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Essays from the
New Initiatives
RNA Society DEI Committee
Kehinde Ross
Chair of the DEI Committee. Reader in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Liverpool John Moores University: Co-lead of the Internship and outreach subcommittee. My research focuses on the expression and function of microRNAs in skin disorders and cancer and the development of RNA-directed therapeutics to modulate miRNA activity.
Suja Jagannathan
Assistant Professor, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Advocacy as well as Outreach subcommittees leader. The Jagannathan lab studies how cells detect and degrade aberrant RNAs, and how dysregulation of this surveillance process contributes to human muscle development and disease.
Natoya Peart
Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Waterloo
Dr. Peart’s research program focuses on understanding how mRNA processing and the modulation of this process influences cell fate and contributes to tissue development and disease.
Doreen Ikhuva Lugano
Post-Doctoral Researcher KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research, Department of Bioscience and The RNA Salon Kenya
My research is focused on understanding the evolution of RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and HIV-1, and the host responses to infection using next-generation sequencing and Bioinformatics tools.
Mai Baker
Mai Baker is a new research affiliate and Lecturer at Al-Quds University in Palestine. She is interested in investigating mutations in splicing factors and the resulting dysregulation alternative splicing pattern in cancer and autoimmune patients.
Yunsun Nam
Associate Professor of Biochemistry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. My research is focused on how the shape of an RNA regulates its function. We are studying how RNAs are processed and regulated by RNA-binding proteins and chemical modifications. Using biochemistry and structural biology, we investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying specific, important RNA-protein interactions.
Jessica Silva-Fisher
Assistant Professor, Assistant Director of DEI Division of Oncology, Director Mentorship to Enhance Diversity in Academia, in the Department of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. Silva-Fisher lab studies how long non-coding RNAs and RNA modifications contribute to cancer metastasis.
Je-Hyun Yoon
Associate Professor, Department of Oncology Science, University of Oklahoma. Yoon lab focuses on the roles of small and long noncoding RNAs in alcoholic tissue injury, muscular dystrophy and cancer metabolism.
Shijian Fan
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen MPhil student, Dr. Gang Chen’s Research Group alumni. Dr. Gang Chen’s Research Group focuses on the structures and the physical-chemical properties of RNAs and RNA-ligand complexes to facilitate precise control of the diverse biological functions involving RNA.
Mrityunjay Gupta
I am a fifth-year graduate student in Dr. Andrej Lupták’s lab at the University of California, Irvine. My research interests include RNA metabolic labeling, in vitro selection of ribozymes, and chemical methods to probe RNA structure.
Ivan Martinez, PhD
Associate Professor, West Virginia University. The interest of the Martinez laboratory is to understand the importance of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), such as microRNAs, long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), and circular non-coding RNAs (circRNAs) in the process of carcinogenesis and viral infections.
Neena Grover
Professor, Colorado College. Grover laboratory focuses on understanding small RNA constructs using biophysical methods. We use thermodynamic stability to examine strength and context of non-canonical base pairing. We are particularly interested in the quantifying the impact of magnesium ions on RNA stability. Professor Grover is also engaged in pedagogical work in biochemistry and has recently published Fundamentals of RNA Structure and Function, an introductory book for undergraduate students.
Mingyi Xie
Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular biology at the University of Florida. The Xie lab is interested in understanding how mis-regulation of microRNA levels and the modification of small non-coding RNAs contribute to different types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
Shovamayee Maharana
Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India. Our laboratory focuses on investigating the influence of global RNA interactions on regulating the dynamics and functionality of cellular RBP condensates. Through the utilization of quantitative live cell microscopy, in vitro reconstitution techniques, and analysis of RNA-RBP interactions and phase behavior, we aim to elucidate the underlying mechanisms driving the aggregation of RNA-binding proteins in neurodegenerative disorders.
Yoldas Yildiz, MS
Yoldas is a PhD Candidate at Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago with Professor Toni Pak. He is a first generation student from London, with Turkish & Kurdish heritage. He is an alumni of the Fulbright & Sutton Trust US - UK program, received his Bachelors from Connecticut College and a Masters in Developmental & Reproductive Biology from Imperial College London. His research interests include sex differences in the aging brain, specifically looking at the role of miRNA and Alzheimer Disease.
Emeritus DEI Committee Members
Shobha Vasudevan
(Chair November 2020- December 2023)
Associate Professor, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, HMS. The Vasudevan lab focuses on the role of post-transcriptional mechanisms in clinically resistant quiescent cancer cells, to develop solutions for detection of refractory cancers and for designing new therapies.
Maayan Salton
Website and communication subcommittee leader. Assistant Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Salton Lab study alternative splicing regulation in autism spectrum disorder.
Feng Guo
Bio: Resources Subcommittee leader. The Guo lab focuses on two areas: (1) developing therapeutics targeting RNAs in diseases and (2) understanding molecular mechanisms of RNA processing in biology, using X-ray crystallography, biochemical methods, reporter assays in mammalian cells, and disease animal models.
Olivia Rissland
Bio: Outreach subcommittee leader.
Ute Kothe
RNA Salon Program Coordinator, Professor, University of Lethbridge, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitobas, ex officio committee member. The Kothe lab is investigating RNA modification, RNA folding and RNA processing with a focus on tRNA maturation and ribosome biogenesis.
New Initiatives
Underrepresented Scientists (URS)

