I wrote this in response to an editorial which was recently published in Science Magazine Careers as well as the journal itself. Fun fact: when you submit a letter to the editors of Science, you get an automated message assuming you have a PhD, i.e. “Dear Dr. Lastname: Thank you for your submission to Science. We have successfully received your Letter.”
Dear Science editorial staff,
As a woman in STEM, I would like to express a dissenting (or perhaps complementary) view to Meghan Wright’s editorial on science communication. Like the author, I strongly believe that women and other underrepresented minorities in science should feel no obligation to take on additional emotional labor for the sake of educating others. I also agree that systemic issues of inequality will likely require systemic solutions to enact lasting change. However,
- The author lacks imagination regarding potential avenues for science communication via Instagram. I would not be writing to you today if I had not discovered her article via @sciencewithmycat, a science communicator targeting pet owners. @dudley_describes , a “canine neuroscientist,” is another example in this vein, as is my own account, @spacewhippet. Through adventures with my dog, I’ve explored subjects ranging from animal locomotion to radioisotope thermoelectric generators. My pictures have twice been reposted by the National Academy of Sciences.
- The gender disparity of science communicators on Instagram may seem less concerning when the gender disparity of the audience is taken into account. Overall, the Instagram userbase skews female. For my dog’s account, it skews heavily; over 80% of my followers are female.
- It is evident that the author views scicomm on Instagram as a chore, but for some of us it is a labor of love. If building model satellites out of cake, or posing my dog in front of Apollo 14 moon trees weren’t INCREDIBLY fun, I wouldn’t be doing it. “Time spent on Instagram is time away from research” could equally apply to any activity a researcher chooses to perform in her free time.
My view is that Instagram has significant and largely untapped potential as a vehicle for science communication. The visual nature of the platform, in conjunction with the large and diverse userbase (and 2200 character limit) provide tremendous opportunity to reach non-traditional audiences. I agree with the author that science communication must be performed in a manner authentic to each individual, but my hope is that we can continue to encourage each other to promote science in a variety of ways. Right now, we need #scicomm more than ever.