Tag Archives: diversity

Space and time (for diversity)

This week’s blog post for my Black History Month mini-series is from Divya M. Persaud, a PhD student in Mars imaging. She is providing her American perspective in diversity in space science. Do remember to hop on over to her blog site and Twitter: @Divya_M_P

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As a child first learning about science, it bothered me endlessly that there was an infinite void we could never touch. But something about planets, being so similar to Earth—in being material, in being colorful and spherical and relatively close—absolutely enchanted me as much as they were terrifying. For me, the discomfort with the scale of the Universe now often gives way to this sense that space belongs to absolutely no one—and thus knowledge of it belongs to all of us.

I started using the hashtag “#spaceWOC” in 2014 with colleague and friend Katy Wimberly (https://mkrodriguezwimberly.github.io/) as a way to celebrate being a woman of color in the space sciences. I find this celebration important; I have worked alongside a total of three women of color researchers in space science and exploration in the past eight years (not including a very small handful of interns), and have studied under no women of color geology professors. I am often the “diverse” face of an entire department or even institute, in both geology and space science, a reality that places certain responsibilities and burdens—unspoken (and unpaid) champion of diversity; silent and compliant witness of blatant racism, ableism, and misogyny, which is common in the physical sciences—on me, including when I was underage during my first two years in the field. The network of “spaceWOC” and women of color geologists I now have exists almost entirely via social media.

In both the earth and space sciences, we often talk about a “leaky pipeline” contributing to a lack of diversity in the field. But when our conferences, fieldwork, and classrooms are extremely inaccessible (physically, racially, financially), including due to directed harassment that we often feel that we cannot effectively report while maintaining safety, this isn’t a process of “leaking,” purely “unconscious bias,” or even a lack of diversity. The paucity of women of color (et al.) in any academic field lies in active exclusion of certain people from accessing knowledge about the world to which we belong. We actively eliminate the critical, creative perspectives of many—including Indigenous knowledges, analytical methods developed by disabled people, etc. However, importantly, beyond the framework of what labor minorities bring to the field, we also reify broader societal structures in places of learning, where we might expect (and certainly proudly claim) to think beyond discrimination. These claims in particular—even the most earnest—are often empty promises as those of us who remain slowly watch our friends leave our fields due to burn-out, heartbreak, and self-preservation. The question often becomes: is this worth it?

I—we—can have as much historical materialist analysis about why this is the state of academe as we’d like, but what can I do immediately to distribute this knowledge? In what way can I decolonize geology and space science—in our labs, out in the field, and in our practice—and serve my belief that space belongs to everyone? Critically, how can we study something so immense, the infinite rendering of our will and imagination, the ultimate test of human violence and power as well as hope and innovation, without most of us feeling incensed to deliver all of this knowledge to the entire population of this Earth? To, at the very least, interrogate academic hierarchy? And how can what we study color the ways we understand, e.g., the recruitment of international students (like myself) at British institutions of higher education relative to the dearth of British BAME Ph.D. candidates in the sciences?

Sagan discussed how knowledge only augments wonder; the fights I’ve had to stay in this field have similarly only increased my wonder, because there’s something all the more imperative about pursuing this knowledge when you have to consistently demand to study it. In 2018, I’m still telling myself it’s worth it. I have found incredible community on both sides of the Atlantic, in planetary science, astrophysics, geology, and ecology; I have my champions in my friends, family, and myself. But because I find it worth it, I’m making it my job not to make others feel like staying in space science and geology is worth it, but making these fields worth it. This work won’t finish with me, and that’s something with which I must contend. But I can try my hardest.

As we look in the face of something so mysterious and beyond human scale, something entrenched in probably millions of imaginations, remember that we have no claim to space, and that we belong to it. Our imaginations beget reality and we are able to investigate and admire this little solar system that is everyone’s to understand—and make it better.

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If you missed the first part of this mini-series, it was me talking about my viewpoints on diversity in UK earth science:  Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 4.

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 4

Hello! So…it has been a while. Since Part 3, I finished my time as a visitor PhD at Aarhus University in Denmark and now that paper has been submitted for review (and is now available as a preprint…AND we have comments!), PhD work has been going well, just re-working on all my chapters and I am now a Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography at Newcastle University!

So back to the task at hand, Part 4 is based on a thread I did for the Minorities in STEM Twitter account back in April, and I am delighted to have guest bloggers throughout the month providing their perspectives on the diversity (or there lack of) in Earth Sciences to last the month…enjoy!

