As two Ph.D. students at the University of California, Irvine, we had pursued various training opportunities both on campus and around the country. We felt our experience in science communication (scicomm) and science policy (scipol) training spaces didn’t reflect the experience of scientists on the margins. Scientists from under-represented groups face other challenges that can prevent them from even considering scicomm or science policy as careers. One day after venting about this gap over coffee, we created Reclaiming STEM.
The workshop is the first of its kind created to center scicomm and scipol training specifically for marginalized scientists (LGBTQ+, POC, Womxn, disabled people, first-generation, etc). We believe the increasing diversity of scientists requires training that accounts for the challenges that under-represented groups face. These range from acknowledging race, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors that influence our journey through scientific training to addressing the fact you can have secure careers in scicomm and scipol and won’t have to rely on unpaid internships and training.
We put together the Reclaiming STEM workshop in less than six weeks and had over 50 attendees from across Southern California and 12 amazing speakers and panelists! The response to this workshop showed a clear need in the scientific community for a space to discuss diversity, inclusion, and advocacy in STEM.
The response to this workshop showed a clear need in the scientific community for a space to discuss diversity, inclusion, and advocacy in STEM.
And that’s how Reclaiming STEM was born — a scicomm and scipol training for diverse scientists, by diverse scientists. The day of the workshop, folks carpooled to UC-Irvine from CSU-Channel Islands, UCLA, UCSD, USC, and many others. Everyone was so excited and full of energy despite getting up early and going to a workshop that began at 9 a.m. on a Saturday!
Our workshop began with three amazing womxn of color and warriors for science. Our first speaker and opening address was Dr. Nancy Aguilar-Roca, who shared “Why Diversity Matters.” Not only did Nancy show great passion in speaking on diversity, she also shared anecdotes of her personal life, and why she believes in diversity. Additionally, sharing how she overcame barriers as a womxn of color to succeed and be where she is now really resonated with our attendees and set a great tone for the rest of the conference.
Katy Wimberly Rodriguez then shared her experiences through her workshop, “Building Your Social Media Brand.” Katy shared how she built her brand, @astronomouse, to show the world that anyone can be an astronomer, especially womxn of color. Katy brought to light how her intersectional identity as a Latina, womxn, and veteran strengthens her scientific abilities.
Linh Anh Cat then shared her experiences as a University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Next Generation Public Policy Fellow in her workshop “Science Policy and Advocacy.” She covered what she wished others would have in introductory science policy lectures, like the fact that you can make money doing science policy (which is important for first-generation and other under-represented groups) and the spectrum of careers ranging from more research-focused to people-focused (you don’t need to be a super social person to be effective in science policy).
For lunch, we hired a local vendor, Grandma’s Kitchen Catering, a hispanic womxn with her own Mexican food catering business. It was imperative for us to bring in small business owners to continue our theme of highlighting successful POC, by bringing a little bit of Mexican-American culture to our event.
Following lunch, we had two researchers from the humanities, Martha Morales Hernandez and David Liu. Both shared their research studying marginalized communities. Martha shared her work on undocumented student mental health in the UC system, and David shared his research looking at STEM identities in Southern California K-12 classrooms. A key takeaway was that we need to look past traditional methods of measuring scientific success, both in the classroom and in the lab.
Our attendees shared that the diversity panel had the biggest impact. Our panelists were Dr. Nancy Aguilar-Roca, Alex Kuhn from UCI’s Queer/Trans in STEM, Dr. Alessandra Pantano, a math professor at UCI, Dr. Alberto Roca, executive director of Diverse Scholar, and Dr. Adriana Bankston, Associate Director of Fundraising and Strategic Initiatives at Future of Research. Hearing their stories on systemic problems they faced and the actions they had taken in their fields to reduce barriers was truly inspiring. After the panel one attendee wrote: “It was eye-opening to realize that despite the struggles that the speakers faced at the various parts of their career, the fact that they are actively involved in supporting minority groups and diversity in STEM was encouraging. It motivates me to want to be someone’s CHAMPION.”
“It was eye-opening to realize that despite the struggles that the speakers faced at the various parts of their career, the fact that they are actively involved in supporting minority groups and diversity in STEM was encouraging. It motivates me to want to be someone’s CHAMPION.”– Reclaiming STEM attendee
After being inspired by the diversity panel, Reclaiming STEM split into three breakout sessions that covered writing op-eds (Dr. Adriana Bankston), giving engaging scientific presentations, (Kendra Walters) and how to talk with local representatives from Congress (Linh Anh Cat). The participants had a chance to do hands-on work with the type of scicomm and scipol they were hoping to integrate in the future. Participants left wanting even more types of break out sessions for future versions of Reclaiming STEM!
Our keynote speaker, Shawntel Okonkwo, WokeSTEM’s founder and creative director, then delivered an engaging talk on the intersectionalities of our identity, and how to use them for effective scicomm. She shared her experiences being unapologetic about her identity in STEM spaces, and encouraged us all to do the same. One attendee remarked “the WokeSTEM presentation had the greatest impact because I had never seen a black scientist present their science in a raw manner that didn’t censor their identity.” And that is exactly why this workshop was so powerful — to not only highlight successful diverse scientists, but also to help scientists envision themselves in scicomm spaces that are often dominated by the majority.
Overall, our Reclaiming STEM event highlighted the immense need to create spaces catered to diverse scientists. This workshop not only taught scientists to be unapologetic about their identity, but also empowered them to use their identity to strengthen their science. We need more trainings that highlight successful scientists with intersectional identities to inspire the next generation of STEM. Only then can science be the truly equal space we want it to be!
This workshop not only taught scientists to be unapologetic about their identity, but also empowered them to use their identity to strengthen their science.
Moving forward, we are expanding Reclaiming STEM to the East Coast on September 21 at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), which will be spearheaded by Tamara Marcus and Rafael Loureiro. Hosting this event at UNH will provide the opportunity for students in New England (NE) and the East Coast to connect with POC students in the area also dedicated to engaging in inclusive scicomm. Retaining students and faculty of color is especially difficult for predominantly white universities, which are the majority of the universities in NE. For students of color at these institutions, it can be especially difficult to envision career pathways to scicomm and scipol. Hosting Reclaiming STEM at UNH will allow students in the region to create a community of scholars, a network that will ideally serve to support and inspire them throughout their graduate careers and beyond.
The second Reclaiming STEM will return to UC Irvine on September 7, 2019, in collaboration with the President of Queers in STEM at UCLA, Rob Ulrich. We, the creators, Evelyn Valdez-Ward and Linh Anh Cat, will be recruiting from our networks for the next version of Reclaiming STEM in between our dissertation work! We are always looking for engaging experts in scicomm and scipol who are able to talk honestly about how they overcame obstacles to be successful. You can reach us @wardofplants, @LinhAnhCat, or @Reclaiming_STEM on Twitter if you have any suggestions for future Reclaiming STEM events!