Uncovering hidden gems

Posted by Cate Macinnis-Ng @LoraxCate

If you missed Ed Yong’s piece on his efforts to improve gender representation in his reporting in The Atlantic, you should check it out. In short, in late 2016, Ed analysed the proportion of quotes used in his stories from women for that year. At only 24%, he decided to do something about it and he’s since been spending more time seeking out women to interview. The good news is, Ed reports that it has only taken a little extra time to improve the balance and now he’s looking at seeking out other underrepresented groups. My favourite quote from the story is, ‘I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.’

Unfurling_Spiral_Fiddlehead_Fern_Frond

I was reminded of this when I was assigned my first paper to handle as an associate editor for the American Journal of Botany. It’s easiest to send papers to the big names but they are often too busy to review and that means less established researchers miss out on valuable learning opportunities. Positive responses to review requests are often more likely from PhD students and in my experience, quality of review if often as good, if not better than more senior researchers. Since finding suitable candidates can be a challenge, I put out a call on twitter.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’ve had a great response with heaps of retweets and about a dozen self-nominated volunteers. I’d love to add more people to this list so get in touch if you are keen.

It got me thinking that there are a number of simple things we can all do to avoid ‘passive concern’. Here are some ideas –

Early careeer researchers and PhD students

  • Be active on Twitter – bulid a following and a voice so people start to notice you. You never know when an opportunity may arise.
  • Contribute to blogs and other forms of more accessible communication. Rapid Ecology looks like an exciting new platform to do this. The Conversation and The Spinoff are other examples of places to have pieces published online.
  • Do media training so that you feel prepared when the time comes. Formal training will help you learn how to refine your message, improve your on-air performance, reduce use of jargon and be strategic about using media in career development and advancement. If you can’t find formal training, a local community or student radio station is a good place to practice being interviewed.
  • Add your name to databases like 500 Women Scientists’ Request a Scientist and Diversify EEB. You might not hear anything for a while but these lists do work – that’s how I got the invitation to be AE for AmJBot.
  • Don’t be afraid to remind more senior colleagues about being inclusive. For instance, if you are helping organise a symposium, suggest diversity is considered when invitations to speak and attend are sent out.

Established researchers

  • Consider diversity when appointing reviewers, inviting people to speak, suggesting people for committees, collaborators on projects – we need a diversity of voices in all scientific activities. Use Diversity EEB, request a scientist or other resources. If what you need doesn’t exist, consider building the resource.
  • Don’t be a broadcaster on Twitter. Broadcasters tweet about their own work but rarely engage with others. They are often high profile senior researchers. If your follower to followed ratio is high, you are not really listening to what people are saying on twitter.
  • Follow diverse voices on Twitter – seek out ECRs, women, POC, LBGTQ researchers to follow. I’ve learnt so much from twitter. If someone makes a good point, amplyfing it with a retweet is a good way to help diverse voices be heard.
  • If you are involved in a professional society, check out their equity and diversity statement. If they don’t have one, you could volunteer to help put one together.
  • Join the #KindnessInScience movement by improving the research culture in your institution by being more welcoming, respectful and responsible.

With a little bit of effort, we can all do our part to build a more equitable system. Do you have other simple ways to uncover hidden gems? Feel free to add other ideas in the comments below.

Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng is a Senior Lecturer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland she is also President of the New Zealand Ecological Society and PI in Te Pūnaha Matatini.  She is a plant ecophysiologist and ecohydrologist working on plant-climate interactions.

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