Scientists are battling stereotypical depictions of themselves with #StillAScientist

The #StillAScientist hashtag is inspiring women to share their stories.
The #StillAScientist hashtag is inspiring women to share their stories. The #StillAScientist hashtag is inspiring women to share their stories.

A hashtag campaign is showing the world that scientists are as diverse as the fields they study.

#StillAScientist was created this week by wildlife biologist and PhD researcher Imogene Cancellare after an exchange with someone on Instagram who expressed the view that science and glamour should be kept separate. He told her that being “glamorous” watered down her science communication efforts.

“I responded by saying that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive, that it’s important to challenge these kinds of stereotypes, and, whether dressed down or made up, I’m still a scientist,” Cancellare told the Press Association.

“While his comments made me laugh, professional opportunities continue to be impacted by this kind of narrow-minded rhetoric. I get these comments all the time, and so do so many other women and under-represented groups.

“I wanted to shift the focus from something negative to something awesome by highlighting how my dynamic interests don’t limit me as a scientist.”

To kick things off, she shared a photo of herself taken by photographer The Ritter Collective, explaining what had occurred and encouraging others to post using the hashtag #StillAScientist.

Post they did. Some of the participants shared their reasons for posting with the Press Association.

Dr Lauren Robinson

Animal welfare scientist and psychologist Dr Lauren Robinson was one of the first to share the hashtag. As a friend of Cancellare, she wanted to help out – but the idea behind the hashtag also spoke to her.

“I don’t believe that how you look should be used as a measure of your abilities as a scientist,” she said. “It goes beyond clothing choices. I can decide to wear something ‘safe’ for an interview but when bias goes to aspects of ourselves that we cannot, that we will not change, then what do we do?

“The solution isn’t to change who we are but to tackle and dismantle the bias and prejudice itself. I hope that we can use discussions, such as those in response to the hashtag, to make actionable change. Regardless of what you look like, you’re #StillAScientist.”

Emily Van Alst

“I think it’s important to show that Native American women are in Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths],” said Emily Van Alst, who is Sihasapa Lakota. The Yale graduate is currently studying Northern Plains archaeology, indigenous/community outreach, and rock art for her PhD at Indiana University.

“There are very few Native American people in the sciences. In my post, I wanted to show both Native and non-Native people that we are scientists and part of our indigenous communities.”

Becci Owens

Psychologist Becci Owens is currently researching male psychology and body modifications. She was inspired to post her photo after seeing a friend post one for the hashtag.

“Her post made me think about the reactions I typically get from people when they find out that I am an academic,” Owens said. “People often disbelieve me, they presume that when I say I work at a university that means I work in admin – nothing wrong with that, but it is a funny conclusion to jump to, I think.”

Owens said that people have always commented on her tattoos and the possible effects they may have on her job prospects, but she didn’t let that change her aspirations.

She started university when her first child was three years old, graduated with a first in psychology and finished her PhD in 2016. During this time, she became a mother again, divorced and remarried.

“Other people may try to hold you back and it can be for anything – if someone doesn’t like your face, then that is that – but why let that hold you back from expressing who you are? You can’t please everybody.”

Parshati Patel

Parshati Patel works in public education and outreach in Ontario, Canada.

“Given my experiences, when I saw that a fellow scientist and science communicator was told that science and glamour have nothing to do with each other, it took me back to the comments that were made to me by fellow early career as well as senior scientists,” said Patel.

“It was such life changing experience for me that I couldn’t believe someone would want to comment how I should dress rather than talking about my work. I have stopped being scared now and was compelled to share my experience with everyone.”

Rose DF

Rose works in the field of biophysics and lives in New York. She says the problem with a homogeneous idea of how scientists should look affects a range of people.

“Just like female scientists are often judged by appearance, there are a number of other things out there we get constantly judged by. A particular side of this that I’m personally extremely familiar with and have become unapologetically vocal about is being automatically judged/disregarded or even deemed ‘not good enough’ just for being a person of colour who is also a woman in Stem.

“It is no secret to part of the Twitter community that this is a pressing issue, and you can find out just how much if you go under hashtags like #marginsci and #WoCSTEM.”

“We have much work to do, but for now we have to keep challenging the preconceptions of what and who we are as scientists, as science communicators, and what is expected of us based on biases, versus the things we can actually accomplish.”

Andrea Hadjikyriacou,

“I felt compelled to post on the topic because even in 2018, women are still silently and publicly judged based on looks and how they dress,” said Andrea Hadjikyriacou, biochemist and molecular/cellular biologist from Boston.

As well as being a scientist, Hadjikyriacou runs fashionblog PhD Fashionista. She set it up in 2012 to “break the stigma that all scientists are awkward and nerdy – to show that scientists are normal people with diverse interests”.

“I can love fashion and make-up and be #StillAScientist, still get my PhD and it doesn’t lessen my credibility or ability as a scientist,” she said.

Dr Clara Rosa Rodríguez Rondon

Geoscientist Dr Clara Rosa Rodríguez Rondon has studied in her home country of Venezuela, the UK and the US. She shared photos to combat preconceptions about women from Latin America.

“Yes, some can be sexy and beautiful. But we are also very intelligent and passionate. So we are able to achieve and succeed.”

“My parents and brothers are scientists too, but they don’t really do anything else. They don’t like parties, like I do. They don’t watch telenovelas, like I do. I am the weird one at home.

“They admire me because I can be a geoscientist regardless of my social life, partying and hobbies.”

Cancellare has been stunned by the response to her hashtag.

“I feel very strongly that the message we are sharing with this hashtag needs to be heard by young people, especially girls, so as not to discourage them from entering Stem fields, and I also think this message needs to resonate with hiring committees and professional groups in order to mitigate the negative impacts of judging someone by their appearance,” she said.

“I want the hashtag to show the public that our field will stand up to bullies, to prejudice, and to stereotypes, and my hope is that hiring committees recognise and embrace this attitude, too.”