Making your #Scicomm blog more accessible to people with sight loss

Have you started a #scicomm blog to make science more accessible? Would you like to make your blog more accessible to people with sight loss? Here are some simple tips that can make a big difference to how accessible your website is:

  1. Choose a service that has accessibility features: I host my blog on WordPress and they take accessibility very seriously. They have many default themes which are ‘accessibility ready’.l
  2. Describe your images: add a description to the image as this allows reading software to describe the images featured in the post to your blog visitor.
  3. Create a readable page: crowded text, lots of images, incorrect spacing and small font can make blogs difficult to read for those with sight loss. When designing your blog, take into account how your blog can appear to people with a different perspective to you.
  4. Choose your colour palette carefully: your colour palette can make a huge difference to the way your readers can access your blog. People with sight loss might find your content illegible if the contrast between the text and the background aren’t vast enough.
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Making Our Own Media

“It’s not our fault”

“We tried to find female experts”

“We couldn’t find women to appear on the programme”

These sentiments could be remixed into the theme tunes of all major news outlets or television shows, because the number of women presenting and commenting our everyday media is shockingly low. This is reflected in a news story from a popular BBC show in the UK, Have I Got News For You, which draws in over 4 million viewers. This show rounds up political news, and in its 28-year history the panel show has been presented by 11 politicians, but only one has been female.

In response to the lack of female politicians taking the centre seat, the hosts have claimed that this is not the fault of the programme’s producers, and suggested that women were too modest for the challenge. Adding:

The producers always ask more women than men. More women say no. Right from the early days, that’s been the case. And everyone you think should have been asked has been. Really, they really have.

This show is not the only one that uses ‘we couldn’t find any women’ excuse and I have a hard time buying it. With women making up 54% of the world’s population, I am sure a comprehensive search would have uncovered (at least) one female expert perfect for the role and willing to fill it.

This issue has been something that I have been personally touched by, whilst trying to pursue a career in TV presenting, receiving comments about how credible I would appear to the audience because I’m a woman. With a lot of mainstream media outlets not stepping up to the plate or taking responsibility for not utilising the wealth of female talent, it’s no surprise that women are taking the opportunity to make their own media – including women in STEM. One of the reasons I started my Gray Matter YouTube series was to increase the number of women in STEM in the media, and with my ability to use a camera and my ‘womenness’, I decided to take the power into my own hands and create my own media. And I’m not the only one.

There is a plethora of women in STEM making YouTube videos, making their own content and helping to rectify the stark lack of women positioned in presenter roles in science programming.

As women in STEM are making their own media and showcasing their expertise, they are essentially waving a big flag with ‘we are here’ embroidered onto it, and this is making the ‘we couldn’t find any women’ excuse is getting harder and harder to use.

Just some of the amazing women in STEM making their own media can be found here:

Physics Girl

Gross Science

Emily Calandrelli

Simone Giertz

Science She Wrote

STEMinine

The Brain Scoop

Science Sam

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Fostering conversations | Dr Jayshree Seth

I have had the pleasure of interviewing an amazing woman in STEM, Dr Jayshree Seth, as part of my blog. It is great to hear from other inspirational women who also share my passion for encouraging girls into STEM careers and addressing issues of inequality in the industry. Dr Seth is a Corporate Scientist and Chief Science Advocate for 3M, and is keen on making science more accessible and fostering a new generation of science advocates.

In this interview, she shared with me her passion for science communication and engagement as well as sharing some of the research she has completed at 3M.

Take it away, Dr Seth.

Could you tell us about your background in STEM and your work at 3M?

I actually grew up in a town in India that had a premier engineering institute, so I was surrounded by engineers, and, STEM education was highly valued. Many of the local parents encouraged their daughters to get into the field of engineering (primarily so they would stay close to home), so almost all my friends and I ended up pursuing engineering. After my undergrad in Chemical Engineering, I came to the US to pursue graduate school, and I got my Masters and PhD here.

I started my career at 3M in 1993 in what used to be 3M’s Disposable Products Division (DPD). I worked on components for disposable soft goods, and some of my first patents were actually to help diapers stay put on wiggly babies! In 2006, I moved to the Industrial Adhesive and Tapes Division (IATD), where I am now a Corporate Scientist and lead technology development for sustainable products for our Industrial market. I work with other engineers and scientists to break down complex problems and find solutions that stick.

