Liveblogging ScienceOnline '09: Race in Science Online and Offline

Our hosts, Danielle Lee and acmegirl, began the session by asking how we can make science more representative of our population as a whole. Audience members pointed out that an exercise of drawing scientists among schoolchildren is not necessarily indicative of who they are because scientists do not rely on their appearance for their work. Still, the popular representation of scientists in the minds of children and adults alike is primarily as a white male, somewhat Einstein-like (and the advertising and TV and online programming that children see perpetuates this vision).

When blogging comes into the picture, our criticisms include: that blogs within Danielle's diverse community are not academic-focused, that blogs written by ethnic minorities and women in science are not aggregated anywhere (though HBCUs are building a directory of sorts), and that adding photos of journal authors could help visually represent the increasing diversity of those who write and edit journal articles and books.  

Next on our roadmap are some ideas for solutions:

acmegirl shared her story of choosing to attend graduate school at an Ivy League university, despite the advice of some around her who wondered about the level of social support and her potential status as an Other within her field there.  At some point reaching for the best education she could access overruled these potential issues, and this is applicable both as a lesson and also to emphasize that not everyone feels like they have a network/mentor/social support in the discipline and physical location where s/he does science (and this is extremely important to those coming up through the academic ranks!).  Danielle emphasized that you do not need to reach out to those that look like you, if it would be helpful to you to have a mentor or mentee that is not of your race or gender.  

Jeff Stern of NCMLS is a fan of the science bloggers who do not stay within their area of expertise, but are active commenters on blogs about politics, business, and the like.  This can break down the walls of the Ivory Tower and allow scientists to use their knowledge and influence throughout the net, possibly also bringing new faces into the science community.

Official programs for mentoring undergraduate students in the sciences are underway at GlaxoSmithKline, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and elsewhere, and should be emulated and expanded.

For folks looking for ways they can support new faces in science, the mentoring focus is important, as are the following suggestions: one-on-one engagement with a student, especially a graduate student is encouraging; as is providing a structured environment in which students or young faculty can have a means to speak about what they're doing and realize their challenges in practicing science are not unique, and that everyone experiences bumps in the road, both related to their status as a minority in the lab/field and in undertaking research and writing in general.

Please add your own comments and ideas!  My next session will be on anonymity and pseudonymity online.