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A health scientist and journalist with a background in biology and health policy, Dr. Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup is used to studying how entities and organizations intersect. The Research Director for the Real World Evidence at Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, she uses her experiences in both industry and academia to help stakeholders learn to foster relationships and engage in collaboration in order to inform policy.

Hendricks-Sturrup is also a member of the fourth ARC Network Virtual Visiting Scholar (VVS) cohort. The VVS program provides a unique opportunity for select scholars across disciplines to pursue research meta-analysis, synthesis, and big data curation on topics crucial to STEM faculty equity.

Her VVS research into industry-academia partnerships is an extension of the work she’s been doing her entire career. “I see this as an area where women in STEM can advance careers by stepping out of their silos and learning how to collaborate with stakeholders who have a vested interest in advancing the field,” she says. “But it’s also important for us to do our own housekeeping and understand the state of equity at this intersection. I wanted to examine the state of evidence about how women are involved in industry-academia partnerships and the challenges and benefits that come with those partnerships.”

Hendricks-Sturrup saw the VVS program as a chance to explore research questions in her field. When her first application was rejected, she used the feedback to strengthen and tailor her approach and applied again, ultimately becoming a member of the fourth VVS cohort. She credits the program, which allows current scholars to engage one-on-one with former VVS scholars, with helping her build relationships in the community she otherwise would not have been able to forge.

“Having the time, space, and resources to focus on an issue that’s very pertinent to your field but has gone unaddressed is unique. Your day-to-day work can be so consuming you don’t have the chance to step back and see the forest for the trees, and so doing this level of analysis is critical for both STEM equity and for individual professional growth.”

Hendricks-Sturrup became interested in STEM equity work as a natural byproduct of being a woman in STEM. As a young scientist, she would feel hesitant about certain habits or tendencies she saw in the workplace, but didn’t feel like she had the voice to address those concerns. She started looking for communities that could help her acknowledge the issues and learn how to address them. “You can feel very isolated, and not having support networks can cause women to leave the field. There are learning institutions or various parts of the STEM industry that don’t create space for conversations about diversity and equity because they feel it hinders productivity and conflicts with the status quo, so organizations like the ARC Network or WEPAN are extremely important. They create a lifeline for people who don’t have resources where they’re currently situated and need somewhere to go, so they can feel heard and seen and feel validated.”  

In addition to contributing to scholarship in the field, she hopes her work will help  inform policy makers and other funders about the problems in industry-academia partnership so that funding opportunities for the evidence gaps uncovered in her research can be identified and addressed. “This is the future of STEM, and if we don’t address these problems now, we’re going to fall behind. As we move into the 21st century, we’re seeing industry leading technological innovation while faculty are engaging in research practices that have commercial viability. These fields have to collaborate, and we need equitable practices to do so.”

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