific innovation at higher rates than majority students, often do not see corresponding success in their careers due to their work being devalued and discounted.
It is therefore critical to not only emphasize diversity when it comes to the composition of our research teams, but also build a culture that supports the success of individual trainees in the context of structural disadvantage, that celebrates the ideas and individual achievements of all lab members, that confronts conscious and unconscious biases, and that takes a whole-person approach to the wellbeing of lab members bearing in mind that those underrepresented in their fields face immense hurdles that take a toll both professionally and on a human level.
We must also think about what makes a diverse group tick. How can a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives achieve better results in a problem-solving context than a more homogeneous group? What conditions must be present to unleash the creative power and innovation potential of a diverse group?
For the DeSimone group, a culture of participation is vital—one in which all group members feel comfortable and compelled to voice their ideas and perspectives, and further, one that values differences and dissent. Contributions from all group members are essential, whether from undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, or staff members. In a group where people feel comfortable to freely participate and share ideas, dissent—even outright conflict—often leads to more lively and challenging intellectual discourse, thereby accelerating processes that lead to innovation. The key is to have an environment where such discourse is openly expressed and respectfully communicated, and received in the manner it was intended. Scott Page, in his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies points to this idea with a quote from 19th century German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, Heinrich Heine:
Great genius takes shape by contact with another great genius, but less by assimilation than by friction.
This is consistent with Professor DeSimone’s view that while brilliant ideas can come from individuals, innovation is a social process that requires diversity. Friction, of one sort or another, inevitably arises in any social process. One must take advantage of it, placing a value on dissenting viewpoints and drawing insight from dialogue that arises when conflicting ideas converge.
A deliberate emphasis on diversity generates power for a group of problem solvers. This means thinking beyond usual paradigms, approaching issues informed by many perspectives instead of few, and collaborating to unravel creative solutions to the most difficult problems.
Inclusion elevates all.
Elaine Hall, speaker, author, and founder of the Miracle Project, an arts organization that empowers children and young adults of all abilities to participate in musical theater
 “Driving Convergence with Human Diversity”; DeSimone, J. M. & Farrell, C. L. Sci. Transl. Med. 2014, 6, 238ed11.
 “Gender diversity leads to better science”; Nielsen, M. W.; Alegria, S.; Börjeson, L.; Etzkowitz, H.; Falk-Krzesinski, H. J.; Joshi, A.; Leahey, E.; Smith-Doerr, L.; Williams Woolley, A.; Schiebinger, L. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2017, 114(8), 1740.
 Page, S. E. (2017) The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy. Princeton University Press and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
 Page, S. E. (2007) The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton University Press.
 “The Diversity-Innovation Paradox in Science”; Hofstra, B.; Kulkarni, V. V.; Munoz-Najar Galvez, S.; He, B.; Jurafsky, D.; McFarland, D. A. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2020, 117(17), 9284.