Monday, March 15, 2010

Diversity Help Wanted

Said FSP's daughter's middle school Science teacher to FSP when he saw her in the corridor of the school:

Hey, it's the famous woman scientist.

I was taken aback at first, wondering why he used adjectives, one of which was strange and the other implied that scientist = man unless you specify otherwise (hence the somewhat cynical name for this blog). But then I figured out why he greeted me that way.

Later, this same science teacher asked me if I would come talk to his class in a month or two.

Great! I replied. But I thought you were done with the unit on My Science.

Oh.. ah.. yes. Actually, we are doing a unit on Diversity and so we need a .. a .. a..

Woman scientist?

Yes, exactly. The state expects us to do something on Diversity and I uh.. uh..

have no clue what to do and don't even know enough to ask this favor in a non-offensive way?

I didn't say that, but, actually, I don't have a clue either.

I have never talked about Diversity to a group of middle school kids before. I assume that I should talk about all types of diversity, not just gender. I would like to keep my overall message positive and talk about Science as a rewarding career, but perhaps we could also discuss stereotypes of scientists (strange white males). I'm going to have to give this a lot more thought.

Has anyone else given a talk on Diversity to middle schoolers? I could use some advice.

52 comments:

HerMindsEye said...

Put up a photo of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Then put up a picture of Beaker and Dr. Bunsen. Then put up a picture of Albert Einstein. Then one of Marie Curie (but she died because of her massive eposure to radioactivity). The End.

I'm only kidding. But if I were you, I would just tell them your own personal story. Women like you are who allow women like me to keep going in this science world. So just tell them your story, and you'll be okay.

Alex said...

Diversity is a good, virtuous, important thing that responsible grown-ups value. Now, how in the world do you talk to middle-schoolers about something like that?

I don't envy you.

Sort of related: A professional society produced some comic books that portray science, scientists, and science careers in a positive light. They are targeted at middle school girls, they include a carefully balanced cast of characters who avoid negative stereotypes and serve as positive role models, and the heroine's super-powers are chosen to illustrate important scientific concepts. When I saw it, my first thought was "Hmm, they forgot to remind the kids to eat their vegetables, brush and floss, and talk respectfully to elders." I know, I know, it's an important issue, the people writing it all have the best of intentions, and we certainly need to do something to solve these problems. But it just reeks of "Grown-ups are convinced that this is good for you."

As an experiment, I showed it to my 13 year-old cousin, without sharing my own opinions on it, and she was not the least bit impressed.

D said...

Not necessarily about diversity but certainly about women in science/engineering fields, http://web.mit.edu/wi/home1.shtml.

As a presenter for this program, I found the best way to have the girls engage was asking them what stereotypes they thought of engineers/scientists and then show pictures of my friends.

Don't know if it's helpful but check out the presentations underneath Presenters>About the Presentations for examples

First time commenting, I find your blog very encouraging and helpful. Thanks!
-female science&engineering undergraduate

Anonymous said...

Nope I've not had to speak on Diversity to middle schoolers, but when I was a postdoc I was literally the only woman in my department and they had professional photographers take pictures of me to put in the department's brochures and other advertising materials to make it look as if we were Diverse. What a joke. Well the last I visited my old institution when I was invited back to give a talk, roaming the corridors I found my picture was STILL on the posters on the walls along with their other marketing images, although it seems that there are now a handful of women grad students and postdocs. So maybe my cooperation in having my picture taken and used years ago did help increase Diversity after all, even if only marginally!

kamikaze said...

Can't you just give a science talk? I suppost that would illustrate diversity in the sense that a woman is capable?

lurking reader said...

I recommend telling them this story:
http://scienceblogs.com/bookclub/2009/03/maria_mitchell_and_the_sexing.php

and follow up with a short discussion
(the book should give you some good ideas if I remember it correctly). Maybe ask the students which scientists they know and help them add some cool "diverse" scientist.

estraven said...

