Can selfies make STEM more inclusive? - Technical.ly Delaware

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May 16, 2019 5:22 pm

Can selfies make STEM more inclusive?

"Using a visual-based platform like Instagram as a tool in your science communications toolbox is worth the time and the effort," says University of Delaware researcher, conservation biologist and Instagrammer Imogene Cancellare.
A post on Imogene Cancellare’s biology-focused Instagram.

A post on Imogene Cancellare's biology-focused Instagram.

(Screenshot via Instagram)

University of Delaware researcher Imogene Cancellare’s Instagram doesn’t look the least bit out of place among the style influencers, celebrities and #instamoms. Interspersed among the beautiful nature shots and wildlife closeups are fresh-faced selfies — lots of selfies. Her account, @biologistimogene, is devoted entirely to conservation biology.

Cancellare isn’t alone. Other scientists, many of them women, curate social media brands that are as visually appealing as they are scientific.

Not everyone in the science community sees value in it.

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PLEASE READ . Yesterday, Science Magazine, one of the most prestigious publications in the science world, published an op-ed that denigrates women who do science communication. The author of this article, a female PhD student, said that these efforts contribute to superficial views of women, and that participating in science communication takes away from research and makes us lesser scientists. . It’s bad enough that women in science struggle with gender bias and stereotypes on a daily basis, let alone get criticized on a national platform for taking their science to social networking sites. This is awful for several reasons, not least of all that the author called out by name my friend and colleague @science.sam. She punched down by suggesting we stay away from fun photos and engaging content, and instead stick to the research if we want to be taken seriously in science and society. It was bitter, mean, and completely inappropriate for a prestigious magazine to promote. . I share my science because I’m passionate about wildlife and because I really enjoy the kind community here on Instagram. I also share science because it makes me happy and it’s part of who I am as a person. How we choose to share science, or who we are, or what we’re up to should be celebarated as diverse and multifaceted ways to increase awareness of science, or awareness of women in science. Wheher you identify as a woman or not, you literally don’t need an agenda to do #scicomm, and neither do you need permission from anyone if you do. . This kind of rhetoric is why I’m part of a team on a crowd-funded project investigating perceptions of scientists on Instagram with @science.sam, @scicommnerd , @the_brain_scientist, and @beakerbjc. We want to show the warm and friendly side of science in order to increase awareness and participation in STEM. We make science better, stronger, when we work together. . How do we put a positive spin on all this? Well, we can continue doing evidence-based, innovative work that makes science accessible and inclusive for ALL. You can also tag your fav science enthusiasts below- I want to follow them! Who are they? Let’s do this!

A post shared by Imogene Cancellare (@biologistimogene) on

“Yesterday, Science Magazine, one of the most prestigious publications in the science world, published an op-ed that denigrates women who do science communication,” posted Cancellare on March 16, 2018. “The author of this article, a female PhD student, said that these efforts contribute to superficial views of women, and that participating in science communication takes away from research and makes us lesser scientists.”

This negative view of social media — especially visual-based platforms like Instagram — is common across various industries, especially when it’s a woman sharing photos of herself looking on-point in a natural palette.

Are #scientistswhoselfie (the hashtag of solidarity for science Instagrammers) harming the very serious world of STEM?

Scientifically, no.

In fact, according to a research study Cancellare co-authored, women scientists who Instagram are influencing a key demographic: young people, who may otherwise see science as a boring, male-dominated field.

Even before Science Magazine snubbed scientists who selfie, Cancellare had been invited by Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau, then of Louisiana State University (LSU), to work on a research study.

“Basically Paige was interested in addressing the question: ‘Can we impact the way people perceive scientists — more specifically, can we positively impact the public trust of scientists?’ We wanted to see if the whole idea of selfie culture can feed and foster trust in science and help change public stereotypes,” she said. “The study was built on the work of Dr. Susan Fiske, whose research suggests that scientists have earned American respect, but not their trust.”

In addition to Jarreau and Cancellare, the six-person research team included Becky J. Carmichael of LSU, Lance Porter of LSU, Daniel Toker of UC Berkeley and Samantha Z. Yammine of University of Toronto.

“We applied for a grant — we didn’t get it,” Cancellare said. But, thanks to the #scientistswhoselfie hashtag, they had social media on their side: “We built a crowdfunding campaign and raised more than $10,000. We had donations from around the globe.”

The money was used to build an online survey using over 1,600 participants from LSU who represented U.S. demographics who were then presented with a series of images.

“The first two images included something scientific like a microscope accompanied by a scientist’s smiling face,” Cancellare said. “One was a male, one was a female. The control was the same piece of information like a microscope, but it didn’t have a person in the photograph.

“What we found was that the perception of scientists as warm was increasingly more prominent when viewing an image that includes a person,” she said. “But more specifically, and what’s even cooler, is that that perception of warmth was even more prominent if the images contained a female scientist. There was also [contrary to the Science Magazine op-ed’s suggestion] a slight increase in the perceived competence of female scientists in selfies.”

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Hey all! (Love this montage of women in science at @wise_cu!) We’ve left this page quiet as we work to publish our #scientistswhoselfie study results. As an update, we submitted to PNAS but were rejected, not on the grounds of poor data or findings or experimental design, but rather just that the reviewers weren’t convinced that a study of Instagram #scicomm was worthy of PNAS. They also had some issues with our interpretation of results that fly in the face of previous findings on stereotypes of particularly women in professional fields (we find that female scientists on IG are perceived as both competent AND warm when they selfie, which is rather difficult to achieve apparently). It may be new and niche, but we are convinced that our findings are interesting and worthy of another publication. We are now preparing to submit to another journal, likely a PLOS journal. Wish us luck! We will also be at @aaasorg 2019 conference with a flash talk about #scientistswhoselfie and our findings! #science #scientistsofinstagram #experiment #selfie #thisiswhatascientistlookslike #scicomm #scienceexperiment #scienceteacher #biology #physics #geology #womeninstem #Repost @wise_cu ・・・ Thanks for following all of the inspirational #womeninSTEM at @cuboulder! Happy new year! . . . . #womeninscience #scienceselfieseries #cuboulder #womendoingscience #STEMinism

A post shared by Scientist Selfies (@scientistselfies) on

Why does that matter?

“Instagram is used by young people, and people who view science images of a female scientist might reevaluate the stereotypical perceptions that are often developed at an early age,” she said. “Gender-related stereotyping is a huge problem in the STEM field — women get fewer opportunities, and fewer grants. Over 60% of undergrads in my wildlife ecology department are female, yet across the U.S. in most positions of power there are more men than women.”

The bottom line? If you’re in STEM, and you feel so inclined, posting regular selfies in the field is good for science.

“It empirically shows, for the first time, that using a visual base-platform like Instagram as a tool in your science communications toolbox is worth the time and the effort, and is something that universities and employers should take note of,” Cancellare said.

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