Events at PVSC

"Minority Carriers" Panel

47th IEEE PVSC Minority Carriers Panel Key Takeaways
Moderated by: Lyndsey McMillon-Brown, NASA Glenn Research Center
Panelists: Prof Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, Duke University; Prof Tyler Grassman, The Ohio State University; Dr. Joe Berry, NREL; Dr. Nikhil Jain, X Display Company

Executive Summary: The first annual Minority Carriers Panel convened on June 16th, 2020 via zoom webinar live at 1pm EDT.  This event provides many diverse individuals and their allies with the space to connect with one another, identify problems within the PV community and generate solutions to make our PV community accurately representative of the communities that we serve, and inclusive to all. All allies and individuals who self-identify as underrepresented in the PV community (i.e: people of color, underrepresented nationalities, women, LGBTQ, first generation students, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and individuals with disabilities) were strongly encouraged to participate. Prof. Kimberle Williams Crenshaw a full Prof at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School developed the theory of intersectionality. The main argument in her paper introducing intersectionality was the interconnected nature of an individual’s various social identities.  This paper focused on black feminism and explains that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently but must include the interactions between the two, which frequently reinforce each other.  The initial paper covered race and gender but intersectionality applies to any set of intersecting marginalized identities.  For that reason we encouraged attendees to submit questions, from the lens of their identities so that we could bring them to the forefront and see in what myriad ways our field needs to change. This conversation occurred under the assumption that all attendees agreed there is a problem of diversity and inclusion across the PV community, instead of spending time proving there is a problem we focused on developing solutions.

Q&A Key Takeaways:

  • With recent events, many researchers, especially those with marginalized backgrounds express dissatisfaction with a ‘business as usual’ attitude and they express feeling unheard or unseen when no one acknowledges minority groups in tumultuous times. Those that are PIs at Universities or group or team leaders in your institutions. What are your current practices for initiating conversations at groups meetings around current events?  After hearing these widespread concerns, how might you adjust moving forward?

It is important to make underrepresented students or team members are seen all of the time, not just when a current event or tragedy arises.  Create an environment that is supportive and collaborative for them.  It is important that everyone is able to feel that they belong and they’re valued. Remember that everyone is working toward a common goal, so things do not have to be competitive.  Current events may not have a place in group meeting because that’s a place to drive research forward, but it can certainly be brought up in individual meetings. Set an expectation for brutal honesty so everyone feels encouraged to speak up and has an equal voice.  Make sure that those with privilege are not overtaking those without privilege.

  • What strategies do you see as key for developing innovative and diverse teams? What successes have you or your organization had thus far?

Look and qualified and diverse candidates. Varying background and varying experiences do play a role in driving innovation. Be transparent, if budget limits options for candidates (eg funds allow only 2 people from a 10 person team to go to a conference) discuss that openly and explain the rationale so no one feels slighted.

As it pertains to academic hiring: Making a list of candidates that do not have just one diverse candidates, you should have a range of diverse candidates.  If there is only one diverse candidate they are viewed as “the diverse one” who is there to check a box, and they feel they are treated that way.  More diversity in the overall pool allows credentials to be reviewed better.  Any dean or department chair given a list without a diverse short list should return it to the department.  There are examples of this system being well implemented for women, but no current examples of this same strategy being implemented for minorities.

As it pertains to graduate student selection: implement a grad student review process that does not use numbers (GRE scores) and focus more on potential.  Departments that have adopted this method have seen an increased quality of grad students, better choice, broader backgrounds and all in all successful researchers. 

  • Some organizations pick someone in the intersection to represent multiple minorities in a single person.  What are your view in this, perhaps subconscious, approach?

Women and minorities tend to get overloaded in committee work because departments want to have a lot of diversity.  If we take intersectionality as 2 birds with 1 stone its going to burden a small number of people even more, it’s an extremely dangerous perspective to have.  It’s not checking multiple boxes at once, you’re doubling the number of boxes that you need to check.

  • Challenges of under-representation in STEM are often attributed to either the STEM career pipeline or people leaving the field due to hostility. What actions can people take so that people of color that are already in the PV community feel welcomed, engaged, and encouraged to stay?

Be an advocate, not just a mentor.  A mentor tells you what to do, an advocate nominates you for awards, positions, extends collaborative work to you.  An advocate helps position people for future success.

