Improving Scientific Diversity and Inclusivity While Advancing Microbiome Studies: Spotlight on Dr. Leah Guthrie

Sept. 29, 2020

Dr. Leah Guthrie is a great example of being a product of her environment, in a positive way. She grew up in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, where her environment constantly influenced her to explore the wonderful aspects of science. At an early age, she grew eager to investigate the amazing wonders of geology and marine biology. With this inquisitive spirit, Guthrie paved a path towards a career in STEM. 

After earning her B.A. in biology with an educational studies minor, Guthrie studied the microbiome in drug metabolism using metagenomics, targeted metabolomics and chemoinformatic techniques in the Department of Systems and Computational Biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, she continues to provide systematic insights into microbe-food-drug interactions. Her work has resulted in resources that allow researchers to predict patient outcomes based on metabolism, compounds of interest, toxicity profiles and more.

In addition to Guthrie’s interest in science, she also has a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the STEM fields. During her early years, Guthrie saw a decrease in science interest amongst her peers, which she attributes to the lack of diversity and inclusion within science. “I think that the lack of inclusive diversity in STEM adversely impacts the range of scientific discoveries made and the experiences that scientists have in training.”

This, among many other reasons, motivated Guthrie to create a change in STEM and contribute to elevating inclusive diversity in the STEM fields. She sought out volunteer and mentorship opportunities and became an advocate for inclusive diversity and equity in academia. She believes that increasing diversity within mentorship opportunities will assist with meeting these challenges. Guthrie has committed to many initiatives to accomplish this goal. She has participated in science mentoring programs for high school students and has even founded such a program. 

In addition to these contributions, Guthrie is on the ASM Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, a committee charged with developing a plan to elevate and embody inclusive diversity with equity in the microbial sciences. Guthrie also volunteers with the Black In Microbiology organization, an initiative dedicated to vibrantly celebrating Black microbiologists and providing a forum for discussing racial disparities in microbiology. As a mentor, Guthrie provides encouragement and guidance to future Black scientists through these four pillars of advice: 
  1. Choose a school/program with multiple people that you are interested in working with. 
  2. Keep up with the literature in your field. 
  3. Develop a plan for time management and self-care. For example, for Guthrie self-care is defined as consistently getting good sleep, eating regularly and keeping up with friends and family. 
  4. Speak up for yourself and your contributions. 
She hopes to inspire young individuals to pursue their dream to build a career in STEM. Guthrie plans to continue building a future of diverse STEM professionals and to increase representation. 

Author: Lataisia Jones, Ph.D.

Lataisia Jones, Ph.D.
Dr. Lataisia Jones is the Senior Ethics Specialist at the American Society for Microbiology.