In the upcoming Fall (Fall 2019), I will be applying to CS PhD programs at some of the top research universities in the United States specialising in artificial intelligence.
While I cannot speak for other fields, I know that in my field (artificial intelligence), there has been a major push to increase the diversity of practitioners in the field. Here are a few articles about this diversity initiative:
- Article about lack of diversity in the field of AI: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610192/were-in-a-diversity-crisis-black-in-ais-founder-on-whats-poisoning-the-algorithms-in-our
- Tweet thread by CS admissions chair at Cornell discussing diversity initiatives: https://twitter.com/davidbindel/status/992165303747461122?lang=en
- Tweet thread by PhD candidate at University of Toronto (a top school in AI) clarifying the importance of diversity in the field: https://twitter.com/leeclemnet/status/1040030107887435776
There are many other initiatives such as conferences at NeurIPS (typically regarded as one of the top 3 conferences in AI) that has workshops exclusively for members of underrepresented groups. I'm not sure what exactly the workshops entail, but here are the links to the relevant organizations: Black in AI, Women in Machine Learning, LatinX in AI.
The impression I get is that a lot of the talk around diversity tends to revolve around some key physical identifiers such as ethnicity and sex/gender; although perhaps I have not looked broadly enough at the full scope of diversity initiatives in the field and there may be initiatives that revolve around things like socioeconomic background, geographic background and national origin.
I can understand that when individuals of a particular ethnicity (such as African-Americans) and individuals of particular sex (such as women) are particularly underrepresented in the higher echelons of the field, people begin asking questions as to why that is; since, after all, ethnicity and sex should not be predictors of success in the field yet they clearly are.
I'm an African student studying at a university that is ranked in the top-10 globally on both the Times Higher Education and QS rankings, and am planning on submitting some PhD (CS) applications to some of the top unis in the US in the upcoming fall. Given the preoccupation with diversity by practitioners in my field (in both industry and academia), I'd like to know to what extent my ethnicity will factor into the admissions decisions of committees in the US.