The teacher is not the only one embarassed by asking. When they invited me to a position as Visiting Female Scientist (I kid you not) they didn't tell me about the Female until I was actually there, and then it was only mentioned in the contract.
Which was written in a language they thought I couldn't understand, but I did.

To your predicament: I would try to discuss your own experience, but also insert references to (gender and other) stereotyping they would be familiar with.

Peggy said...

As someone who has switched from doing engineering and occasionally volunteering to do "women in engineering" stuff to working full time to increase participation of women in science and engineering careers, I think that this teacher is going about it all wrong. Rather than inviting someone to talk to middle schoolers about "diversity" it would make more of an impression to invite several "diverse" scientists to talk about their science. From the perspective of getting more girls interested in science, it would probably be more effective to talk about the variety of science careers and how the work scientists do relates to every day life.

Amy said...

I used to teach freshman composition in various colleges, and I spent some time talking about issues of stereotyping and diversity and such (particularly with regards to feminism). One of my lessons could be adapted for middle schoolers -- have them draw on the chalkboard/whiteboard a stereotypical scientist. Have them take turns adding to the picture -- clothing, glasses, something in the person's hands, etc. When they're done, ask them why they drew it in the way they did, and use that to transition to talking about what a scientist is -- not just academic scientists, but anyone who tests ideas/hypotheses in their every day life.

It worked for 18-year-olds, at least. I imagine that middle-schoolers might be slightly less cynical (or I could be kidding myself).

Anonymous said...

You can have them start off by drawing/sketching what a scientist looks like. When they're all white and male, you can go from there. You might even tell them that their sketches look like the scientists of 200 years ago--when women and people of color weren't allowed to do science. Let 'em think that they're trapped in the mindset of the past!

Then, yes, a photo slide show of current scientists...

I think it's worth pointing out to them that bias still exists; these are the folks who will fight it or fall in with it unthinkingly. But you don't have to point it out as *their* bias, *their* flaw.

Anonymous said...

As a female finance professor who has to do similarly I try mainly to provide real evidence that 'diverse' people can do math, which can be concrete and fun. (Though likewise not quite sure how I qualify as diverse!) I guess it would have helped me as a kid to know that not all professors were necessarily male (reality is that probably just made me take longer to choose academia rather than other options I tried first). Mainly I try to talk about the fun stuff I get to do. Of course its relatively easy to motivate kids to be interested in money, especially if you take concrete examples!

Anonymous said...

Think about it this way -- the only images of scientists that the students have seen so far are those in TV shows and movies and this (not particularly impressive) science teacher. Your job is to present them with alternatives to the nutty professor, evil/mad scientist, and geeky guy stereotypes. You do that mostly by just showing them what a normal and fun person you are. You can show them pictures of your students at work and explain to them why you -- and others from all walks of life -- chose this career and how much fun it is.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea of telling your story of how you got excited and interested in science... I suspect your story will be distinctly different from many of your male peers (at least mine is as a FSP)... bottom line, having a diversity of experiences brings new ideas to research and brings diversity of approaches to research teams.

I do like the idea of starting out by discussing perceptions of scientists... maybe they will suprise you and it won't be the nerdy white guy anymore.

Rebecca said...

I've never been asked to specifically talk about diversity, but here's what I do to encourage diversity at the middle school level. I talk about my job, and how much fun it is. Then, at the end, I show pictures of my colleagues. These pictures are selected for the ones who are young and diverse. Then I have a picture with a silhouette and a question mark, with the caption "Someday, you!"

Liz said...

I have seen a talk like this in the past, given by a women in engineering group. They started off by getting the kids to draw a picture of a scientist or engineer. There were a lot of drawings of a stereotypical crazy-haired mad scientist or a guy in a hard hat. The group then talked about how many diverse opportunities exist within the realm of science and engineering and showed examples of diverse people who had jobs in the field.

I thought it was very effective. Honestly I think that a lot of girls may shy away from physical science, engineering, and technology becasue it is unclear to most middleschoolers what these sorts of jobs entail (especially if they do not have a mentor or parent in the field). By showing the diversity of opportunities available, I think it really helps highlight that science can be for everyone.

hypatia said...