I was recently appointed to be the company’s first ever Chief Science Advocate, a role in which I will work with various audiences around the world to help them recognize, and, appreciate the impact of science in our daily lives.

Could you tell us about the study completed about the perception of science?

With the 3M State of Science Index, we set out to explore attitudes about science from all over the world because we wanted to get a pulse on how science is perceived by the general public.

On the surface, it appears that science is widely appreciated. In fact, we were excited to learn that 87% of people find science fascinating rather than boring, and that 90% of the population feels hopeful, rather than discouraged about science.

However, when we started to dig deeper, we began to realize that science is un-seen, underappreciated and ultimately, taken for granted. Nearly half (44%) of survey respondents globally were skeptical or indifferent about science, and two thirds (66%) of the world said they rarely or never stop to consider the impact science has on their lives.

When it comes to the future of science, the world has big expectations and the lines between science fiction and reality are blurry. As a scientist, I see the impact of science and science innovation everywhere and it is important to me that we help others realize the same.

Why do you think it’s important to engage students and young people with STEM subjects and what do you do to do this?

The State of Science Index found that 44% of U.S. adults say they felt more excited about science when they were kids. Studies show that our nation will need to produce an additional one million STEM workers between 2012 and 2022 to keep up with demand, meaning it is not only crucial to our country to keep students interested in STEM, but beneficial from a career standpoint, as well. It will be more important than ever to maintain student’s interest in STEM during middle school and high school and better educate them on the endless career paths they can pursue with a science background.

Additionally, the population of Earth is estimated to hit nine billion by 2050! Some of the most imminent challenges we’ll need to solve are linked to our basic needs, such as clean air, potable water and food security. Science will definitely play a crucial role in solving these challenges, but we’ll also need cross-functional collaboration and multi-disciplinary approaches to address certain problems.

In order to engage students and young people with STEM subjects, I’ll be participating in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, and I’ll also be taking part in other events, roundtables and panel discussions across the country and globe.

What can a narrow idea about the breadth of STEM careers mean for young people? Why is it important to raise awareness for STEM careers?

A narrow idea about the breadth of STEM careers is the fundamental reason why young people tend to shy away from pursuing one. It’s important to raise awareness for STEM careers because young people don’t realize the number of opportunities and ways that they can have a career in science.

I’ve found that students might not feel that a traditional science topic, such as chemistry or biology, would produce a fulfilling career, or that they feel science careers are only available to “geniuses”. The 3M State of Science Index actually found that 36% of people believe that only geniuses can have a career in science, which is not true.

In fact, thanks to advancements in technology, there are actually more opportunities for crossover between science disciplines and other career paths. For example, my son is interested in both fashion and tech. One way that a career can be pursued while combining the two is to develop technology that allows computers to predict the future of fashion trends.

At 3M, we have created ThinsulateTM, a lightweight, thin and warm synthetic insulation found in many of the winter clothes we wear, and Scotchlite™ advanced reflective material used in all types of athletic gear and on safety vests around the world. Some of the teams working on these materials are actually meeting with top business decision makers from leading fashion houses to see how the material can be incorporated. The opportunities are truly endless!

What stereotypes can affect girls and cause them to not aspire to STEM careers? What can we do to help?

Cindy Moss, vice president of global STEM initiatives for curriculum developer Discovery Education said, “Kids often make up their minds by sixth grade whether they’re capable of doing science and math. We have definitive evidence that by age six, girls have already started to internalize negative stereotypes that science and math are not for girls.” Six years old is way too young to know that certain career paths are not for you, whether you’re a boy or a girl. Having little to no representation of women in STEM for young girls to look up to is usually a significant factor in the lack of interest.

Encouraging girls who show interest in science, increasing the representation of female scientists in the media and making sure students – both male and female – are aware of the doors that a STEM education can open can help.

It is my mission as 3M’s Chief Science Advocate to, not only foster conversations on the importance and benefits of science in everyday life, but to also make science more accessible for a new generation of science advocates.

