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Diversity and meritocracy October 13, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, CMU.

An observation I had to make from a meeting that I attended in NYC this week was about just diverse the research community was. There are 3 big teams which are headed by 3 researchers, two of which were of Lebanese descent ( one christian and another muslim ) and the other of Jewish descent. A few other top guys included a Iranian American, a whole lot of Germans, quite a few Chinese/Koreans and quite ironically very few Indians. There were an estimated 20% women, mostly American, a few Asians but not one of Indian descent.

I know its ironic for an Indian to be talking about diversity in America – we come from perhaps the ethnically most diverse region out there afterall. I have worked in groups in India ( at college ) with people all over the country but I didnt see this as being diverse or marvelled about it unless reminded – perhaps because I see them as Indians. Nearly every single friend I made in college ( countable on the fingers of one’s hand ) are outside my homestate. This is quite an exceptional situation in KREC because of the way groups intiailly are borne out on the basis of regional affiliations.

When people talk about how the United States is one of the more meritocratic societies and is getting more meritocratic inspite of 9/11, I dont think its an exaggeration. What bothered me most when I was in the meeting was simply that I was perhaps the least knowledgeable, least academically and professionally accomplished person out there. Not for a moment did it bother me that the number of Indians there were fewer than 10 in 250 odd (none of who I went up to speak to). And there is no reason to believe that this wasnt true of most attendees.

P.S : Okay, another thing that really bothered me was that there was simply not adequate choice of vegetarian food. 😦



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