Monday, July 23, 2018

Representation matters in Physics

Some of the hesitance that our students have about studying science is this misconception that you can only "do science" if you're "smart enough." Humanizing those that pursue science and their path to a STEM job helps more students consider doing the same.  A Twitter account called @RealScientists has a new curator each week to share their particular corner of science with the world. They have a whole week to talk about their specific job, the path they took to get there, publications, unique and funny memories, what they wish everyone knew about their field, etc. Some hashtags have gone viral to show the human side of scientists like #PregnantintheField with which female scientists share pictures of themselves with baby bumps while carrying out field research. The universal #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob hashtag gets really funny when scientists get a hold of it.

While most of us recognize that people come in all different shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds outwardly acknowledging it is important in your classroom. In a time when many are feeling less welcome in our own spaces (work, home, country, etc) it is vital that we actively work to recognize marginalized groups in our fields and help to lift their voices.

On June 4th a new Twitter account @500QueerSci was launched with the purpose of bringing awareness of LGBTQ+ people working in STEM related jobs during the annual Pride Month. Their goal was to reach 500 personal stories and by mid July were at 630 biographies. People can submit their abbreviated biographies, pictures and social media links to be added to the catalog. The full list is found on their companion website

The resource is amazing and as many have said when they first tweet their own featured biographies  they wish such a thing had been available when they were young. It serves as a reminder to young LGBTQ+ people interested in science that they are not alone and that can be life changing.

I recently went back to the website hoping to find a search bar to type "physics" into so that I could have a list of many LGBTQ+ people with backgrounds or jobs in the fields  of physics. I could not find one so I tweeted at @500QueerSci and asked:

They responded that such a feature was in the works but in the meantime offered to find such profiles for me. Below are the names and links they provided:

  1. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
  2. Izzy Jayasinghe
  3. Giampiero Mancinelli
  4. Axiel Yael Birenbaum
  5. Nicole Ackerman
  6. Tzula Propp
  7. Shawn Cole-Woods
  8. Kelsey Collier
  9. Carlos Arguelles
  10. Aidan Robson
  11. Ana Barbara Rodriquez Cavalcante
  12. Beck Strauss
  13. Kerstin Nordstrom
  14. Tessa Carver
  15. Christopher Aubin
  16. Robert Newberry
  17. Jost Migenda
  18. Andrew Princep
  19. John Barentine
  20. Mackenzie Warren
  21. Katie Mack
  22. Ashley Spindler
  23. JJ Eldridge
  24. Stephen Lawrence
  25. Alysa Obertas
  26. Nick Geitner
  27. Andrew Welsh
  28. Georgia Squyres
So I have a list, now what? I intend to use it. I've seen several lessons and activities in the last year promoting learning about diverse modern scientists, not just the "dead white guys" we find in our textbooks. Depending on your school and community's comfort level you could do a few things with such a list; and the same could be done for scientists of color and women. 
  • Whenever a particular field comes up in class, say astrophysicist, feature an LGBTQ+ person or person of color instead of whoever is at the top of a Google search list. 
  • "Profile a scientist" activities are already usually limited to exclude the few that everyone already knows about like Einstein or Curie or Tesla. If you're going to set restrictions for who they can't research you may find yourself just producing a list from which students have to choose. And look at that, you have a class set (or almost) of physics related names right up there! How convenient!
  • You can present the list in its entirety, or the full website, for students to explore st their own pace. You can lead a discussion or offer reflection time for students to think about the featured scientists' paths through education and the hardships they may have endured for being LGBTQ+, why their visibility is important, etc. 
  • Make posters of the featured physics related persona biographies to display in your classroom or school all year.
  • Feature an LGBTQ+, woman and/or person of color that is in the STEM field each week in your classroom. 
There are lots more things you could do to help expose your students to a more diverse world of STEM, but that should be a start! I encourage you to read through the biographies above and more to learn more about our very diverse and large STEM community. If you have any other fabulous lessons to share please let me know!

Edit: I was able to add a few more resources I could not find the first time around thanks to recent AAPT plenary Frank Nochese:

The hashtag #ActualLivingScientists is used by all kinds of, well, actual living scientists, to share information about their work and why its cool. Several teachers print out some of these profiles to make displays in their classrooms or around

Heather Waterman @WatermanPhysics makes a daily doodle on her board about a scientists from an underrepresented group. I have a minor in art and I still don't know if I could draw a scene every day that was this good!

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