Monday, February 12, 2018

Researching the Hidden Side of a Science Career

Note: All photos in this article were taken right before the described events.

I think who I am can best be summed up in a text exchange with my friend concerning the book Daring to Drive:

Friend: Why did u get that book *laughing emojis* 
Me: Because I love reading about strong women activists! :D
Friend: Nahh ure just a feminist *laughing emojis* 

To all those who see feminists as bra-burning, man-hating, hairy creatures of vengeance, there are just as many feminist defendants who believe all men’s rights activists* are misogynistic, patriarchal, suppressors of female freedom. I would like to point out to both groups that, just as there is no such thing as a magnetic monopole, the extremists in each group do not represent that whole identity.
*For those decrying men’s rights activists, look up MensLib on Reddit to see their take on the term

What does any of this have to do with my journey through the SciComm program? The answer to that question is…

My thesis topic

As a feminist, I am very interested in the societal factors that place undue demands on disadvantaged groups, keeping them from fulfilling the romanticized quote unquote “American Dream.” This is especially true in academia because of the ‘filtered pipeline,’ or the challenges faced by groups like women and non-white persons that keep them from reaching the ranks of the elite at the same rate as white, straight, cisgender males. One of those challenges in particular is what my research focuses on: harassment.

Women’s mental capacities are biologically different than a male’s. Women cannot perform mathematics and science to the same level as men. - Told to me by a male colleague during my third year of physics research (Glass & Optical Materials Division Meeting 2016).

One reason women become science communicators is because they are exhausted from handling the hostile work environment many females experience in a traditional science career. But do they really escape that by switching to science communication? Ever since the #MeToo movement of 2017, people started realizing that the issue of harassment and assault extended to all corners of society, from Hollywood to news rooms. While harassment is certainly more evident in certain job fields than others, where does the field of science communication (scicomm) fit into that equation? And if it is a problem for scicomm, does that affect the way science communicators communicate science?

Nice cleavage - Told to me by a master’s student in science who had just denied the existence of sexual harassment (walking home from a workout at the gym).

I did not switch to science communication because of harassment in physics. I have wished to be a science communicator ever since I was 14 years old, and I pursued that goal by majoring in physics and communication during undergrad. The physics professors at my college were strong, supportive, feminist males who worked hard to encourage all the women in the department, and they would come down harshly on any males who voiced views against having women there. Despite this, I can still count on more than two hands the times I’ve been harassed, from the snide “inferior women” remarks to more serious offenses.

Sorry *giggle* I’m drunk - Told to me after a woman reached under my dress and grabbed my ass (Physics internship-sponsored dinner cruise).

Harassment takes many forms. It can be hostile toward a certain gender, like the experience with my male colleague. It can be uncomfortable, unwanted suggestions, like the master’s student who commented on my cleavage. It can even be inappropriate physical interactions, like the woman on the dinner cruise. Regardless of the form, harassment of any kind takes its toll, especially if it is experienced day after day. But by recording the ways in which people react to harassment (like by wearing baggier clothing and speaking up less in group settings), we can create a list of behaviors that indicate a certain situation may contain harassment. If we identify these situations and confront the harassment, we can create a safer work environment for everyone.

That is why I wish to dedicate my year at Laurentian to researching this topic. Harassment is greater than just myself, my field, or my country. Harassment is a part of society the world over, and I am proud this program gives me the chance to contribute to the ocean of research necessary to combat this societal ill.

- Lisa McDonald

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Behind the Scenes at Science North

When I first stumbled upon the Science Communication program, one of the first things that intrigued me was the relationship that this program had with Science North. I loved visiting science centres, though it had been 20 years since I had been to Sudbury’s. When I was here on vacation in 1998, my family visited Sudbury, though the only thing I remembered about Science North was that they had a beaver that I was able to pet! 
Me (left) with my two sisters and the beaver at Science North.

After I was accepted to the program, and started telling people that I was moving up to Sudbury from southern Ontario, the first question I invariably got was “What’s in Sudbury?” My answer became something like, “The program is awesome, I get to take classes at Science North!” To all of my friends who listened to me describing being at Science North with excitement, let me assure you that it is just as awesome as I imagined it would be, if not better!

Last term, we had our learning theories class at Science North, in which we learned how visitors are likely to interact with exhibits and programs at Science Centres, and began to think about ways of tailoring our science communication skills to various types of learners. This term, I have opted to take the exhibit design class at Science North. In this class, we are learning the process of exhibit design through the development of our own prototype exhibits. The prototype that I am working on with my partner, Lisa, is on gravitational waves. Through this process, we are meeting staff from around Science North who are helping us learn how to develop our ideas into fleshed-out sketches (low fidelity prototypes), thinking about our prototypes from the visitor point of view, learning about signage, being introduced to the shop where technicians are working with us to build a working (high fidelity) prototype, and finally, we will be testing our prototypes in the science centre with visitors over March break. If that sounds like a lot of work, it sure feels like it some days! Overall though, this experience is exciting, and the staff at Science North are helping us stay focused on the big picture!

First day tour at Science North (I'm in the grey cardigan)!
The relationship this program has with Science North is about more than just taking a couple classes there, though. Everyone in our class is encouraged to go to the science centre whenever we can, to explore, to learn from visitors and staff, or just to relax after a long week. I personally like going to visit the butterfly room as a break from the cold Sudbury winter, and everyone in our class has developed a fondness for the porcupine Maple, who has kind of become our unofficial class mascot – we all love going to see him in his tree!

Science North has given us the space we need to grow and flourish in our “scicomm” abilities, showing us both the front and behind-the-scenes of what it takes to run successful science outreach events and be effective science communicators. Staff challenge us to meet the standards of a real-life business, giving us real world experience, while also letting us experiment and be students who are still learning. It is a creative and inspiring environment to be a part of. Even though each of us in the program have our own backgrounds, experiences, and interests, Science North has given each of us something new to discover and explore during our time here in Sudbury.

- Elizabeth Kleisath