I’ve had several interactions with people in the last few weeks which have lead me to question what level of enthusiasm is “appropriate” for science. Quite commonly I am one of the loudest and most jovial people in the room because I do get incredibly excited about the work that I do. People apparently hear me laughing all the time (“Oh, I heard you presenting at your lab meeting the other day!” coming from a person who was not present) and always tell me that they miss my laugh as if it is independent of me as a person. While I appreciate the fact that people, for the most part, seem to appreciate my enthusiasm, I can’t help but wonder if if it may be overwhelming for some. Obviously, we know that it is not particularly common for women to choose STEM careers, but I have no idea how common it is for women to choose these careers and then talk about their work incessantly (and talk about it loudly and enthusiastically).
Because of these various interactions, I recently googled images of “excited scientist”. Of course, women did not show up in the first row of photos, and the “scientists” all seemed to be doing the same type of work (something with a lab coat and that made their hair look ridiculous), and were more or less the same person at different ages in their life (“scientist” is even worse). I don’t think I need to comment on how obviously all scientists do not look the same, and that scientists clearly wear other things. But, it did make me wonder about the language we use to discuss diversity in science. We frequently discuss the need for increasing the retention of women in STEM careers, but we less frequently discuss the need for diverse personalities. Yes, a certain skill set is required to be an effective scientist (detail oriented, observant, focused…), but one can still be those things and incredibly enthusiastic.
A recent seminar speaker in our Department, Linda Rayor, gave a talk about outreach, and she mentioned that she likes to put the image out there that women can be sexy and sweaty in the field and still represent science well. I’m wondering, then, how much we have to flood the internet with images of “real” people doing science before the first few pictures in a google image search will show someone who looks more familiar to me. I am not the first, nor will I be the last to bring up this issue of diversity in science, “real” people, etc. (I especially like this project, for which elementary aged students visited a lab and drew pictures of scientists before and after). My hope, however, is that if we talk about this enough, then it won’t be weird for me to be 1. A woman in science; 2. A woman in science who plays with bugs in the dirt; and 3. A scientist who laughs ridiculously loudly and lights up at the mention of words like “ordination“, “Meloidae“, and “global soil biodiversity.” So, in the hopes of just dispersing even a few photos of sexy, excited scientists out into the world, I present pictures of some of the most amazing women scientists I know.
As a sidenote: I actually learned a lot about what my friends do for a living by stealing pictures from them. Brittany who works with mosquitoes and infectious diseases, for example, has this to say about giving her mosquitoes a blood meal: “[I use] expired human blood. But you can buy any kind of blood you want from companies. My old lab used to feed mosquitoes on bovine and goose blood. We also use sausage casing on the glass feeder that holds the blood in. You can use parafilm, but mosquitoes seem to like the casing better.” Needless to say, I was grossed out by this.