There's a series geared toward younger kids that has them draw a scientist... talk/listen to histories of women scientists, visit real science labs, etc .... draw again. A bit too 'young' for middle schoolers but that theme might work.

What are your preconceptions(re, women, science, etc)? How did you come by them? How do you get rid of them? Not all science is bench science...

Dr. O said...

I have teenage nieces (14 and 15 now), and their father has requested I bring them with me to the lab this summer. His biggest concern is they won't take careers like "scientists" seriously, and he wants them to see me, and the other women I work with, in action. I'm especially excited for them to interact with some of the younger female graduate students, who can demonstrate how being "nerdy" can also be "cool".

That said, I don't envy your assignment. But I agree with HME and would focus on your own experiences. Don't expand too much into areas you're not familiar with - middle schoolers can smell weakness.

Give them a taste of what your life as a scientists is like - traveling to meetings and doing something new and exciting every day. Let them know scientists can be fun women with personalities and interesting lives, not just boring, weird white guys (pictures of Bill Nye and Albert Einstein could be useful here!). Also, remind the girls in the class that you were once like them, and look where you are now!

I might also sport a new kick-ass pair of shoes. ;)

Cloud said...

I've never done anything like this for middle school kids, just for really young elementary school kids. When I did that, the teacher (my Mom!) had the class draw a picture of a scientist )she got the usual pictures of wild haired men), told them a scientist was going to visit, and then had me come visit and had a little talk about how I didn't look anything like their pictures. My hair CAN be a bit wild when I wake up in the morning, but I usually comb it before I leave the house.

Kristin said...

I would definitely go with the "debunking stereotypes" angle. I think you should also tell them about how you became interested in science. I recently helped run a science day for girls (no boys allowed, even all the helpers were women) at my college, and in the feedback one thing they loved hearing about was how the professors (who ran each individual event) got into science.

Anonymous said...

Why does the use of the adjective "woman" imply that scientist = man? Every time I use an adjective it causes the non-adjective form of the noun to default to some opposite form? That's silly. I enjoy your blog, but sometimes I think you are too sensitive. He's a middle school science teacher - he probably respects you tremendously.

P.S. I'm a man, by the way.

Anonymous said...

You go there and be. That's how you talk about diversity. If you're group was really progressive (i.e. there are lots of moms who are scientists) then you might want to mention that there are fewer women in the sciences. But, if they're not (and I don't think they are), then all you need to do is be there, obviously being diverse, and tell them how you got there, which challenges you faced, and how one might surmount those challenges.

You tell them the kinds of things that you say started your desire to blog, and (this is important), why and how you were able to achieve what you wanted anyway.

You answer their questions.

If you want to be more confrontational, you could set up a scenario, where half the kids are assigned to the discriminated category, but that's a more challenging lesson plan.

Oh, and you don' talk about "diversity" in the abstract. You don't really know or have much to contribute on, for example, the challenges of racial diversity. If you have experience with other diversity -- class, or intellectual, you could certainly talk about those.

Anonymous said...

Here's something you might find interesting on this topic:
http://ed.fnal.gov/projects/scientists/index.html

They had a group of middle schoolers describe (and draw) what they thought a scientist was before and after visiting the Fermi Lab.

Anonymous said...

I've done this kind of thing quite a lot. I echo the comment made by HerMindsEye -- just tell your story. Even the fact that someone like you exists will be important for some of these kids to see.

I usually just tell the kids a little bit about where and how I grew up, how I became interested in science and being a professor, and a little about my family now. Sometime I have gotten very personal questions from the students (e.g., "Did you have boyfriends? Did it bother your boyfriends that you were smart?") and sometimes I've just gotten a room full of blank stares. But either way I think it is a worthwhile thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I would try to emphasise the element of "you can do whatever you want" rather than "diversity is good".

You love science because of x, y and z. There's no reason that females can't love science for those reasons. A guy in the class might love helping people, there's no reason that he can't become a nurse.

Anonymous said...

Men, yes, but the age of the White male scientist has passed.

