Be your own hero

We are in the midst of a pandemic that threatens to undo the progress made towards increased diversity in STEMM. Simultaneously, an avalanche of misinformation has spread more rapidly than the virus itself and has the potential to do just as much, if not more, harm.

Accurate, accessible and engaging communication of science is more important than ever. Australia has a shrinking independent news landscape and people seek information from diverse, non-traditional and often unverified sources more readily than ever before. All of these factors create an environment where it is difficult to discern credible information from absolute rubbish.

How can we increase diversity in the portrayal of STEMM in the media and provide accurate and accessible content that appeals to the community? To me, the natural solution is going grass roots – reaching the people on your doorstep with local experts which is why I launched That’s what I call Science community radio show and podcast. Before I get more into this, let me step back a few years.

CREATING OPPORTUNITY

I moved to Tasmania in November 2016 to start my PhD in medical research at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. I was immediately enamoured by Tasmania. Tassie is rugged and resourceful island brimming with expertise and discovery.

Amazed by the wealth of knowledge in Tasmania and a passion to carve out something to celebrate my love for science and ambition to advocate for greater diversity in STEMM, I founded That’s what I call Science, that covers STEMM topics with local experts.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE

I was not very academic growing up, it wasn’t until into my twenties that I decided to pursue STEMM. After years of being told I didn’t have the aptitude for a career in STEMM, I have struggled to feel like I belong but, luckily, I’m very stubborn so I’ve stuck it out and truly love what I do. I feel very fortunate to have felt like an outsider as it has given me immense passion to promote diversity and inclusion in STEMM. We all have a unique path to travel and I’m incredibly proud of the one I’ve taken to get this point.

As a young woman in research, I was acutely aware that women face immense challenges to progress from early career through to leadership positions in STEMM. Opportunities are scarce and competition is fierce. I decided that if I was going to do a radio show, I wanted to do it with a team of women who shared my passion for STEMM.

That’s what I call Science is a team effort with 7 passionate women in STEMM, including myself, that manage a core component of the programme; Olivia Holloway and Kate Johnson in media and communications, Meredith Castles and Olly Dove in post-production, , Kelsey Picard in diversity evaluation and Hannah MacCleary managing Indigenous representation.

We have a simple, yet effective main aim for the show: accurately and accessibly report STEMM content with a local expert each week. Another aim is to represent and promote the diversity of people in STEMM by ensuring a majority of women expert guests, prioritising minority guests and covering STEMM fields equally.

To date, the show has featured more than 94 guests from 35 different STEMM fields and 15 different organisations. Last year, we were delighted to be recognised as ‘Best New Radio Program’ at the national 2019 CBAA Community Radio Awards, which was a huge boost to our confidence and profile. Recently, the show has been approved for distribution across Australia to more than 130 stations on the Community Radio Network. The first show in Edge Radio’s 16-year history to do. This will raise our profile and more importantly get our messages out to so many people hungry for content across Australia.

Niamh Chapman and Olivia Holloway receive the award for Best New Program 2019 at the Community Broadcasting Association Australia awards | Image credit: Community Broadcasting Association Australia

I am immensely proud to represent women in STEMM, Tasmania and Edge Radio on a national platform. The show’s early success demonstrates there is appetite for diverse voices discussing STEMM content with authority. The show has increased my self-confidence, network and leadership and communication skills.

I love working with a team of women that are passionate about high-quality science communication and diversity in STEMM. We are only starting out and I am so excited to see where we will take the show in the future. I intend to grow the grow programme into a multi-faceted programme that includes mentorship, outreach and diverse representation to increase diversity and inclusion in STEMM. I want to build capacity to support early-career women in STEMM with unique opportunities that supports development and leadership.

BREAK THE MOULD

On That’s what I call Science, we continually review our accessibility and reach. I am determined to reach beyond other scientists and striving to reach those that would otherwise not be interested in STEMM content. No small challenge.

Street artist Rory Dick | Image credit: Jenni Klaus

Think back to science communication events and activities you’ve gone to. Who was there? What did you do? Was the event inclusive? Did you have an opportunity to contribute? Did you have a conversation with a non-scientist or someone that wasn’t previously engaged in STEMM?

To make a massive generalisation, I’ve realised a lot of science community-based activities focus on talking at people rather than with them. Community-based events focus on “giving” people something – delivering an activity, a talk, a workshop, the learned academic here to impart knowledge. Not on a shared experience. To me, this approach puts scientists on a pedestal or behind the curtain that is difficult to reach or intimidating to engage with.

I began to question, who is attending these events? Are we cutting through the noise and reaching outside the scientific community? How do we engage with people in a meaningful way?

To try something different,  I applied for a Tasmanian National Science Week Seed Grant to deliver an event in collaboration with local street artist Rory Dick, called Science Street Party.

Science Street Party aimed to have conversations with a diverse audience, in a grungy, art studio without a single STEMM lecture. The event was packed with activities from science-themed interpretive dance by local youth dance organisation DRILL, a street art installation of Tassie science, local scientists delivering fun activities and Tassie’s own science band Atomic Deluxe.

Attendees at Science Street Party 2019 | Image credit: Michelle Kilpatrick

 

GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY

I questioned what I had to say of value for this blog and who would want to hear it. I was standing in my own way, downplaying what I had to contribute to the conversation and telling myself that what I had to share wasn’t good enough. We need to address the systemic institutional barriers experienced by minority groups but we also need to support ourselves and each other to just go for it.

From my experience, we don’t need to wait to create positive change and increase visibility of diverse groups in STEMM. We can create the opportunities from the bottom up, from the choices and actions that we take each day. I have gained far more than I have given from starting That’s what I call Science and trying different events in the community. I hope that sharing some of my story is helping someone take that step and be their own hero.

My advice is to be bold. Put yourself forward, despite the worry of what will go wrong, because a lot could go right. There is an army cheering you on and waiting to celebrate your success.

About the author:

Niamh Chapman | Image Credit: Jenni Klaus

Niamh Chapman is an Irish woman undertaking medical research in Hobart, Tasmania. Niamh recently submitted her PhD thesis and commenced as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research. Niamh is a passionate medical researcher working in collaboration with industry and multi-disciplinary research teams to prevent cardiovascular disease. Niamh is a committed advocate for gender equality in STEMM and enthusiastic science communicator. Niamh is Founding Director of radio show and podcast That’s what I call Science which provides accurate and accessible STEMM and promotes greater diversity in STEMM.

 


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