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I will start by sharing this article about who has PhDs in Geology in the US…spoiler: it’s not very diverse in terms of ethnicity. When I read this article, I wanted to see if there are any similar stats for the UK. I found that there is, but it is not broken down into earth science let alone geology, which in my opinion presents a few problems. First problem is the data itself. There are a lot of countries that are classified as “Asian”. Same goes for generally grouping people by the continents. Each country is different, with different cultures, what qualifications/careers seen as “valuable”. Despite that, it does paint a not-very-diverse picture for UK universities: in 2015-2016, only 29 % of BME students were doing a full time first degree and the same group are less likely to achieve a 1st or 2:1.

It reminds me of the report that came out at the beginning of April about equality amongst UK universities: the University of Hull ranked first (woo!) and the Russell Group was not surprisingly at the bottom. Equality and diversity go hand in hand, sure you say you’re doing loads of outreach to encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get interested in STEM but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them going to your university. There are so many factors.

I’m not saying I know all the reasons nor have solutions, but culture plays a big role BUT so does representation and visibility of how diverse STEM is. It goes beyond gender, when I mean diversity I mean ethnicity, sexuality, disabilities even your route into your career too. Just look how successful Black Panther was. I personally loved Shuri because she was literally a STEM princess! Now imagine how awesome it would be that other movies put the spotlight on other BAME STEM careers. It would be so awesome!

Back to the point: I have not found any solid data to see the ethnic diversity in UK earth science, particularly geology where I fall under. I’m serious when I say this: I can count on my hand who I know. If there are any more, PLEASE let me know!

The earth sciences are big on science communication and public engagement. I’m big on it and only wish I had more money and time to do more! Men and women in this field love to do it. Buuut ehhh…while having an increasing number of women in the field is great…there is a big lag in the other forms of diversity I talked about: ethnicity, sexuality, disabilities, career path and economic background. If we are serious in encouraging kids to take up STEM as careers, we need to be truly serious about the VISIBILITY of the representations.

We all have role models growing up right? TV shows/documentaries/movies that made you go: “I want to be like them one day” well…how about increase the visibility of the “other”? We’re everywhere! You just have to look! We’re all STEM nerds here, let us inspire!

The earth sciences in the UK are diverse in terms of men and women. In terms of other genders: nope. Sexuality? Yeah it’s getting there. Economic background, yes it’s on track. Ethnicity? Errrrmmmm….

This is where I’d love to see statistics on BAME earth science professionals here in the UK. Are we just that few? Or is there an issue of visibility here? Even in terms of retaining us in this field: is it like the women academic “leaky pipe” but worse for ethnic minorities? Diversity in all its forms only serves as good for science and the public. Of course, I am not saying that white people need to move out of the way, but instead, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder. If there are few of us minorities in earth science…then maybe ALL of us from all stages of STEM careers need to check ourselves, others, their institutions and truly come together to address the issue. Champion those who are doing awesome, help/mentor those who need help. And make all our diverse lives VISIBLE.

Maybe it’s my naivety and optimism. Maybe I’m just sick and tired of hearing the same stuff about “diversity” and it just sweeps ethnicity under the rug and nothing serious gets done about it. I’m an impatient person, so for me, actions speak louder than words. BE THE CHANGE! Following on from this, is nothing being done because we’re all just waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling? Can’t be bothered? Too much red tape? Do us minority folk really got to pull ALL the weight here? I have chronic fatigue folks, most days I’m too tired.

I will end this post by stating that, talking about addressing these issues is one thing, but actually taking action to improve the lack of UK earth science ethnic diversity is another thing. It’s a cultural, equality and educational issue that everyone needs to tackle.

Jazmin

Crowdfunding an earth science podcast

Hi! So I am setting up an earth science, science communication-themed podcast called “What on Earth?!” with my friend Nuzhat Tabassum, a fellow geology PhD student at Bristol.

Despite how visibly prevalent Earth Science is and the impacts it can have on communities, it is one of the least accessible science. The school curriculum has very little exposure to geological studies and even among students that choose to study Earth Sciences at a degree level, the student population is not representative. Earth Science is just underrated!

So to address this, we will be creating a podcast that covers current earth science news and, invite earth scientists to discuss their work and their science topic. This cannot be done without your help!

Donations will cover equipment, recording and editing software and launching a website with our own domain.