Female Linguist said...

I knew from age 5 that I was going to be a scientist. My parents were completely supportive in every way, and took me to some women-in-science talks. And I always found them depressing. For one, I didn't realize there was a gender disparity, or that it mattered. People might treat me differently because of something other than my abilities? I just identified as a scientist because I was a science nerd-- I just never noticed the gender of the scientists in question. What would have been most encouraging and useful to me would have been a normal fun science talk from a female scientist.

Anonymous said...

You should check out the PBS Nova Vodcast (it's available through iTunes). They periodically do profiles on various scientists, and include a wide diversity of people. I particularly like the Secret Life of Scientists ones where each scientist reveals something about their life outside of science... from playing musical instruments to skate boarding to just about anything else you can think of.

siz said...

The fact that you are a scientist and in front of the middle schoolers gives them an intro to diversity in science.

Little kids are always shocked/surprised when I give demos that I'm actually the one doing the demos. The most common question I get from the young ones is "how old are you" (31, but I look about 23-24). I think that just my presence in doing the demos helps them understand diversity in science.

Amy said...

I have always considered one of the most valuable aspects of diversity to be the variety of points of view that you get. As scientists, we all know that sometimes all you need to solve a problem is to look at it from a completely different point of view.

Could you have the students work in teams to solve a scientific problem? You could make it so each team could only see the problem from one point of view (or measure one type of thing) and they would need to gather all that information to get the whole picture. It might be a nice analogy.

Though, really, just being a professional woman scientist who is excited about your work will be great. You can tell them about something exciting that you're working on that will help get them excited about the subject.

Anonymous said...

I spent some time as a grad student talking to middle and elementary schoolers about my field and always really enjoyed it. I like the idea of showcasing different scientists (I am envisioning the slideshows we had for art appreciation in school but for scientists), and highlighting the science stereotypes. (This reminds me of a board book my young daughter has about my Alma Mater. Under "Professor" there is a picture of a bearded old man wearing a three-piece suit.)

I can remember being in middle school and having chemistry students come from the local university to do a science demo. They were all white males, but I don't think I noticed it at the time. What I did notice was that they all used yellow legal pads (probably supplied by their department) and so all through high school and college I used yellow legal pads because "that's what scientists use."

The point of that story was that I expect there are at least some students who are there who are interested, and your very presence might be enough for them to grab on to and go ahead in their chosen field. Go get 'em, and have fun!

womenrolemodels said...

Anon 10:58, the age of White Male Scientist is still here. People still introdeuce this bias in selecting interviewees at my R1 university, there are still more old, white deans that young, diverse individuals, and I still hold a non-tenure track position in order to raise a family (I recognize that FSP is raising a fam with a kid, but there are still large hurdles necessitating the "choice" to go NTT). Middle school girls and boys still need to see that women and non-whites can be cool scientists.

As an example of the white guy culture, look at 2009's http://www.rockstarsofscience.org/photoshoot.asp. The diversity is in the rock stars, not the scientists!

Trista said...

I've always found supplying candy helps prolong attention span in middle schoolers. (Especially if you reward thoughtful questions with tossed candies.) Lets you talk about science, too... Either chemistry or metabolism/biology.

Good luck with the diversity! I've seen some good comments.

yolio said...

Yeah, I would make sure to communicate what you love about science. It is good to get across the difficulty of the minority experience, but there really is only so much you can do in this context. You have been given a very limited platform. You can't expect to undo years of socialization in a single classroom visit. But if you can supply an image of a person who successfully combines woman+scientist, seems to enjoy her life, and is seems worthy of respect/admiration, then you have accomplished something.

AL said...

I would also go with a focus on "following your passion" instead of diversity per se. Your own story of how discovered a love of science and how you figured out the path towards academic science is probably compelling, even for middle-schoolers. Lots of kids don't have any idea what physical scientists DO-- that alone is likely to open up a new world to them.

And a lot depends on the demographic. My 1st grade daughter thinks mostly women are scientists (like her Mom) but men are sometimes science teachers (like Dad). And I'm in no hurry to explain otherwise...

