Showcasing the Lives of Women Scientists through the #365scienceselfies Social Media Project

EarthzineOriginal, Themed Articles, Women in STEM 2016

A selfie-a-day may inspire the next generation of female scientists by seeing a unique view into the complete lives of women in STEM.

Selfie from Dr. Stephanie Schuttler, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which echoes the need for the #365scienceselfies project. Click here to see her selfie. Image Credit: Instagram.

Selfie from Dr. Stephanie Schuttler, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which echoes the need for the #365scienceselfies project. Click here to see her selfie. Image Credit: Instagram.

Scientists are making progress in breaking down the stereotypical image of a scientist ‰ÛÒ a man, in a white coat, working in a laboratory ‰ÛÒ but some preconceived notions and biases still remain. Despite innovative programming and messaging of girls in STEM fields and images of women as scientists, children and adults alike still view the image of a male as representative of science.

Profiles, images and videos of female scientists appear online and are the focus of national and international celebrations, such as the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science held annually on Feb. 11. Although these efforts do well at capturing snapshots of the career of a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), they do not necessarily portray the life of an individual. The career is just one piece of the life of a scientist. To help others have a better understanding of the challenges, successes and day-to-day issues one faces as a woman in STEM, the #365scienceselfies project was established for calendar year 2016.

Taking a photo a day is not a new concept. The 365project and Flickr‰Ûªs Project 365 are two examples where photographers at all levels have been sharing daily photos from their lives in online groups. Taking and posting selfies has drawn some public criticism, namely that it is a show of self-obsession and body image. To respond to the negative feedback of female selfies, a Flickr group formed in 2014 called #365feministselfies sought to empower women to have a positive self-image, no matter ethnicity, size or perceived beauty.

In December 2015, Dr. Jacquelyn Gill, assistant professor of paleoecology and plant Ecology at the University of Maine, used the #365feministselfies project as a springboard for this new initiative. She posted a tweet that encouraged scientists to post a selfie-a-day in 2016 with the hashtag #365scienceselfies with no rules or boundaries as to what is posted ‰ÛÒ the selection of what to post and how often to post is at the discretion of the participant.

To see this account, click here.

To see this account, click here.

Her motivation was to expand the public perceptions of scientists, to show that scientists‰Ûª lives are multifaceted, with much of it lived outside of doing science. She especially wanted to showcase to young girls considering a career in STEM that scientists do much more than spend time in the laboratory and the office. Gill also was aware that the selfie culture is mostly female, which would encourage participation by female scientists and viewing of the selfies by young women.

A Project in Progress

As of July 2016, the #365scienceselfies project is just over halfway complete. Gill‰Ûªs prediction came true that most of the participants are women in STEM. Women scientists in fields from hydrology to paleoecology and oceanography to conservation biology are taking a photo at a rate of at or close to one image per day with the hashtag #365scienceselfies. The common social media platforms for posting include Twitter and Instagram, with some scientists compiling all of their images into a blog (see Nicole‰Ûªs Adventures in Science). Instagram does not have a character limitation like Twitter, so longer descriptions with images can be found on that platform. Accounts with either social media platform are not needed to search for the hashtag, which allows anyone the ability to view the selfies in Twitter or Instagram.

selfie-3

To see this account, click here.

To date, the selfies taken and posted as part of the #365scienceselfies project are accomplishing the original objectives and showcasing multiple dimensions of a female scientist‰Ûªs life. The selfies highlight labwork, fieldwork and other research-related activities such as reading geologic maps, submitting journal articles and celebrating external grants funded. For the female scientists in academia, the selfies include fieldtrips, classroom exercises and guest speakers connecting with students.

In addition to the professional lives, the personal lives of women in STEM are also being captured in the selfies, rounding out the image of a scientist. Daily selfies include images of exercising, attending concerts, taking a vacation, spending time with family, celebrating birthdays and even adopting a dog. The selfies also have been successful in showcasing the emotions scientists feel, both professionally and personally. Getting a manuscript accepted is highlighted as a good day, while coming out of a difficult meeting with disrespectful people is reflective of a bad day.

selfie-4

Selfie from Dr. Emily Puckett, sharing how she turns to exercise to help her move her work along. To see Dr. Puckett’s account, click here. Image Credit: Instagram.

What‰Ûªs next?

On Dec. 31, a year in the life of multiple women in STEM as seen through selfies will be complete. This collection of images with descriptions will provide a snapshot for any future scientist to learn from, especially young girls interested in becoming a scientist. What remains to be determined is what, if any, analyses will be done on this collection. What are women in STEM selecting to post as selfies? Was there anything (intentionally) not included, which would introduce bias into the year-long documentation? Is the collection of #365scienceselfies a fair, balanced and accurate portrayal of a year in the life of a female scientist? How can this collection of images be best used by K-12 teachers? What curriculum could be developed to go along with the selfies to best help young girls explore science careers and a scientist‰Ûªs life?

The responses to these questions have not been determined, but the dissemination of the selfies is sure to be just as important as the collection of images. Gill shared in an email that, ‰ÛÏUltimately, I‰Ûªm just hoping that we‰Ûªve changed some perceptions about who does science, and what doing science is like.‰Û

On Dec. 31, a year in the life of multiple women in STEM as seen through selfies will be complete. This collection of images with descriptions will provide a snapshot for any future scientist to learn from, especially young girls interested in becoming a scientist. What remains to be determined is what, if any, analyses will be done on this collection. What are women in STEM selecting to post as selfies? Was there anything (intentionally) not included, which would introduce bias into the year-long documentation? Is the collection of #365scienceselfies a fair, balanced and accurate portrayal of a year in the life of a female scientist? How can this collection of images be best used by K-12 teachers? What curriculum could be developed to go along with the selfies to best help young girls explore science careers and a scientist‰Ûªs life?

The responses to these questions have not been determined, but the dissemination of the selfies is sure to be just as important as the collection of images. Gill shared in an email that, ‰ÛÏUltimately, I‰Ûªm just hoping that we‰Ûªve changed some perceptions about who does science, and what doing science is like.‰Û

Laura Guertin is a professor of Earth science at Penn State Brandywine in Media, Pennsylvania. Guertin‰Ûªs research focuses on innovative uses of emerging technologies to enhance student learning and scientific literacy in introductory-level Earth science courses. She is participating in the #365scienceselfies project. Contact Laura through her ePortfolio or email address: guertin@psu.edu.