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International Women’s Day at MindfulOfScience

Today marks International Women’s Day, a day in our calendar dedicated to celebrating women and their achievements. Last IWD, I launched a project where I aim to draw women in STEM to commend them for their work. Whilst I have still been adding to this throughout the year, I wanted to do something special to mark IWD.

Today, as well as Inside The Petri Dish releasing a series of exciting episodes, I would like to show something different that I have been working on. I have been creating mini animations and GIFs of women in STEM.

If you search ‘women in science’ in the GIF app, there is little that appears, so I am hoping that I can start to put a dent in this by creating my own, featuring amazing women in STEM.

Mary Jackson

via GIPHY

Mary was a NASA mathematician and engineer, in fact she was NASA’s first black female engineer. Her story was also explored in the film Hidden Figures.

Dian Fossey

via GIPHY

Dian was a primatologist and conservationist known for her study of mountain gorilla and for her book Gorillas in the Mist. Fossey was tragically murdered in her cabin her camp in Rwanda, and it is thought that her death was linked to her conservation efforts.

Mae Jamison

via GIPHY

Mae Jamison was the first black woman to travel in space, flying aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. As well as appearing in our stratosphere, she has also starred in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

 

 

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Ep 3 Animal Testing // Conclusionary Episode

Listen here: Ep 3 Animal Testing // Conclusionary Episode

Welcome to episode three of Inside the Petri Dish, the podcast that dissects science and takes a look down the microscope at controversial topics within research.

In this episode, Vicki Blight and Tay-Yibah Aziz have set Alice Gray another challenge to find out about animal testing in research through interviews with scientific experts. This week Alice shares her findings in a conclusionary episode.

Stay tuned for next time.

Music Credit: Bensounds

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Promote the cause, don’t promote yourself

For four and a half years, I have worked to push the agenda of equality in STEM. This is a movement that I hold very close to my heart. It is something I live and breathe, and have lost sleep over.

As this is a cause that I channel a fair amount of fiery passion into, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t irk me when I see the conversation being highjacked. It may be contradictory for me to say, as I aim to get more people talking about the issues facing women in STEM, but I’m frequently noticing the movement being used as a force of self-promotion. Although I commend anyone, and any company, that shows a commitment towards supporting women in science, I often feel that the support for equality can be utilised for their own gain, rather than for the gain of equality and diversity.

For example, this is not related to STEM, but look at this advert for oven-baked chips:

Partially fried potato products have nothing to do with equality, so why is it being used as a marketing tool?

Shouting from the rooftops that you support equality and diversity is an empty gesture, if in reality your workplace frameworks don’t support working parents, you aren’t incorporating diversity objectives into your main aims of your organisation, or you aren’t investing time in outreach programmes that engage underrepresented groups. Because then, you aren’t attempting to raise the profile of the conversation around equality, but you are raising your own profile.

If people and organisations are passionate about equality and diversity, they should be part of ensuring that legalisation is implemented to support these movements. They shouldn’t simply be promoting superficial support for equality, but they should be actively pursuing it.

I am all for everyone publicly supporting equality and having excellent representation in media (such as advertising), but it needs to feel like a authentic investment in these attitudes and not a disingenuous plea to create ‘shareable content’. This is a position that I feel uncomfortable sitting in, because I want people and companies to be talking about these issues, but I want it to come from a place of genuine intent to better the landscape and not one that aims to gain brownie points and a subsequent increase in following.

Instead of promoting yourself, promote the cause.

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10 things I have learned in my 26 years

Image may contain: 1 person, candles, indoor and food

This weekend, I turn the ripe age of 26. This year I have not only gained a few more wrinkles and grey hairs, but I have also learned a few things. As I approach the celebration of another year on this planet, I can’t shake feelings of sentimentality, and I am reflecting back on what I have learnt this year as well as the ones prior.