Assist people that are new, take them around to meet people so they can establish community.  Make people feel welcome, take them to lunch or happy hour.  It’s critical timing in the first 2-3 months when someone joins a job/group to make them comfortable. Consider this even more so for people (working in the US) where English is not their native language, a manager can play a big role in helping facilitate this.

Minority Carriers panel is an example.  PVSC is a proxy for the PV community, its majority of old white men so the D&I committee, Women in PV programming (Emily Warren) and Minority Carriers program will hopefully provide an example that can further be reflected into the greater PV community.

  • As Black Lives Matter tackles police brutality, the larger problem is trust, discomfort with someone that is different.  Do panelists have examples of this lack of trust in their workplace?

These problems (racial tensions and institutionalized racism) are not new, they have been around for a long time.  The same issues that are all over the country exist in Academia and research laboratories. Action is really what will start to fix these issues of skepticism and not trusting. Organizations really need to work on these things, it’s not something that minorities need to drive. Organizations and leadership needs to do this work. There is a lot of skepticism to organizations that are issuing statements of support for racial movements in a time where it’s trendy, but these comments are lip service.  The underrepresented community wonders “where has this been the whole time” because that statement does not align with the client they experience regularly. 

  •  How can research groups support those with mental health challenges, which have a great affect in minority groups?

It’s critical to be supportive.  Mental health should be respected in the same way that physical health is (you would make accommodations for someone with a broken hand, we need those same considerations around mental health issues) don’t frame mental health challenges as detracting from one’s ability. It’s also imperative to observe privacy.  Most people want to help, open communication with one’s boss or manager would be a good place to start.

  • How should you address macroaggressions when they happen in a diverse setting?

(It depends.)  Call them out.  We realize not everyone feels they are in a position to call someone out so build trust and level set the environment such that there is zero tolerance for macroaggressions or hostility. If you choose to address it, be assertive but polite. 

Another option would be to see the macroaggression, mentally acknowledge it and make a note of who that person has shown you they are.  It won’t necessarily be productive to call them out, your words may not be heard.  You may want to take some time and digest the comment first.

A challenge is that sexism and racism are viewed as a character flaw, but that has muddled the waters.  People become defensive when they’re called out for saying something racist or sexist because no one considers themselves a bad person. We need to normalize that someone can be called for a macroaggression and still not have an indelible mark against their entire character. Those criticisms may be received with much less hostility.

  • What advice do you have for those who want to be advocates or allies and they don’t know where to start?

An ally and advocate are different.  An ally reacts and responds to attacks, an advocate is proactive.  Personal transformations can start late in life, first by learning about privilege – particularly white male privilege.  Learn how privilege impacts your interactions with others.  Educate yourself, learn what macroaggressions are. Ask yourself “is this something I could change?”.  A great deal of scholarship is widely available for free on these topics, there is not a shortage of information. Start with direct actions, be a good listener, and have empathy.  Understand that this is not about you, it can’t be about you.  Use your voice to amplify the voices that are drowned out.  Assist and amplify.

Unanswered Questions to Consider (these questions were posted on the webinar chat but we did not get to them during the panel)

  • How should we hold our departments / instutitions to account, for racist or unethical beavhior? I’ve heard lots of “report it!”, but investigations tend to harm students and protect tenure.
  • How can we get more diverse leadership?
  • The American Physical Society (APS) has created APS-IDEA to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in physics.  It is a strongly worded call to action, not just education and provides a framework to engage:  do you see other professional organizations following suit?
  • Do you find that you’re getting fewer minorities that apply for a given position? What are your thoughts on how to address that?

Comments from Audience:

  • For anyone who is interested, the book “White Fragility, why its so hard for white people to talk about racism” by Robin Diangelo is amazing.  It’s incredibly eye opening about the racial system as a whole.
  • From a Penn State University research lab strongly concerned with social justice and equity, their lab handbook is inspired by the CLEAR lab

All attendees are encouraged to continue the conversation on twitter with #MinorityCarriersPVSC

Minority Carriers panel will provide attendees with professional development and career guidance that acknowledges the intersectionality and nuance of diversity today. All allies and individuals who self-identify as underrepresented in the PV community (i.e people of color, underrepresented nationalities, women, LGBTQ, first generation students, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and individuals with disabilities) are strongly encouraged to participate. The panelists are also diverse in career paths with representation from academia, government, and industry. PVSC 47 Minority Carriers panelist bios are included below:

