Julie Posselt, USC Rossier School of Education

Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education
Julie Posselt


Winter 2021
Lecture Time: 
Friday, February 5, 2021 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 


STEM disciplines are believed to be founded on the idea of meritocracy; recognition earned by the value of the data, which is objective. Such disciplinary cultures resist concerns about implicit or structural biases, and yet, year after year, scientists observe persistent gender and racial inequalities in their labs, departments, and programs. Dr. Julie Posselt makes the case that understanding how field-specific cultures develop is a crucial step for bringing about substantive, lasting change. She examines equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts across astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, and psychology via ethnographic case studies that reveal the subtle ways that exclusion and power operate in scientific organizations and, sometimes, within change efforts themselves. Using a framework that links quantum theory and symbolic boundaries, Posselt argues for a systemic approach to change that includes building capacity to collaborate more effectively across boundaries by redressing their associated power gradients—across the social and natural sciences, across the faculty-student-administrator roles, and across race, gender, and other social identities. To that end, she calls institutions and organizations to place equal value on expertise, and on those who do the work of cultural translation.

Recording & Additional Notes

Dr. Julie Posselt is an Associate Professor of higher education in the USC Rossier School of Education and was a 2015-2017 National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation postdoctoral research fellow. Rooted in sociological and organizational theory, her research program uses mixed methods to examine institutionalized inequalities in higher education and organizational efforts aimed at reducing inequities and encouraging diversity. She focuses on selective sectors of higher education— graduate education, STEM fields, and elite undergraduate institutions—where longstanding practices and cultural norms are being negotiated to better identify talent and educate students in a changing society. She was the recipient of the 2018 American Educational Research Association’s Early Career Award and the 2017 Association for the Study of Higher Education’s Early Career/ Promising Scholar Award.

Her book, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping (2016, Harvard University Press), was based on an award-winning ethnographic study of faculty judgment in 10 highly ranked doctoral programs in three universities. This work has led to thriving research-practice partnerships with universities, disciplinary societies, graduate schools & programs, and other associations that are re-examining how we evaluate students and scholars for key academic opportunities— and support those who are in the system. Partners include the University of California, American Physics Society, and the Council of Graduate Schools.

Her current scholarship, funded by three grants from the National Science Foundation and one from the Mellon Foundation, examines movements for equity and inclusion in graduate education and the humanistic and physical science disciplines. Posselt recently completed a National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellowship for the first national study of graduate student mental health. This concurrent mixed methods project identified factors associated with depression and anxiety; investigated the roles of discrimination, competitiveness, and faculty support in graduate student wellbeing; and measures disparities within and across academic disciplines.

She has published research in the American Educational Research Journal, Annual Review of Sociology, Research in Higher Education, Journal of Higher Education, Teachers College Record, Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Her work has been highlighted in Science, The Atlantic, New York Times, Slate, Times Higher Education (UK), Insider Higher Ed, among others. She is a member of the Journal of Higher Education’s and Journal of Diversity in Higher Education's editorial review boards, and is program chair for the 2019 Sociology of Education Association meeting.

Posselt earned her PhD from the University of Michigan.

My research group strives to understand institutionalized racial and gender inequities, especially in graduate education and the disciplines. By advancing theory and evidence about the core cultural and structural forces that embed inequities in departments, disciplines, schools, and universities, we can more effectively work with practitioners to develop locally resonant, effective strategies for creating more equitable, inclusive educational institutions.

Professional Experience:
Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education, 2019-Present

Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education, 2016-2019

Assistant Professor, University of Michigan School of Education, 2013-2016

Assistant Director, McNair Scholars Program, Univeristy of Northern Colorado, 2003-2007