I rarely ever post about science on my Instagram feed. Yes, I often post pictures and videos of myself at The Biodesign Institute on my story, but my posts have never been educational. With my time at biodesign coming to an end as I am set to graduate with my masters in biochemistry in a couple of weeks, it was so timely that I came across an op-ed article published in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. The author of the article speaks about an Instagram community of (mostly) women, and men, who partake in something called #scicomm – they dedicate their Instagram to making fun and educational posts about their research and more, to make STEM careers more appealing to youth, to spread scientific knowledge, and while doing so, also challenge the stereotypes of people in STEM. The author addresses the fact that many of these IG science communicators are women, who are often fashionable, bubbly, and feminine, to show that women in STEM do not always have to be people who do not care about their appearance. And she felt that we should not be celebrating the fact that these women have to take time out of research and Lab, to debunk these stereotypes. She basically thinks, as obviously stated in the title, that “Instagram won’t solve inequality.”
This article did nothing but further confirmed my fears as a woman who is trying to dwell in the realms of both science, and Fashion/entertainment- people are often finding an excuse to dismiss the efforts of women (and actually anyone else) who have interests in fashion, social media, and other things that people often consider less important in society as compared to stuff like STEM.
These #scicomm instagrammers took it upon themselves to compile and consolidate accurate information, and repackage it into interesting, eye-catching posts for social media users of all ages to get to learn a thing or two daily about what they do at work and school. And yet, the author of the article still felt the need to state that “Time spent on Instagram is time away from research,” insinuating that what they do on social media is a waste of time compared to what they could be doing in the lab. Here are some of my thoughts and why I think the article is completely out of line (besides the fact that it directly and negatively calls a #scicomm instagrammer out by name):
First of all, one does not need to spend every waking hour in the lab doing research, reading research papers, or doing something to aid his or her research project. Everyone has things they do outside of their main hustle. And if these instagrammers are choosing to use their free time to educate through their ig posts, who are we to criticise them. Furthermore, I personally think that choosing to spend more time on your research, while applaudable, doesn’t make your contribution to science more important to that of others. I’ve actually experienced this phenomenon of ‘guilt tripping’ many times before in my lab- where people question what I do outside of work and school and use it to somehow insinuate that I don’t spend enough time on research, even though I’m literally in lab the same amount of time they are. I just choose to use my free time differently from everyone else. And I document what I do in my free time to create content for my Instagram and other social media channels. I believe that it’s the same for these #scicomm instagrammers- but they’re even better for going above and beyond to create content that is science related. Communicating science to people who don’t typically dwell in STEM fields, or have yet to do so, is not an easy task.
The author then goes on to say that many of these women are doing this to “correct for gender disparities” and that instead of these women making posts on social media, we should be aiming to make changes at “institutional and governmental” levels. For you to want to juxtapose well-dressed and really well-spoken women in STEM having an influential social media presence, with words like ‘institutional’ and ‘governmental’ is PRECISELY why these women need to do this- these women are doing what they can introduce STEM to the world using their platforms, but alas, what they do is not as important since it doesn’t influence things directly on a policy level.
In my opinion, the whole article STEMmed (lol) from the fact that many can’t handle the fact that people who are interested in things that are often very misunderstood to be ‘superficial’, eg. fashion, social media, beauty, are also smart (both book and street) and make meaningful contributions to the world as well. In fact, society is constantly frowning upon anyone who wants to take the road less taken (not just the above mentioned constructs). And to be very honest with you, as a person who has worked in a research lab for several years now, your average researcher, can be much more shallow-minded than those who they view as shallow, if they are insistent that doing science and research is the only meaningful way to live your life. Sure, solving equations/curing cancer is extremely important, but downplaying other aspects of life and the career paths/interests of others does not speak very highly of you at all. Everyone has brains, and people choose to use them in different ways. I am directly addressing people in the science community because it’s the community that the article is situated in and because I’m in it as well. But this could easily apply to anyone who is currently facing issues due to whatever stereotype has been imposed on them.
With all that being said, I must say that I myself have allowed other’s people’s opinions affect my actions in life when it comes to what I do on social media. I often try to brand myself as a girl who is trying to pursue a career in fashion and entertainment, especially not leaving out the fact that I am also a grad student and biochem researcher. For my entire life, I’ve held back on fully pursuing my interests in the entertainment industry because I was so afraid of people thinking that I was ‘dumb’ and ‘uneducated’ or even what I’ve been personally called a ‘bimbo’. Both at school and outside of school, I’ve tried my best to make sure people knew I was good at science, as much as everything else I do. In a way, I did the opposite of these Science Communicators. I tried to challenge the stereotypes that someone interested in Fashion and social media, can have a ‘nerdy’, studious, smart side to them as well. So it really irked me when I read that article and realised that, these science communicators face similar problems as me, even though what they are sharing on social media is about science and academics. Their appearances and interest in social media still cause them to be affected by the negative stereotypes assigned to people who love fashion and beauty. So this has got to change.
To end this, going back to the first part of my post where I mentioned that my posts on IG are not related to science at all in an educational way, I do wish that I did speak about my research on Instagram more. With me graduating from program, it is very up in the air where I will be next due to my multiple interests in life (I will no longer be afraid of what people might think of me if I choose to stay in, or stray away from science). And I regret not attempting to speak about what I did in lab- the opportunity for me to learn how to better communicate about science was right in front of me but I did not take it. However, I’m glad that I now know about science communicators, and I greatly admire what they do. As I mentioned, it’s not easy to speak about research to someone who doesn’t talk science every day. So it’s a skill, and we should respect that regardless of whether they choose to dress well/put effort in their appearance, or not. And the fact that they are trying to overcome stereotypes is highly laudable- regardless of the platform they are using.
Sure, Instagram (and instagrammers) won’t be solving a lot of world issues, but so won’t bringing others, who are trying shed light on these issues, down.
Nothing, or rather, no one, is ever skin deep.
My #selfieforscience to remember these lab days by ✌🏼