The National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) celebrated the start of the new year with an eye-opening lecture from three inspiring women.
The sold-out Athena lecture on 9 January, ‘How should we celebrate and support diversity in STEM – a younger perspective’, featured talks from Dr Jess Wade, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics, Dr Faith Uwadiae, a Postgraduate Training Fellow at the Francis Crick Institute, and Siena Castellon, a 16 year old nationally recognised autism and neurodiversity advocate.
“Access to education is a human right but this human right does not extend to neurodiverse students" Siena Castellon
The audience was treated to talks covering a wide range of themes including fighting against gender stereotypes, and how we can develop diversity in STEM starting within our own immediate work teams. The talks also covered the importance of recognising our own bias, and how schools often fail neurodiverse students and what we can all do to stop this problem from repeating itself.
“Science is failing women”
As the first panel member to address the audience, Jess spoke about the need to celebrate and promote women in science – instead of focusing on barriers women are facing in the science world – whether it be by recruiting and retaining more women or nominating women for awards and prizes.
While many may recognise Dr Jess Wade from her notable Wikipedia campaign leading her to feature in Nature's 'Ten people who mattered this year', she has been involved in outreach projects alongside Dr Sara Rankin, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at NHLI for years, meeting up with like-minded people to help accelerate diversity in STEM.
Following on from Jess, Dr Faith Uwadiae spoke to the audience about the “ethnicity penalty” which exists in higher education institutions, and what we can all do at a grass-roots level to make diversity a reality.
Faith led an incredibly successful Twitter campaign during Black History month, highlighting and praising the achievements of a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) scientist every day, dispelling the white, male, old image which, she noted during her presentation, typically springs to mind when asking, “What does a scientist look like?”.
Faith stressed the importance of identifying your own bias, and asked the audience to consider what they can do to better integrate BME colleagues and students, from offering mentorship opportunities to implementing new policies to make change happen.
Neurodiversity in STEM
The last talk of the day came from Siena Castellon, a teenage autism and neurodiversity campaigner. Siena created Quantum Leap, a peer mentoring programme for neurodiverse students, when she was 13 years old and is also the student representative of NHLI’s 2eMPower project.
After talking about how neurodiverse individuals are particularly suited to research and careers in STEM, she went on to discuss how scientific communities are missing out on many neurodiverse students who are being failed by the UK school education system, and who frequently have to overcome stigmas and misconceptions regarding autism and dyslexia.
During her presentation, Siena mentioned that neurodiverse students sometimes find group work challenging and during the Q&A after the talks, she was asked how to get around this as group work is often an integral element of research. The answer? Ensure that there’s a balance and acknowledge that everyone has different ways of working; ultimately you are more likely to succeed with a combination of experience and skills.
NHLI would like to thank Jess, Faith and Siena for sharing their experiences, and Professor Sara Rankin, Dr Mike Cox and Rosanna Gillespie for their help orchestrating the fantastic, thought-provoking event.
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