Underrepresented populations are currently based on the following criteria: 
 NIH/NSF definition; UN definition of minorities including nations not listed here as top economies by the world bank; those conducting research in an academic environment not supported by outside research funding; those of minority race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic background, or other forms of underrepresentation; those underrepresented in the Society. More equalizing terms like underrepresented scientists (URS) or PEER and improved definitions (adding indigenous minorities in local regions around the globe) are constantly being evolved by academic institutes, DEI experts, and funding agencies, and will be updated to be inclusive. 

RNA Society DEI candidate interest application form

Funding and Opportunities

Funding links: minority postdoc, Ford and Burroughs

Wellcome fellowships: internship and other opportunities 

Data and Resources
Data and Resources

RNA Society DEI Resources
Inclusive language
Academic institutes
Mentoring Resources

Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, eLife 2021
Historical comparison of gender inequality in scientific careers across countries and disciplines (Huang et al., PNAS 2020
Replicating Meyerhoff for inclusive excellence in STEM ( Science 2019 364; 6438:335) Meyerhoff Scholars Program.
Quantifying collective intelligence in human groups (PNAS 2021 118; 21:e2005737118)

Royal Society of Chemistry Diversity policy
Royal Society of Chemistry STEM
EMBL EDI resource
ISCB Diversity resource
NIGMS Diversity resource
NSF Includes
Wellcome Diversity resource

Essays from the Community

Life in a lab full of unique RNA bases

In the 19th and early 20th century, an RNA base could only be purine or pyrimidine. Any base that self-identified as something more complex, something different was hiding behind the identity of a canonical adenine, cytosine, guanine or uracil.

Every purine had to base pair with a pyrimidine. Purine-purine and pyrimidine-pyrimidine pairs were strictly forbidden. Any RNA base that preferred to spend its mature age alone and refused pairing was considered structurally disruptive.

RNA biology has seen immense changes the recent years. Base pairing with your own kind became accepted. Scientists started to show intense interest in cytidine-uracil base pairs, and celebrated their existence as they allowed the correction of their previous, erroneous structure predictions.

RNA biologists discovered hundreds of RNA modifications and realized that the binary classification is outdated. Being different, being unique became the new hype. Everyone wanted to discover a new kind of modified base and get a peek into their exciting, glamorous, frivolous lives.

The world is not yet perfect. If one wants to predict the structure of an RNA molecule using an online algorithm, they can choose to disallow C-U base pairs. But all we get from such a homophobic behavior is bad research, as they will choose each other’s company over and over again anyways.

Another recent issue is, apparently, that RNA bases like to be in the center of attention. Forced into the background of their special peers, simple adenine, cytosine, guanine and uracil bases couldn’t accept to be considered boring. Suddenly, every adenosine wanted to be a methyl-adenosine, every uridine a pseudouridine. When researchers look for truly special, modified RNA bases, crowds of the regular ones jump on their hook and pretend to be someone else. Luckily, scientists persist to rigorously separate the wheat from the chaff.