Anonymous said...

While I think the teacher's approach was awkward to say the least, I think it's a great idea to have parents speak to middle school classes, particularly parents whose professions are not ones that most children are exposed to regularly. I would assume (perhaps incorrectly depending on the type of school your daughter attends) that most of her classmates do not have a scientist parent. That you are strong, positive female role model is an added bonus. I would use the opportunity to try to light a spark of interest in science in all the students, and let the fact that you are female and successful speak for itself. Also, if it were me, I would be careful to remember that you are there for all the students, not just the female ones (although I really, really wish I had had more female role models in science when I was in school!)

Anonymous said...

I used to volunteer to teach science to first graders on a monthly basis before I arrived the teacher had the kids draw pictures of what scientists looked like. There were three classes, about 80 kids, and they drew 80 pictures of white men with crazy hair holding test tubes. When I arrived there was heated discussion as to whether I was really a scientist because I was a girl and young and wasn't wearing a lab coat.

The drew me thank you cards at the end of the year and those were way more awesome, they showed me riding rockets to the moon, wrangling giant insects, traveling to foreign places, and of course holding test tubes. I taught them mainly about insects but it was obvious that being female while talking science changed their perceptions of what was possible.

Madscientistgirl said...

I talked to middle schoolers about being a scientist on a couple of occasions, sometimes as a representative woman and sometimes in other capacities, such as helping with science fair projects. (I also worked at a summer camp one summer teaching archery and lived with ten 13-year-old girls, after which I apologized to my mother for having ever been 13.) I mostly went with the, "This is who I am, this is how I got there, and this is what a typical day looks like for me," angle and that seemed to go over well. Mainly kids are looking for something you have in common with them and they want to know if what you do is cool. I've found relating science to modern conveniences they like (like the i-phone, or an x-box, etc) gets their attention well. Most kids don't realize that scientists and engineers are needed to make those things. Demos also always go over well. Or something from your lab that they can touch and play with.

Some facts about diversity and gender might be useful - like that both men and women will rank a male applicant for a (mock) job as more qualified and that both men and women will rate a paper as worse if they think the 1st author is a woman. Middle schoolers would find these things interesting. But middle schoolers don't like when things sound preachy and they can see through B.S - better, perhaps, than some professors. They're not adults but they want to be talked to as if they were adults and if you talk down to them, they won't listen. Your PhD doesn't mean anything to a bunch of twelve year olds. They know everything, after all. Anything that sounds remotely like the anti-drug campaigns I was subjected to as a middle schooler will probably not work and may backfire. I actually disagree with the most common suggestion to do an exercise where you have kids draw a scientist, at least for middle schoolers. It would be very hard to do well. It'd probably be easier for elementary schoolers, but middle schoolers will feel like you're treating them like elementary schoolers if you have them draw. I'd stay away from anything that could sound preachy or like you're telling them how to behave.

One of the things that caught me off guard is that middle schoolers will sometimes come right out and tell you their insecurities. I'm not smart enough, I'm not good at math, I can't afford college. I made a mistake once - a girl asked about whether you could work at a national lab without a college degree, and I didn't really know how to respond so I just kind of mumbled something but I don't think it was ideal. So be prepared for comments like that. And for students to shout out insults aimed at other students - like, "you're not smart enough for that, Joe!"

The background of the students matters a lot, too. Kids in middle class neighborhoods will probably be quieter and go along with whatever you want them to do - but they also don't need to hear what you're saying as much and probably already have their parents' support. Their parents also probably have a more accurate idea of what a scientist does. I've often found kids in poorer schools to be more interactive - they genuinely don't know, for instance, that you need to go to college to be a scientist.

Of course, middle schoolers aren't that different from faculty - I have often thought that dealing with armed 13-year-olds prepared me quite well for academia.

Anonymous said...

A group in my field did a wonderful, quick video that I found quite helpful when doing something similar. Check out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH26Pu1M4sc
This may at least provide inspiration and incorporates several of the drawing suggestions raised by others.

Kevin said...

