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The Scicurious Brain

The Scicurious Brain

The Good, Bad, and Weird in Physiology and Neuroscience

Guest Post 1: In the end, let’s make sure something good comes out.

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Please welcome the first of this week's guest bloggers, Rim!

Hello lovers,

When Sci asked me to guest blog for her week of diversity, I was at first flattered but then I had a few moments of hesitation. I ran through a mental list of why I shouldn’t write the post, did I really have anything of substance to offer? Did I want to part of the remedial process that SciAm is doing to show how diverse and tolerant they are?

To address my first hesitation I acknowledged that, I am a minority within a minority within a minority. Minority status ^3. Therefore, I must have something to contribute to the diversity conversation.

As for the second hesitation, there is no need to rehash what has happened. But I’d like to personally put it out there, that DNLee is not only a twitter buddy, an awesome scientist and great blogger. She is an inspiration to both minorities and non-minorities alike. So when SciAm mistreated her, I felt mistreated, because while I admire DNLee I also love SciAm, all my favorite bloggers and writers live here.

So, SciAm I am disappointed in you, get your act together.

But what really tipped the scale is that Sci asked me too. I have this thing for Sci that is equivalent to a thing that a fangirl/guy might have to Star Trek. I’ve never even seen Star Trek, but you get my drift. So after my “moment” I said yes. (Sci: d'awww...*shuffles feet*)

I am woman working towards my PhD in Neuroscience (working being the operative word) of Middle Eastern descent and I wear a hijab (also known as a headscarf). I am opinionated, confident, assertive (some may say bossy, semantics), pretty hilarious (I think), compassionate, unapologetically optimistic and completely enamored with science.

It was during my first neuroscience conference, that it was mentioned to me by a labmate that I was the only one that “looked like me” at the conference. It honestly took me a minute to process. You see, I don’t view myself as being different then the “group” until someone points it out to me. I realized then that I could react to this information in two logical ways.

1. I could be anxious of what people thought and therefore begin to perceive only negative gestures. This will undoubtly not only ruin my conference experience (I LOVE conferences) but would also make feel less confident in presenting my work. And let’s be honest here, the majority of graduate students already suffer from the infamous “Imposter Syndrome” exacerbating that feeling with the addition of being a “visible minority” was not going to help matters.

2. Or, I can use my minority status. Sure, I am usually the only one that looks like me , but I am also the only ME, period. I could go into a conference with the mindset that people would be curious enough, because of the way I looked, to talk to me and therefore I would have the opportunity to bewitch them with my sexy science. That, and my charming personality.

I’ve personally never encountered a blatant racial or discriminatory action or slur in my science community. Rather, I’ve been dismissed or not even included in conversations, been given looks or completely ignored. I once had a lady refuse to talk to me at my own poster and would only address my supervisor. Now to be fair, these actions can be attributed to a number of factors, it could be the way I dress/look (I can be pretty flamboyant with my fashion choices), the fact I am a woman, or that I am obviously ethnic or due to the religion I represent. The fact remains, I’ve had to deal with these situations and still do. What keeps me positive is my firm belief that that those who matter most, my supervisor, my lab, my department, my colleagues around the world (also known as twitter/blogging homies), do not judge me based on my gender or that I am a visible minority.

I decided on doing the latter. My minority status is not going anywhere. It’s part of who I am and I’m not only comfortable with it, I’m genuinely happy with it. Its shaped me to be the type of person I am today and will shape decisions I make in the future. It does not impact my science, I still set up my experiments to meet a protocol, I still have trouble getting westerns to work, I still avoid my supervisor when my data isn’t done yet, I still submit my abstracts to conferences last minute, I still moan about the lack of funding and I still participate in questionable lab shenanigans.

While my science is unaffected by my minority status, you know what I did find affected? My involvement in science communication and outreach. As the Science Chair for the Women and Science and Engineering (CU-WISE) at my university, I’ve found that elementary and high school teacher’s often come up to me to tell me how they love the diversity of our team. That their students find it so much easier to listen, relate and approach someone that looks like them. My team, my girls, have, unbeknownst to them, become role models. We take that honour seriously, because science is meant to inspire, and it’s also meant to be shared. I’ve had minorities and non-minorities alike come up to me after guest lectures and tell me they were not only inspired, but that they were proud of who I was. It’s moments like these that negate all those awkward moments.

If you asked one of the kids in my at-risk youth programs what discrimination meant they would probably tell you, it’s a bunch of actions that ignorant people do when they are afraid of something or someone. Perhaps not in such democratic terms, but you get the message. We should be past the stage where a scientist’s gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation is used against them in any manner. It’s embarrassing to us as fellow scientists to be associated with such ignorance and it’s embarrassing to us as human beings. So if you’re, that person who is still living under a rock that believes that science belongs to a certain “type” of person, you need to get with the program. Cause I can personally tell you, not only are there are a whole lot more of us “minorities” that are falling in love with science but your fellow “non-minorities” are going to stand against you (putting it mildly) because good science & good people are rarely left on their own.

Since I am on a roll giving lectures, lets just briefly look at the actions of SciAm. Like I’ve mentioned before I am a fan of not only the writers here but also the magazine itself, no exaggeration, I’ve threatened to leave the lab if I ever got a job here. I am completely unaware of the inner workings of running an online publishing magazine but I do believe that the course of events surrounding “The Situation” was mishandled to say the least. I hope the steps are taken to not only calm down the “online shitstorm” but also to ensure that such situations are handled more elegantly and befittingly to the class of SciAm and their amazing writers.

I believe everything in life comes as a form of a lesson, sometimes those lessons are fun at the time and sometimes they hurt your soul. Because let me tell you, when someone, especially a colleague, regulates to a phenotype, it’s the worst of hurts. At the end of the day we can all make sure something good can come out of it.

As always

Stay Awesome,

Rim

"Rim is a PhD student in Neuroscience, who spends more time then recommended pursuing things outside her PhD."

You can read her blog at: www.wordpress.com/neurobites

Twitter @Rimrk

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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