I happen to be a bit like a 1-methyl-3-α-amino-α-carboxyl-propyl-pseudouridine. A rare, strange specimen, hard to find, hard to identify, impossible to understand. An atheist Jew from Eastern Europe, who called five countries her home the last ten years. An independent, individualist RNA base who never wanted the boring life of a paired base. And now, hopelessly in love with a modified base possibly even more peculiar than myself.

I consider myself extremely lucky. I found a lab where being an RNA modification is not only accepted, but encouraged. A place, where everyone is unique and special, everyone can accumulate as many methylations, acetylations and hydroxylations as they wish. Where everyone is encouraged to base pair with whoever they feel to be their best fit.

Diversity having a positive impact on absolutely everything it touches is considered as a cliché by now. In my experience though, true diversity is hard to find, as people tend to adapt to the culture, the community they become part of. True diversity is hard to find, because despite many idealists claiming otherwise, working in a group where no one understands your mother tongue, no one knows your favorite food or understands the meaning behind your culture’s holidays and traditions is challenging. Somehow, in our lab, diversity does work, and its positive effect on research is enormous.

When everyone was trained in a different country, with a different mindset, when everyone thinks and behaves differently, creativity skyrockets. If I get stuck with a project and need some advice, the width of different ideas I receive repeatedly surprises me. And at the end, if none of those ideas lead anywhere, my lab mates can cheer me up with delicious Indian food, a Chinese New Year celebration or a vivid lunchtime discussion on death sentence in different cultures.

I believe that in our lab, everyone can feel at home, feel to belong there, no matter how different we are. It’s a group of fourteen people with eleven different citizenships. A workplace where the orthodox religious works with the hardcore atheists, the left wing voter with the right wing, the single with the father of five.

And we all work towards the same goal. To understand the exciting, glamorous, frivolous lives of RNA modifications.

– the author would prefer to remain anonymous

Provide suggestions of how the RNA Society could enhance diversity, equity & inclusion within our community.

When asked how the RNA Society could enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in STEM, I had a simple question: what are other scientific societies doing? To answer this, I investigated 20 scientific societies and enumerated what approaches to equity, diversity, and inclusion they promoted via their websites.
Approaches to DEI

Clicking through a society’s website does not give a full understanding of its impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion, but a number of common strategies quickly become apparent.

Figure 1: Approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion either featured on the RNA Society website or found on 20 other life science society websites.

The most popular strategy was to form a diversity committee. 17 of 20 societies I surveyed – as well as the RNA Society – recognized some form of standing diversity committee on their website (Figure 1). Forming a committee is an easy way to get started and catalyze future DEI strategies.

Most societies featured a dedicated webpage to DEI information (Figure 1). While one could imagine blending DEI with content on mentorship, advocacy, leadership and outreach, most society websites maintain distinct tabs or sections. In other words, adopting an explicit and distinct DEI framework is now mainstream in STEM.

The RNA Society could join the majority of basic life science societies in hosting a dedicated DEI webpage. But what kind of content would it host? Approaches commonly employed by other societies offer some hints. The most popular type of content is a statement establishing society expectations with respect to DEI or responding to current events (Figure 1), often by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of characteristics like age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, disability, religion, class background, or sexual orientation. Around half of societies publish DEI-related media (articles, interviews, infographics, webinars, panels, and more), set goals for representation of women and minorities in society leadership or conference sessions, and issue awards for excellence in DEI (Figure 1). The RNA Society has begun a prize for excellence in inclusive leadership but has not yet published DEI media or society goals.

Other types of content featured on a minority of society websites might be especially attractive to the RNA Society. External DEI resources, society survey results, and society demographics can answer common questions more completely and rigorously than original articles from society members. Examples of particularly illuminating content I encountered include social science studies on the efficacy of DEI programming, comparisons of society survey results to STEM worker demographics, and summaries of organizations for historically excluded groups, from the International Society for Computational Biology, the American Society for Microbiology and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, respectively.

External resources can take many forms: publications on underrepresentation in STEM and possible interventions, tips on professional development or networking, and links to helpful organizations. Ultimately, there is an ocean of rich content available online; the hard part is knowing what content would be most helpful to community members. Comprehensive, up-to-date reviews of workplace discrimination and countermeasures literature address common questions about how best to enhance DEI in professional settings (Gosztyla et al. 2021; Paluck et al. 2021). University webpages can be a helpful source of guidelines for teachers and mentors, such as respectful approaches to gender identity (University of Oregon). In some cases, entire websites might target issues relevant to RNA Society researchers, such as disparities in research funding (Funders’ Learning Community).