I keep seeing the suggestion to have kids draw or sketch a scientist. I think that this will really irritate those who have limited drawing skills or who are shy about showing their drawings.

I'm not in the target demographics (being white and male), but I know that anyone who had made me "draw a scientist" as a middle school student would have lost my respect and attention for anything they said subsequently.

Anonymous said...

debunking stereotypes and getting kids or people to think in different ways is great for diversity generally. I always thought physics at school was so boring as it was all about vehicles in motion and other topics (yawn, why would I care about cars?). Now that I am a scientist I find the physics of how insects walk vertically and upside down fascinating.
Female postdoc

Cloud said...

Kevin (and everyone else who says drawing a scientist won't work for middle school kids)- I actually agree, even though I told my story with the kids drawing pictures earlier in the comments. It works really well for younger kids (my mom taught 1st grade and 3rd grade), but I don't think it would work after about the age of 10.

However, the general idea of getting kids to form a picture in their head of what a scientist looks like, and then having a real scientist show up and not match that picture- that would probably still be powerful, if you could think of an age-appropriate manner. I submit that it would probably be a powerful thing for a bunch of adults, too. I still get people who are visibly taken aback when I answer the "what do you do for a living?" question.

Middle school was the age when my male classmates starting saying really sexist things just to be inflammatory, though. So I think it would be difficult to do well with this age group.

Maybe you could pull some pictures from pop culture representations of scientists, and then talk about how in reality, scientists look just like everyone else, and show some pictures of real scientists. And then go on to talk about your awesome science and/or the awesome science done by some of the other people whose pictures you showed.

RJB said...

I think you want to convey two message: first, that the community of scientists is incredibly diverse; and second, that there are certain things all successful scientists have in common.

Make the first point by asking the students how many of them grew up speaking a language other than English. Ask how many grew up eating goat or bugs or snakes for dinner. How many of them were raised in religions other than Christianity or Judaism. How many of them have a family member or friend who is gay or transsexual, etc. Then, talk about the many people in your field (broadly defined) that are so incredibly different from you (and the students).

Then, ask how many people think that lying is good. Or plagiarism. Or theft. How many of them think you can win arguments by saying "well, you're ugly." How many of them enjoy learning something new and telling other people about it? How many of them like to solve difficult problems, challenge their minds, etc.?

Then make it clear that EVERY scientist feels the same way about those issues.

In fact, that is WHY there can be so much diversity in science--because scientists agree that how you were raised, what you eat, etc., has nothing to do with learning about the universe. What matters is that everyone holds similar values about science.

I would also suggest that you close by acknowledging that OF COURSE women and minorities (and people with disabilities, etc.) can be scientists. I am not sure you need to belabor the fact that the majority of scientists are men.

Anonymous said...

how about paying a consultant - one of those motivational speakers and executive coaches that corporations hire and force their employees to go see - to help you come up with a game plan and presentation materials. charge it to your NSF budget as a "broader impact."

Anonymous said...

I would talk about the work you do and relate it to why the kids should care. Before/after/somewhere in the talk, emphasize how people from all backgrounds can become scientists. Also mention that being poor may be a barrier but that going to state public schools up through undergrad and working hard would secure the student a place in many grad/professional programs. I hate the word "diversity" in relation to this because if it's true that minorities are at a disadvantage, it is because money is usually a major issue (and EVERYONE including whites have money problems). Make sure everyone knows that there are programs and grants available and make yourself available to contact if for some reason, a student actually takes what you say seriously and wants to contact you.

John V said...

I think one presents diversity best by saying what drew one to science, whether it lived up to expectations, and what one enjoys about doing science. Add epsilon to their impression of scientists, and this epsilon happens to be a woman.

I think kids, especially the kids smart enough in deductive reasoning to enter science, are not going to do it because they were lectured that they could and should. They should be drawn in by an interest in the work.

The most effective "diversity" lecture I've seen by a woman were the talks by a lively, young, articulate, brilliant astrophysicist explaining how she turned simple ideas of orbiting stars into confirmation of the black hole in the center of the galaxy. I imaged the whole audience, especially the women, signing up for such a career as soon as the talk was done.

