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The Urban Scientist

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#Scio14 Expanding the Dialogue on Diversity: Privilege and the Pursuit of Science

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As I was completing my doctorate studies, I was mounting an insane amount of student debt. I needed to finish. I wanted to finish. However, working an outside job or even a teaching assistantship kept taking up mind space and time and prevented me from just getting things done. I was so financially strapped that I was on food stamps that last year of my studies. I needed them and I am thankful for them. I graduated, but my entire existence immediately after graduation was insecure until the semester before I started my post doc. I was lucky blessed to have kept continuous employment so that I could pay my car note, insurance, cell phone bill, and feed myself. But I wasn't able to pay rent - so I had to leave the house I was living in. I abandoned my credit card debt... and my student loan debt...don't ask. I was living hand to mouth. (I still am to be honest, but better off than I was then).

Guess what I wasn't doing during that time? Writing up my manuscripts. Publish or Perish...It was more like: I'm this close to perishing from real-world threats. The ivory tower's threats to my existence would have to take a number. I didn't have the time or energy or the resources to write up and submit my manuscripts to a publisher. I was worried about keeping myself safe and fed and warm and able to be contacted by potential employers. During that time (and occasionally since) I would dream about how much more easier my life would be if I had been a Basketball Wife.

Imagine instead of witnessing trite drama about philandering men or clothes or celebrity parties, audiences I would had the camera crews following me on world-wind adventures to do ecology research or hands-on science outreach programs to inner-city youth. But I would have happily served up drama: giving audiences high doses of my side-eye and indignation and my verbose clap-backs as I served petty heifers ladies at a glorious brunch. (ahh, I dream.)

But seriously, my imagining myself as a Basketball Wife (or the wife, girlfriend of any baller/rappers/affluent man) is about dreaming of how financial security would have benefited me professionally. In that dream scenario I can pursue my science without fear of homelessness or hunger. I could also use those resources to do the science and outreach I want to do without having to wait on a major grant in order to do it. Yes, access to money and people with know-how makes a big difference in whether or not one can participate let alone survive and thrive in (academic) science. There hasn't been nearly enough conversation about the roles that (many different) privileges play in science career access and success.

During ScienceOnline2014 February 27-March 1, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina, that will change. I am facilitating a panel on diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) that moves beyond the conversations we have had in the past.

Session: Expanding the dialogue on Diversity

Expanding the dialogue on diversity and broadening participation of minorities (gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and ethnicity) includes addressing the role that social and economic barriers play on who is able to participate in science, technology, and engineering (STEM). This panel will address how the intersection of class and other minority labels must be considered in 21st Century STEM outreach and inclusion efforts. Addressing & admitting how privilege affects WHO has access to STEM education & opportunities is a very important part of the solution to plugging up the leaky pipeline.

The goals of the session will be to 1) define privilege and examine the different types of privileges we each may have, 2) elucidate the small but insidious ways prejudices around privilege allow some to become successful in science and discourage others, and 3) offer real tactics for individuals (to share with others) to make science and science communication more accessible to all students.

The conversation starts right now.

How has privilege, any type*, benefited you in your pursuit of STEM study/career?

How can we, as online science communicators, leverage our respective privileges to make STEM more accessible, diverse, inclusive, and retentive to broader audiences?

You can comment below as well as follow the hashtag #scioDiversity, plus the conference hashtag #scio14. I will use these comments as conversation fodder during session on Thursday, February 27, 2014, 2:30 PM EST. It will be lived streamed, so if you are participating in one of the Watch Parties from around the world, you will get a chance to participate live in the discussion as well.

* any type of privilege includes and is not limited to: cultural/racial privileges, academic/familial/social nepotism, academic pedigree, gender or cis-status, age, professional rank, accolades, socioeconomic status.

Resources for this session

A field guide to privilege in marine science: some reasons why we lack diversity

A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students before they get in the door good

unpacking the invisible knapsack

Aggregator of Diversity Bloggers

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

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