Crowdfunding page: click here

What on Earth?! Podcast Twitter account: click here

Jazmin

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 1.

Hello! This past week I have been curating the Minorities in STEM Twitter account, and I shared a few threads with followers. Monday, I introduced myself and a bit about my PhD work; Tuesday was how my Caribbean heritage and physical disability influenced me to becoming a volcanologist; Wednesday was diversity in earth science and Thursday and Friday was about mental health and support networks in academia.

I will be putting these threads into blog posts, so to make it easy for people to find. So first thread I will share is my journey into volcanology.

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The journey starts with me being diagnosed with a chronic physical disability called Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis at the age of 2. I struggled to walk, had inflamed joints and terrible fevers. From 2 to 18, I spent a lot time taking medication and in hospital because I was so sick.

But I became interested in geography (particularly natural hazards at secondary school) and the sciences. My family would take me to places to keep my curiosity going outside of school. For the sciences, particularly biology, I was interested in it because I wanted to understand my disability. I was well known in my clinic to be the one asking questions. My former paediatric physiotherapist said they loved/feared it! And I say fear because they didn’t want to disappoint me by not answering my questions!

Being in constant pain has made me equal parts stubborn and determined. Going on geography field trips (and later volcanology ones) were and are a struggle. But if you love something, you put yourself through the pain and bare the consequences later.

As well as all this, my disability was treated with “tough love” in my Caribbean family (which I am sure it is not just limited to our culture) – it was all, yes we love you, we know you’re in pain but get on with it, you still got your brain now use it. Reflecting back on it, I suppose it was a way in investing in me: my disability may have hurt my body, but it made my mind sharp, and my family knew this! With Caribbean families, it is all about hard work, appreciating what you got and being full of love – since my mind was sharp, I had to put it to work!

By the time I got to go to Coventry University to study Geography and Natural Hazards, my disability was under control, and my family were proud for me for just going to university. During my course I learned that when my disaster management lecturer told us “it’s not a hazard without the people”, it was so true. So because I had become such a nerd for natural hazards, I studied both: the hazard and the people they impacted.

Near the end of my 4 year course, I knew I wanted to keep studying natural hazards but I had limited options. BUT then I saw some Masters programs for volcanology. I asked my family for some advice and then all the sudden they started telling me about this volcano called La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines erupting in 1979! I loved hearing the stories of Jamaica, so imagine when I heard about St. Vincent’s volcano! I was captivated, I wanted to know more about this volcano. So, I did a Masters for the sole purpose to learn about this volcano that had impacted my family and my ancestors. I was determined to do it for my MSc dissertation, so I created a project with the lessons from my undergrad and family in mind: it’s not a hazard without the people.

Independent fieldwork on St. Vincent doing a volcanic risk perception study was the best month of my life: I stayed with a family friend, I met family I’ve never even knew about, I met so many other amazing people, the weather, mountains, the volcano…everything about the trip was just pure magic. And of course…I got to do some science!

The dissertation I wrote was noted by the examiner in being “a novel piece of work, in which Jazmin drove herself”. And that determination/stubbornness, born from my disability and the encouragement of my Caribbean family made it possible. BUT I was not done! I needed to continue researching La Soufrière, so I applied for PhD projects. None I applied for allowed me to look at St. Vincent specially, and I got rejected. But then, my best friend talked me into applying for one more: the one I am doing now!

Following on from my Masters dissertation, I asked the simple question that opened up a whole new other world: “what did this look like in the past?” So I have ended up looking at three eruptions of the volcano: 1812, 1902 and 1979. I think the biggest thing I have learnt during my PhD about St. Vincent are the two groups of people that came before colonialism: the Kalinago (“Yellow Caribs”) and the Garifuna (“Black Caribs”). From this, I reached out to American, Canadian and Australian academics about “territorial acknowledgement” – where you state that where you do your research, and the land you occupy on, was not originally your own. Their voices are almost entirely silent from the narrative, and that really gets my goat. So, with my stubbornness, I have made sure I found as much evidence of possible of what happened to them during the eruptions.

What’s all this talk to do with me being a British-Caribbean early career researcher? Well…I’ve learnt that I am in fact, a descendant of the “Caribs” but unfortunately, I do not know which group. But, my PhD has become super personal and I am in too deep now!

In summary: my chronic physical disability made me stubborn/determined, my Caribbean family encouraged me to pursue my love of science. I carved out my path as a social and historical volcanologist with the combo of both with a splash of creativity.

Jazmin