Ivelina said...

My comment is along the lines of some of the previous comments here. I volunteered at a middle school a few years ago. A day or two before I visited the teacher announced that an astronomer was coming and asked the kids to guess what would the scientist look like - would it be a man or a woman, how old, what would they wear. They were quite surprise when the 27-year old, female me showed up not wearing a lab coat. You might want to talk to them about how you got to where you are in simple terms - what do you need to study to be a scientist, what are some of the exciting (for you) things about being a scientist. You might also want to discuss their stereotype of a scientist (engage them in discussion) and give theme examples of diverse scientists to counter it. Definitely tell them about your work. And at the end give them lots of time for questions. (The teacher can ask the students to come up with questions beforehand). Be prepared the answer questions about dinosaurs.

Bagelsan said...

Maybe, for the less artistically inclined, do a kind of "find the scientist!" thing; bring in a bunch of photos of people and have them pick between pairs which photo shows a scientist. (Young/female/non-white would be somewhat overrepresented, naturally.) When the bespectacled older man with a beard turns out to be an art student and the 20-something with tattoos is the physicist it'll start to get the point across...

(I don't know how age-appropriate this is, though; my middle school years are mercifully almost a total blank in my memory now. It might be a little young.)

fubarator said...

just show up! It means a lot. That is all.

Anonymous said...

I am a female scientist and you know what got me interested in science? Hearing about science from scientists and other people who were excited about science. I still remember a visit to the science museum when I was in middle school where we got to talk to scientists from the JASON project (a robotic deep sea diver) live over satellite. I have no idea if they were a diverse group or if they were all 40 year old white males. I was more interested in the robot.

I would talk about your work and why it's exciting and how you got interested in it. I like the idea of including pictures of the other scientists that you work with or whose work you talk about. I would steer clear of a contrived "diversity" exercise. The students will probably think it's as lame and awkward as you do.

FemaleScienceGrad said...

I just want to agree with all the commenter who said to talk about the kinds of things that scientists actually do in their work.

I'm a grad student in an interdisciplinary field (my background is in physics). I often talk to other women my age (mid-twenties) who found science "boring" in school. When I tell them about the content of my research, they usually respond with awe about how interesting it is. And then there is the flexibility, the autonomy, the chance to travel...

Your goal is to prevent people from saying, at the age of twenty-five, "I always thought science/math/engineering was boring, and now that I know better, it is too late to reconsider my degree in underwater basket-weaving [or whatever]".

MarthaWantsToBeAScientist said...

The first outreach talk I gave was to 7 year olds. The teacher told her class that a 'Physicist' was coming. When I entered the classroom, several students (can't remember if it was just boys or girls too) shouted "Oh, it's a girl (sic)!" I was crushed that 7 year olds had such prejudice - it was the first time that I realised I was a 'woman' scientist.

But I still do lots of outreach. I usually include a slide with pictures of people I work with. At the beginning I was overly conscious to make it 'diverse', but as time goes by I simply include people I work with (on an international project) and it naturally turns out diverse: women, men, different colors of skin and names originating from different religions. I would say we are getting there, if the 'diverse' people weren't finding it so hard to break that glass ceiling.

So there is sexism at work - which mostly comes from above in my experience. There is sexism with 7 years old - who don't really know better than what their parents teach them. But what bothers me the most is when I meet women and men my age, who evolve in my circles, and are 'awed' when I tell them I am a physicist. These people have not reached 30. Less than 10 years ago they were still at University - did they not notice there were women studying science? Is it such a surprise that some, just like their male counterparts, stayed in the field?

I've heard women and men (20<age<30) tell me it was 'amazing', and that I must be the 'only one' (in the world?). Seriously? What planet do these people come from?

MarthaWantsToBeAScientist said...

Btw, I also do a lot of outreach in highschools, and I usually tell the kids what grades I got in highschool (because they were ok but not that amazing). The kids usually give me lots of positive feedback on this.