Climate surveys inviting self-reporting of unsafe or disrespectful conduct in the workplace have emerged as a crucial tool in understanding and counteracting disparities in STEM. Adopters include departments (Stachl et al. 2021), academic offices (UCSD 2021), schools (Stanford Medicine 2018), universities (University of Michigan; University of Iowa 2020; University of California), scientific societies (ASM DEI Task Force 2020), and researchers coordinating across scientific societies (Cech and Waidzunas 2021). These surveys have yielded results that might upend expectations for the preferences and perceptions of women and minorities in STEM. For example, holding talks on LGBTQ+ health and having identifiable queer leadership were favored over enacting policy changes for sexual and gender minorities at Stanford Medicine, and concerns about insufficient postdoctoral scholar pay exhibited the largest disparity between LGBTQ+ and heterosexual postdoctoral scholars at UC San Diego.

Reporting society demographics can also facilitate greater DEI in RNA research. Society demographics can provide a benchmark for assessing representation for conference sessions and inviting speakers. Most reports suggest that membership of life science societies resemble the STEM workforce overall, but disaggregating members into subfields can expose large variation: a recent study found that members of the American Society of Human Genetics were 45% women, but that 27% of members studying computational approaches were women and 67% of members studying genetic counseling were women (Telis et al. 2019). In my own experience organizing an RNA session at the American Society of Human Genetics, I struggled to assemble a list of diverse speakers. My preliminary list from browsing conference proceedings, alumni pages, and relevant literature was 25% women. This was slightly lower than the 28% women among full professors reported by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Looking back, I wish I had more relevant benchmarks. Published RNA Society membership demographics could inform those like me hoping to equitably recruit RNA scientists.

To be sure, undertaking more approaches to equity, diversity, and inclusion is not necessarily better. Parallel approaches can be partially redundant, and a single helpful resource is more valuable than multiple unhelpful ones. If in doubt, a task force or member survey can identify the most pressing needs. Regardless of what steps RNA Society leadership takes first, I encourage all members of the RNA Society to take time to review DEI research and experiment with tested strategies. We should not feel obligated to solve challenges in DEI alone: a diverse, equitable, and inclusive praxis no doubt involves exchanging ideas with other organizations.

- Evan Boyle @evaubo


ASM DEI Task Force. 2020. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force Report. American Society for Microbiology

Cech EA, Waidzunas TJ. 2021. Systemic inequalities for LGBTQ professionals in STEM. Sci Adv 7.

Funders’ Learning Community. Funders’ Learning Community. Funders’ Learning Community. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

Gosztyla ML, Kwong L, Murray NA, Williams CE, Behnke N, Curry P, Corbett KD, DSouza KN, Gala de Pablo J, Gicobi J, et al. 2021. Responses to 10 common criticisms of anti-racism action in STEMM. PLoS Comput Biol 17: e1009141.

NCSES. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

Paluck EL, Porat R, Clark CS, Green DP. 2021. Prejudice Reduction: Progress and Challenges. Annu Rev Psychol 72: 533–560.

Stachl CN, Brauer DD, Mizuno H, Gleason JM, Francis MB, Baranger AM. 2021. Improving the Academic Climate of an R1 STEM Department: Quantified Positive Shifts in Perception. ACS Omega 6: 14410–14419.

Stanford Medicine. 2018. Report on Needs of the Sexual and Gender Minority Community at Stanford Medicine. Office of Faculty Development and Diversity. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

Telis N, Glassberg EC, Pritchard JK, Gunter C. 2019. Public Discussion Affects Question Asking at Academic Conferences. Am J Hum Genet 105: 189–197.

UCSD. 2021. Postdocs@UCSD Survey. Office of Postdoctoral Scholar Affairs. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

University of California. Campus Climate Survey. University of California Office of the President. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

University of Iowa. 2020. 2020 Campus Climate Survey. Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. (Accessed February 25, 2022).

University of Michigan. Climate Survey. Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

University of Oregon. Promoting Inclusive Classrooms: LGBTQIA+ Ally Guide. University of Oregon Office of the Dean of Students. (Accessed February 25, 2022).


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