Five Tips for DEI as a Graduate Student or Trainee with a Marginalized Identity

Five Tips for DEI as a Graduate Student or Trainee with a Marginalized Identity

Five Tips for DEI as a Graduate Student or Trainee with a Marginalized Identity

Five Tips for DEI as a Graduate Student or Trainee with a Marginalized Identity

You’ve been invited to take part in your department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activities based on your “personal experience” and “unique insight.” Sound familiar? The landscape of DEI is ever-changing, with some organizations engaging in genuine efforts, while others are scaling back in response to legal or political pressures. People of color and those who hold other marginalized identities are often the first to take an active role in DEI, whether by invitation or by spearheading much needed advocacy and change. On a personal level, such DEI work can feel empowering and values-consistent for marginalized folks.

However, DEI can also take up valuable time, as well as emotional and mental resources. This is particularly true for graduate students and trainees, who are simultaneously juggling research, clinical training, and personal transitions. Time spent on DEI activities may take away from doing work that holds more professional weight, like journal publications, or may add to an already heavy workload. DEI is often personally relevant, and when met with defensiveness or pushback, can lead to feelings of vulnerability or disempowerment. In these ways, DEI can be both personally valued and disproportionately taxing for trainees of marginalized identities.

If DEI is personally meaningful to you, there are ways to do this important work in a manner that is sustainable, appropriately acknowledged, and professionally beneficial. The key is in prioritizing your own values/goals and setting clear boundaries with your time and energy. Here are FIVE ways to ensure the important work you do, is also working for you.

1. Make your DEI role an official part of your position or fellowship

Advocate for DEI to count toward fellowship hours, research time, or administrative duties. If you are being asked to take part in DEI initiatives, ask supervisors what duties should be taken off your plate so you can do this work, as this will ultimately benefit the organization. Independently, consider booking DEI work in your schedule, as you might other meetings or appointments, to avoid this work occurring after hours.

2. Turn DEI into research

Collect data and measure outcomes. Consider publications and professional conferences. These forms of dissemination carry weight and are helpful to other professionals engaging in this work. Plus, this may help you negotiate point 1 above!

3. Focus your time and energy as being an informant and a decision maker

Your view as a person with a marginalized identity is invaluable, albeit vulnerable. This insight inspires DEI initiatives that create meaningful change. Consider asking other team members who are not using their emotional energy in this way to take on more administrative tasks, like note taking, scheduling, etc., to offset your own workload.

4. Define your role and position on your CV

Before you start any form of DEI work, create an official title for yourself, clear this with leadership, and list it on your CV. Consider terms such as “representative,” “consultant,” “founder,” “facilitator,” etc., that are accurate to your contribution. Be sure to list any informal presentations or talks, no matter how small, on your CV as well.

5. Reduce burnout by doing work that is values-consistent

Notice pulls to engage in DEI work because others are asking you to, or because you feel responsible to fix a problem you did not create. If the pressure is solely external, think carefully about how to proceed. Set boundaries about your level of involvement, time commitment, or about not taking the project at all. Doing DEI solely for others is likely to increase burnout.

As a whole, psychology is increasingly prioritizing DEI efforts and investing in those who carry skills in this area. While this change is promising, the norm is typically that DEI occurs on an adjunctive or extra-curricular basis. The steps above do not replace being monetarily paid for your time and labor (the IDEAL!), but may help you engage in a way that is sustainable and rewarding.

On a final note: it’s never too late to walk away from DEI initiatives. In my own experience, this has occurred when I’ve realized the work was taking away from important professional goals, was not supported by those in power, or was too emotionally draining. At the end of the day, existing in this historically underrepresented space is activism in and of itself. Take care of yourself, set boundaries, and enjoy the excitement of graduate work and training!


  1. What are some ways DEI work has added value to your training?
  2. How can we advocate for DEI to “count” toward professional duties as a profession?
  3. What self-care skills have helped you take care of yourself when engaging in DEI that is personally relevant?

    This blog post was mentored by Krystal Lewis, PhD, as a part of the ADAA BIPOC Membership Awardee program.

Written by lisebram

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