Introduction: The role of CWIC
Nadia O. Laschuk,
PH.D. Candidate, Ontario Tech University
I am a PhD candidate and the Chief Financial Officer for the Canadians Working for Inclusivity in the Chemical Sciences, Engineering and Technology (CWIC) Network, which is a member resource group (MRG) for the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC). Growing up as a first generation student, I didn’t have role models in science and engineering roles, and as a direct result, I never felt confident in the pursuit of roles within science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I developed imposter syndrome at a very young age. When I look back on my timeline, I know that having interactions with graduate students earlier in life would have made a large difference in reducing my imposter syndrome, particularly in the later years of high school when I first applied to study chemistry. There is a disconnect between those who are starting out in STEM (i.e. high school students and undergraduate students) and those in their graduate studies. Witnessing people fill career roles that you personally connect to (visually, socially, etc.) can have an impact on your confidence in pursuing that pathway. In the opposite case, not making these connections can add barriers or discourage the pursuit all together. Having diverse candidates in STEM roles leads to creativity and ultimately better research. It is necessary that all people feel welcome in STEM. Unfortunately, many students do not see themselves represented, such as those who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ2+, women, or having diverse abilities. CWIC came together to tackle this.
Through the “My STEM Stories” webinar, CWIC created a platform for persons from marginalized groups to share their story about working in STEM, where most of the participants were graduate students. The concept was for CWIC to provide science communication training in order to teach participants how to create a video telling their personal story about working in STEM, and CWIC would share the content on a YouTube channel with a target audience of people who are interested in pursuing STEM. It would be a place for students (high school, undergraduate, etc.) to connect with Canadian graduate students through their video story, so that they would understand what a role in STEM is like, and see diverse people filling these positions.
To achieve this goal, CWIC needed to provide training to workshop participants so that they would know how to create a video using effective science communication skills, and the workshop skills included were: 1) inclusive storytelling for scientists, 2) science communication, 3) creating and editing video content, and 4) making virtual content accessible, delivered by the speakers Sara ElShafie, Ki-Youn Kim, Jocelyn Bentley, and Ana Sofia Barrows. CWIC kicked off the event with an additional workshop by Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar that reviewed skills for reflecting on one’s own identity for means of resilience in academia. Through funding support by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Science Communication Skills grant, CWIC offered the training for these five workshops at no cost to the attendees on January 16 and 17, 2021. The reach of this event crossed Canada, with participants in chemistry, engineering, biology, health science, social science, ecology, environmental science, and math/statistics.
Here, we invited attendees to share why “My STEM Stories” was meaningful to them:
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia
I believe in the importance of science communication in bridging the gap between scientists and the public. The need for clear and understandable science is a must, especially when the whole world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. I am also considering science communication as a career goal. That is why I have attended the CWIC my STEM story workshop, which turned out to be beneficial and exceeded my expectations in many aspects.
The STEM story workshop guided me on how to develop my STEM story logically and neatly through active discussions. It also provided me with so many useful reading and training resources for science communication and video production. I am so excited that I am going to make a video soon.
I started to read “The Science’s Writers’ Handbook” suggested by Ki-Youn Kim and looked up her other suggestions (e.g. Twitter accounts, blogs, and websites).
I enjoyed the active discussion throughout Sara ElShafie’s session because I always believe that the road to remember things is through dialogue and working on activities. I liked how she engaged everyone to participate and share thoughts.
On the other hand, I felt the atmosphere of welcoming and respecting everybody in this workshop, and it was such a joyful feeling. Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar’s session was full of bliss, and she made me feel relaxed and reduced my level of anxiety that I felt at the beginning of the workshop.
‘Finally, I want to thank the organizers for such an excellent and friendly workshop. In summary, My STEM story workshop lit up the road for me on how to be an effective communicator in the science field, and this is just the beginning.”
M.Sc. Graduate, Western University
I applied to the My STEM Stories workshops to learn more about science communication and its importance in society. There were no opportunities for me to explore science communication throughout my graduate degree. During the weekend sessions, I enjoyed learning about the speakers’ personal journeys in science communication and graduate school. I appreciated that they openly shared their experiences as members of minority groups. The interactive workshops with worksheets helped me to reflect independently and in breakout sessions with other participants.
The conversations from the workshops also helped me to think about how I can make science more accessible to a wider audience, especially to marginalized communities. I aim to have a career that would allow me to be more active in science communication, whether it be science writing or content creation. I hope to be able to integrate the skills I learned, including creating accessible content, from the workshops into my future science communication career. My STEM Stories gave me the space to expand my understanding of storytelling, strategies for effective science communication, and creating accessible content.”
M.Sc. Graduate, Western University
I attended My STEM Stories to learn new ways of applying my science communication skills. The appeal of this workshop was how to develop visual and audio media as a medium for communicating science to the public. The workshop also addressed how to use your identity and history to bring unique perspectives to your communications. However, the most interesting aspect of the workshop was the discussion on accessibility.
Accessibility is an interesting concept itself as most often the accessibility needs of the few are ignored or fulfilled insufficiently in favour of the majority. Highlighting the importance of spreading your message across different mediums to reach more people will bring the most benefits. It also doesn’t cut people from the conversation based on factors that they may not have control over. Everyone should have access to the same information, and using accessibility methods help with this.
Vanessa A. Béland,
Postdoctoral Researcher, York University
Coming into CWIC’s My STEM Stories, I had experience communicating my science to both technical and public audiences. Through graduate school I received one-on-one coaching, as well as feedback during group meetings on these skills in order to prepare for conference presentations and public outreach presentations like the 3-Minute Thesis. From this, I learned to be concise, to tell a story and that it’s okay to add a little personality. What really stuck out to me from My STEM Stories was the emphasis on tying personality and my own story into the way that I talk about science. After attending this series of workshops, I have decided to tell a more personal story for my STEM Story video, which will cover the experiences and decisions that got me to where I am, the highs and lows of working on a project, what I have learned, and where I would like to go with my skills. These aren’t things that I have ever thought about communicating publicly, but I think it might be an important thing to do. Sometimes as scientists we have to weave our data into a story to make any sense of it. All the data is true, but the neatly crafted story may not follow the messy timeline in which the data was discovered or collected. It is rare to publish the mistakes that were made along the way to discovery and I think this creates an inaccurate, dehumanized image of science and the people who do it. I think the platform that CWIC has created for scientists to share their personal stories will help to deconstruct this image of perfection and make science relatable. Visibility matters, and if high school students can see that scientists are just regular people, maybe they can picture themselves in that role. I am excited to put my video together and to hear the STEM stories from the rest of the group!
CWIC would like to send an extra thank you to all of the participants of the My STEM Stories initiative, and encourage readers to look for our YouTube Channel rolling out over this upcoming spring season. We all hope that with this virtual content, students interested in STEM will have the opportunity to observe what it is like to work in STEM, and most importantly, understand there is a place for them in STEM, whoever they may be.
Visit the CWIC webpage to learn more about this MRG.