Moderator: Lyndsey McMillon-Brown (@DrMcMillonBrown), is a researcher at NASA Glenn Research Center.  Lyndsey received her B.S in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering from Miami University (OH, 2013) and earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Yale University (2019).  Her dissertation work focused on developing novel materials and patterns for advanced light trapping in solar cells.  Dr. McMillon-Brown has been with NASA since 2011 where she has worked on a variety of space solar cell-related programs including thin film and organic cell development, and III-V durability studies. Lyndsey is currently leading a research effort on perovskite solar cells, a promising material for space photovoltaics.

Outside of the lab, Lyndsey is dedicated to increasing opportunities for underrepresented individuals in STEM fields.  As an alumna, she challenges her institutions to facilitate cultural changes that provide more inclusive environments for their students.  She serves on Miami University’s Women’s Advisory Committee to the Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing and she’s a NASA NextGen Ambassador. Lyndsey is also the founder and co-organizer of the Minority Carrier’s Panel.


Joseph Berry (@joe_jberry) is a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). He is a graduate of the Penn State Department of Physics, receiving his PhD for work on spin physics of magnetic II-VI, III-V and hybrid metallic/semiconductor systems. After his PhD work he was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST/JILA), where he worked on the development and application of high-resolution spectroscopic techniques to solid-state electro-optical systems, including self-assembled quantum dots and related nanostructures. Since joining NREL he has worked on a range of next generation optoelectronic materials and devices with an emphasis on relating basic interfacial properties to device level performance (i.e. efficiency and stability). His research interests have led to his current work as team lead on the metal-halide perovskite solar cells systems, a next generation technology of considerable interest.


Tyler Grassman is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University in the Departments of Materials Science & Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering. He’s a member of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering “Diversity and Inclusivity Committee.”   A first-generation student, he earned a B.A. in Chemistry at the University of Oregon, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering at the University of California, San Diego.  His research interests focus on atoms-to-devices investigation of novel and integrated semiconductor materials for optoelectronics and photovoltaics applications, and the development and application of multi-scale and correlative electron microscopy methods for the characterization of defects and structure-property relationships in functional materials.


65A09D40Dr. Nikhil Jain is currently the Manager of Device Development at Alta Devices, where he is responsible for forward-looking device and materials R&D to develop next generation of high-efficiency, thin-film, and flexible solar cells. Dr. Jain has over 10 years of experience leading and contributing to projects at academic institutes, national labs and in industry in the field of compound semiconductor materials & devices. In 2017, Dr. Jain along with his colleagues demonstrated two solar cell efficiency world records at 32.6% (one-sun) and 35.5% under concentrated sunlight while working with US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2017. He has authored or co-authored over 55 peer reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings and has 6 patents & applications.

Dr. Jain received his B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in 2010 and a Ph.D. in the same field from Virginia Tech in 2015. Dr. Jain has been with Alta Devices since 2017, prior to which he was a Postdoctoral III-V Materials Scientist with the III-V group at NREL.  Dr. Jain has also worked at a solar-cell start-up, Semprius and in the field of solid-sate lighting at Philips Lighting. He is an immigrant from New Delhi, India and a first-generation doctorate degree recipient.


Adrienne Stiff-Roberts is Jeffrey N. Vinik Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University, where she is also Director of Graduate Studies for the University Program in Materials Science and Engineering. Dr. Stiff-Roberts received a B.S. in physics from Spelman College (1999), a B.E.E. in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech (1999), and an M.S.E. in electrical engineering (2001) and a Ph.D. in applied physics (2004) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Dr. Stiff-Roberts is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, the ONR Young Investigator Award, the IEEE Early Career Award in Nanotechnology of the Nanotechnology Council, and the PECASE. Her current research interests include organic and hybrid thin-film deposition by resonant-infrared matrix-assisted pulsed laser evaporation (RIR-MAPLE); materials characterization of organic and hybrid thin films; and the design, fabrication, and characterization of organic and hybrid optoelectronic devices, especially infrared photodetectors, photovoltaic solar cells, and multi-functional sensors.