The Missing Link for STEMM Diversity

Building bridges and dissolving boundaries in STEMM

– Dr Astha Singh and Akanksha Tiwary

With a quarter of its population born overseas, Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. Inclusion and diversity are core of the identity and spirit of Australian society and its contemporary culture. However, this social diversity is not reflected in the composition of the country’s STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) workforce, which is currently still predominately the male gender. For a seemingly egalitarian nation, Australia’s STEM workforce statistics are starkly contrasting.

Researchers and innovators from different backgrounds including (but not limited to) race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, age, and abilities have contributed to numerous scientific and technological breakthroughs. Their distinctive backgrounds shape how they tend to perceive and resolve issues at the institutional, local, national, or international level. Thus, working in an environment laced with gender, cognitive, ethnic, and experiential diversity involves engaging with different perspectives that help develop a holistic understanding crucial for driving innovation. To create a sustainable shape the STEM-led future of Australia, its diverse workforce needs to be leveraged.

Storytelling as a tool

Astha Singh migrated to Australia for her PhD research and found that the male to female ratio was quite skewed within the faculty. She also found that it was rather challenging for international students coming from a different cultural and non-English speaking backgrounds to conduct high-quality research. This inspired Astha to continuously support and empower peers and colleagues especially from diverse backgrounds and to advocate for diversity in STEMM.

During the tenth national conference of the Australian Science Communicators (ASC 2018), an attempt was made to understand the existing impediments to full inclusion in STEMM fields. Rather than delving on graphs and statistics, the session took a unique turn, wherein the speakers narrated their unique and original stories. While graphs and statistics can be alarming, at times, it is through real-life stories that actions of lasting change are initiated.

The panellists, or rather the storytellers for this session were: Devanshi Seth, Principal Scientist, RPA Hospital and Clinical Associate Professor, Centenary Institute, University of Sydney; Dr Noushin Nasiri, Lecturer at School of Engineering, Macquarie University; Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, PhD Candidate, Laboratory of Advanced Catalysis for Sustainability, School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney and Dr Manoj Gupta, Research Fellow, Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology, Sydney.

Finding the missing link

The speakers recounted their moments of inspiration, adversity, resilience, and of lasting transformation that helped them establish their personal and professional lives thousands of kilometres away from home. From a particle in Brownian motion, Devanshi Seth, in her own words, bloomed into a fruit-laden tree, making the most of her academic and industrial randomness through “Franklin Women”. Now, comfortable in standing out, she urged the audience to make the most of their varied experiences by helping ease the socio-cultural transition of their colleagues. Devanshi is an active promoter of women in science and was the founding Chair of Gender Equity at Centenary and is on the Peer Advisory Committee for Franklin Women.

Noushin’s  journey from a small city near the Caspian Sea in Iran taught her the importance of cultivating inclusion as a basic human right in STEMM circles. She continues to play her part in mingling with the Australian culture, urges colleagues to do the same and no let the self-perception dictate the direction of this journey. Noushin and Devanshi’s stories revealed that brewing a strong work culture of humbleness and empathy will help engrave diversity – at all levels – in STEMM.

Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, travelled all the way from the Americas to Down-Under for his love for chemistry. Alfonso just as all other Venezuelans struggled to express his academic views that could be clearly understood by his audience. Living across a few oceans from his family, Alfonso had faced adversities on a personal level that had impacted his ability to excel at his work and learned a few life lessons that focussed on inclusion. In Alfonso’s words, “Understanding of one’s own culture and the culture of others with openness and flexibility will help make bridges between individuals, groups and nations”.

Additional speaker and Climate Change Cluster researcher from UTS Manoj Gupta’ s story described that culture-induced gender biases still dominate career choices across the globe. Women and underrepresented groups are associated with only certain roles. Socio-economic constraints and privileges significantly influence career choices. Pay disparity still exists amongst STEMM fields, creating the issue of financial stability and thus luring youngsters from developing nations to move from pure sciences towards engineering and technology roles.

Cultivating a culture of acceptance and respect

For both the native and non-native audience, the impact of language barriers and cultural differences on an individual’s social and professional identification became apparent. Through each of the stories, the importance of support groups and mentoring networks  in creating a welcoming environment was highlighted. This conversation prompted Jackie Randles (Manager, Inspiring Australia, the national STEMM engagement strategy) to comment “We are not just scientists; we are people. While we often talk about our work, it’s time we talk more often about our stories.”

