Step 1 – Establishing a sense of belonging

Fact – not all scientists are antisocial nerds who only care about science.

Here are some scientists in the lab on Halloween last year (Super Shark Girl and a Weeping Angel – would they be friends? :-/). They were dressed up this year too but I forgot to get a picture…. :(

Some scientists might only care about science but most have a lot of other things they are excited about. Scientists, like all other humans, have the capacity to be well rounded individuals. We seem to want to forget this idea right now and I don’t know why.

Einstein for example – what do you think of when I mention his name? Brilliant guy. Random equations like E=mc2. Do you know he was also an avid patron of the arts and very actively involved in the civil rights movement here in the US? Yay for well-rounded scientists!

I worry about this behavioral shift because it encourages the exclusivity of science. As humans, we all strongly feel the need to belong. If we don’t feel accepted in a situation, we are less likely to pursue it. In fact, it’s been shown that women and underrepresented minorities often quit studying science, math, and engineering because they worry that they don’t belong or are unwelcome in those fields. It’s really important to me that you feel like you do belong in this conversation about science that we are having so let’s take a moment and establish a sense of belonging by talking about something else that I believe all humans share – passions.

This is how it’s going to work.

Scientists – Why do you do your science? Is it your one and only passion or do you have others? Think about this next time you are talking to nonscientists and start by explaining to them what it is about science that you just love instead of just jumping straight into the meat of your research and why they should care about it. Also make sure you mention all that other stuff you love doing! I know a scientist who traveled to Nepal to help rebuild houses, scientists who volunteer at a local horse rescue, scientists who volunteer with their churches, and scientists who mentor underrepresented undergraduates/high school students to give them the skills they need to succeed in science/life.

Nonscientists – what are you passionate about? Next time you confront a scientist, ask them about their passions and then see if you can find some common ground. Maybe you love photography and the scientist loves microscopy. Microscopes are just fancy cameras for tiny things! Hurrah! Now you have something in common! Discuss!

Okay – my turn:
I am passionate about science because I think it is beautiful. It is so crazy to me that a bunch of random molecules can come together to form cells, which then work together to make humans! It’s even crazier to me that tiny single cells like bacteria can be so evil and trick our complicated bodies to do their bidding. I think that is fascinating.

I am also passionate about other things – I am really passionate about giving people the opportunity to be excited about science (or whatever their passions are), regardless of their race, gender, immigration status, or income. I also love photography and all animals, especially sharks and whales! Plus I am really obsessed with markers right now and I am trying to get all artsy and learn how to color/draw better. I love comics and I am super jealous at the drawing abilities of those artists. Finally I also really love food and trying out new crazy recipes.

Potassium is kind of obsessed with drawing whale sharks right now…

Enough about me – let’s hear from you. Please share in the comments section! And feel free to ask questions about any of my passions too.

In case you are interested in pursuing any of the things I mentioned up there further:
Einstein – you can just Google him and look at his Wikipedia page but there’s also a really interesting book called Einstein on Race and Racism that goes way more into detail about the non-scientist part of Einstein’s life.

Sense of Belonging – I found this Scientific American article particularly informative but if you want to try your luck with papers with fancy words, there are two articles that discuss the basic desire for a sense of belonging and how various groups need to feel like they belong to succeed in science. This topic is a huge area of study at CU Boulder, which I think is awesome!

Stay Tuned! The next “Let’s talk about science” post will probably be in January, though I might get too excited and post something sooner!

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2 thoughts on “Step 1 – Establishing a sense of belonging

  1. This neuroscientist will be writing fantasy and science fiction until her last dying breath. Passion must be shared, no matter who you are. It doesn’t do well trapped indoors. It will only drive you crazy then.

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