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#Scio12: Broadening Participation of Underrepresented populations science & science communication

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


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I’m moderating a session at the ScienceOnline2012 Conference next week in Research Triangle, NC: Broadening Participation of Underrepresented populations in online science communication & communities.

Since I began science blogging (in 2006) I’ve spent a considerable amount of my energy emphasizing diversity in the sciences.  It simply reflected my interests in real life.  The inspiration is very personal (and selfish): I grow weary of being the only brown face in the science audience.  I know my experience is shaped by the fact that I have attended majority institutions throughout my education and again now for my post-doc; but that hasn’t deterred me from my mission to replace myself with as many ‘Mini-Mes’ as I can recruit.  It’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to biological urge except in this case it’s to ‘birth’ more scientists from communities of color or those from economically-marginalized communities as possible.

This world-wide plot not only includes doing live programming like science outreach, teaching, and mentoring research of young scholars,  it also includes encouraging more people to become consumers of science, technology and education news.  Of course, if I had my way every single one of you would become a scientist, engineer, or science/math educator but that wouldn’t give you enough options. And giving you options and choices is just my way. I’m a generous mad scientist like that. That’s where science communication comes in. Communicating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is equally important to my world-domination plot, too.  But this means laying the foundation for larger audiences to consume STEM information, especially in new and creative ways that are relevant to under-served audiences.

That’s what the panel I’ll be moderating at ScienceOnline2012 is all about. With the help of the other experts in the room, we’ll discuss and share strategies for engaging multiple audiences in science and science communication.  Questions we will explore include:

  • How are you using your skills in online communication to engage students and/or fellow scientists from underrepresented groups?
  • How do you feel about the unusual digital divide: while texting is used more by underrepresented groups, does that compromise writing skills?
  • How can non-minority allies cultivate and retain minority students into the sciences? Are credibility and authenticity necessary for mentoring minorities?
  • Women scientist bloggers have been increasingly successful in creating a supportive online community that addresses their needs – what are the challenges for scientist-bloggers from underrepresented groups?
  • More generally, and in the spirit of Dr. King, how has the web been used for nonviolent protesting and influencing culture?
  • And more…In fact, I’m asking all of my friends (science & non-science; minority & majority, male & female, teachers & parents & students) to weigh in and tell me what you think about this subject. What things should we be doing to expand participation of more people in STEM?

And don’t discount your voice if you’re not a blogger or scientist.  Personally, I’d like to hear from more people who don’t fit those descriptions.  How else will we (science communicators)  know what matters if we don’t get any honest feedback from the people we intend to serve?

Furthermore, the great thing about this conference is that it’s an unconference, meaning everyone and anyone has something important to offer. Even if you’re not able to attend, you can still participate.  You can weigh in on this panel (or any of the other outstanding and equally interesting and important panels about STEM outreach and science communication) by visiting the conference wiki page or leaving a comment below post or logging a comment via Twitter (#Scio12)

Links to ScienceOnline2012.
Conference Program with click-able links that describe each panel and session.
Broadening Participation of Underrepresented populations in online science communication & communities
Writing about science for women’s (and men’s) magazines and not being ashamed of it, dammit
Understanding audiences and how to know when you are *really* reaching out
Science Training for Journalists
Blogging in the undergraduate science classroom (how to maximize the potential of course blogs)
Citizens, experts, and science
Is encouraging scientific literacy more than telling people what they need to know?

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

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





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  1. 1. Jerzy New 7:51 am 01/13/2012

    Reading second-hand science news is not broader participation in science. The same as peasants hearing about a new king are not participating in government choice.

    I am refusing to buy that public is so stupid that firsthand science access is unimprotant, or that it is possible to have public support of science when excluding them from primary science process. What you get then is U.S. style propaganda wars of climate denialists and warmists.

    Real participation in science is monetary expensive or impossible, and the reason is intellectual property law, one way or another. It drives costs of access to scientific journals, scientific books and cost of high-technology products which restrict these to few research labs and private companies.

    It appears that the West is entering the new Dark Ages, where knowledge is scarce. Not because of ideology this time, but because of intellectual property laws which prohibit knowledge dissimination or at least make it too expensive besides few rich corporations and public universities.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Jerzy New 7:59 am 01/13/2012

    Maybe I am optimistic, but I never saw sense in forcing a monkey to eat a banana, or forcing a human to get interested in something curious.

    Just give them access – and if its really interesting, they will get interested.

    The caveat is, that you may find people don’t in fact have access or what you think interesting is not what society thinks. Still, things like SETI cannot complain on lack of interest from the general public.

    Link to this
  3. 3. duffy_ma 12:41 pm 01/15/2012

    As I said on twitter, I’m especially interested in your take on the role of allies. My feeling is that, especially in departments with few or no minority faculty, the allies really need to step up or things will never change.

    I also am interested in issues related to 1) barriers to success faced by minority students (and what faculty & administrators can do to help), and 2) encouraging minority students to get involved in research as undergraduates.

    I’m looking forward to following the session via twitter!

    Link to this
  4. 4. duffy_ma 9:38 am 01/16/2012

    And now a question from a colleague: Anecdotally, minority students seem less likely to come to office hours, e-mail the professor, or otherwise seek out help (esp. in large lecture courses). How can we better engage and encourage minority students in our large lecture courses? Is the web the answer?

    Link to this

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