Viewing these stories with an external greater perspective we need to consider how accepting we are of these diverse pools of talent in our STEMM societies and what steps are we taking to really implement diversity and inclusion. What steps are we taking to build a truly diverse professional world in the STEMM domain is a question to ponder deeply upon. Diversity and inclusion should not just be a topic to be ticked off in the professional environment at the Human Resources level but should be a conversation that keeps going on in a more personable and human level. Diversity and inclusiveness encompass acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and celebrating what makes us different. In the digital era of dissolving boundaries, let’s openly listen to each other, and as Noushin puts it, “be prepared to be amazed!”

References:
http://2018conf.asc.asn.au/the-missing-link-for-stem-diversity/
https://www.science.org.au/files/userfiles/support/reports-and-plans/2015/innovation-requires-global-engagement.pdf
https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/g/files/net3906/f/2018-10/performance-review-of-the-australian-innovation-science-and-research-system-isa.pdf
https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/Chapter-2-Demographics.pdf
https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/reports-and-publications/
https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/STA-Women-in-STEM-Decadal-Plan-Submission.pdf

The Wild Melbourne Journey – A case study in science communication

The Wild Melbourne Journey

Wild Melbourne

This is a FREE event but places are limited so register your attendance here and stay tuned for updates at the Facebook even page here.

 

5 things you can do RIGHT NOW to stay up-to-date with science communication research

Scientists and science communicators are people who see knowledge as a foundation for actions and behaviours, right? A scientist, planning an experiment, will know all about the latest research in their field to maximise their chance of success. We build new knowledge on the knowledge of others.

But how often will a science communicator or scientist-who-communicates-science stop and think whether what they are doing communication-wise is based on current best practice? Do they check whether someone has already done what they are doing or planning on doing? Have other people been successful? Is there a way to do things better?

I’m always surprised when I meet people in science communication who aren’t engaged with science communication research. To me, it’s just applying what I was taught to do as a scientist. “But I can’t access the journals!” I hear people say, or “I don’t know what journals to looks at!” which are probably fair comments – but there are ways around this as you will soon see.

And there is also the good old “I don’t have time to keep up with research”. I think this is an interesting comment given we expect the busy general public to keep reading the vast amount of science writing that we collectively produce to keep up with the latest research.

It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time to keep up with science communication research. In fact, you could end up saving yourself considerable time in the long run by avoiding wasting time on something and, who knows, we might actually be able to improve public engagement with science!

So here are my five things that you can do right now to keep up-to-date with science communication research. All you need is access to the internet!

1) Set yourself up to get email alerts/newsletters from the key journals
You may not be able to get the whole papers, but you can read the abstracts (and who really wants to read more than that, right?). In my opinion, the key journals in our field are:

There are other journals too, of course, and more theoretical ones if you are interested, but these will get you started.scipublic on smartphone

2) Follow the journals on social media
Public Understanding of Science now has a blog and a Twitter account (@SciPublic). Again – links may only take you to abstracts but if you are just wanting to get a feel of current trends that may be enough. Journal of Science Communication has a facebook page.

3) Use Google Scholar
This platform will allow you to search for science communication research articles if you don’t have access to library databases. You should know this already, but I’ve learned never to assume. Again, you might only get abstracts, but you never know.

4) Follow key science communication researchers on social media
Science communication researchers are using social media to reach out to their audiences in the same way as science communicators. In fact, several science communication researchers currently research how to use social media to communicate science! Once you’ve found people who publish on things you are interested in, find out if they have a Twitter account or blog and start following. They will probably share information about more than just their own research. This includes accounts and Facebook pages for research organisations and groups too!

5) Follow key researchers on Academia and/or ResearchGate
If you are currently in research, you might already have a profile and do this for your specific field. But you should also put in “science communication” as a term, and see who you pull out. If you are not in research you may have never heard of these sites before! Quite often researchers will place open access versions of their papers, or conference presentations on their pages that you can download, no matter where you work.

So there you have it! At least 3 of these are set and forget type things that will have the latest research delivered straight to you. And there are lots of other options to stay in touch, not in the least to have an enthusiastic friend who will send you random things they read! Yes, of course it will take some time to read the things that come by, but I think we owe that to ourselves and our audiences. If nothing else, putting yourself in the position of the audience will remind you how it feels to have to open your mind to new information, especially if it challenges what you already thought about how to communicate science.

Heather Bray is an ex-scientist, science communicator and researcher at the University of Adelaide. She is a member of the ASC committee in SA. She manages a research group blog, as well as having personal and research blogs. She is on Twitter @heatherbray6.