  1. I am powerful. That may be a big way of starting this list, and it may seem to lack humility, but we might as well kick this list off with something substantial.Throughout school, I was teased and made to feel inadequate, and I have to admit that several of my romantic relationships left me feeling the same. My confidence has been trampled on over the course of 2.5 decades, and this led me to doubt my ability to achieve things. But looking back on the last four years it has taught me that I am responsible for my own aspirations.I refuse to let others affect my trajectory and remain committed to achieving my goals. For that, I am powerful.
  2. Female friendships are incredibly important to me. I adore strong women, I want to surround myself with them and gain their strength via osmosis. Each of my friends teach me something different, about myself and about life.Society teaches us that women are bitchy competitors, jostling for male attention, poised to tear each other down wherever possible. My 26 years have taught me that this isn’t true. My female friends have been my shoulder to cry on, they have given me a slap around the face when I needed it and they have done nothing but celebrate in my achievements.
  3. Life is short. Real short. Don’t waste it and don’t hesitate in doing the things you aspire to, because you will only wonder why you didn’t do them sooner.
  4. Don’t waste time on people who don’t deserve it. Despite my 25th year of existence teaching me that life is very very short (please see thing 3), I spent a significant amount of my 26th year on this year giving time to those who aren’t worthy.This year has taught me to stop be amenable and accommodating towards people who don’t deserve it. Your time is precious, even if you wish to spent that time lying on the sofa. Please don’t spend it on people who wouldn’t give you a second thought.
  5. Wear SPF every day (I would like all of the points on this list to be poignant, but they wont be).
  6. Your beginnings do not define your endings. I was never really aware of my class growing up. I grew up in the middle of a rural farming community in west Wales, where everyone around me was the same. My school was adequate. From my knowledge it was a good school, but only in comparison to the other school within a 30 mile radius.When I got to university, I realised that I’m working class. I met people who had gone to private school and their school had a surplus of materials that they could offer them to enrich their learning. It was an alien world to me.It made me hyper-aware of my background and how people who went to my school were unlikely to go much further than that. Where I come from, moving to Cardiff is considered ‘moving to the big city’.

    However, this hasn’t defined me. Much like point one – I will try my hardest to prevent outsider influences from affecting my trajectory.

  7. Followers don’t equal success. It’s easy in this blogging business to get wrapped up in follower numbers. And although I have never been driven by the number of people in my followers list, I am not devoid from feeling the pressure.I never set up this blog to gain followers. I set up my blog to make a difference, even if that difference was to get people talking about the issues facing women in STEM. The growth of my followers didn’t matter to me, and it never has, but I do feel under pressure to build this audience.But after a lot of talking to myself, I have concluded that this doesn’t matter and ultimately the number of followers never matters. If you grow an audiences slowly, the chances are that that audience is loyal and is genuinely interested in your content. Whereas if you set yourself goals around followers and aim to get followers as quickly as possible, those people are going to be flippant and aren’t genuine.

    I have run my blog for four years and have a fraction of the followers some others have, but I have to revel in my success. I have achieved a lot through this wee platform, and I need to celebrate that my success hasn’t been for me. By working to make the landscape better for women in science, helping to shape policies that surround this industry and influencing legislation around science education for girls – my aims aren’t self serving, and this means I can forget about getting more followers for myself.

  8. I couldn’t care less about what other people think of my body anymore. I have been different shapes and at different levels of fitness and regardless of what I looked like, someone always had something nasty to say. So why worry about it? I have liberated myself of being conscious about my body because I’m safe in the knowledge that you can’t please everyone and it isn’t my job to.
  9. Work life balance is very important. At the end of last year, I wrote a blogpost called ‘Burned out’. I had worked myself to the bone and not taken a break in over a year. Each day I was either working on my blog, editing podcasts, editing YouTube videos or working my 9-5 job (or a combination of all four). This is not sustainable.Take time for you, because you ain’t getting that time back.
  10. 26 is not old. I am a planner. I like to know where I am heading and set aims. From a young age, I had this idea that I was going to get engaged at 25, married at 27, have my first child before I was 30. As I find myself hurtling towards 30 years old, without a partner but a promising career in hand, the thought of settling down and jeopardising that is terrifying.I thought 26 was old, and that I would feel my eggs dying like I was a slowly emptying vessel. Turns out, I have a few more wrinkles and a few grey hairs, but I still have acne and will still laugh at almost any fart joke. So I am saying farewell to the milestone aims and am saying hello to embracing what the next decade has to offer.I’m in my prime, and there isn’t any slowing down.
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Galentine’s Day

It’s Galentine’s Day, the day in which we bathe in the light of female friendship, inspired by the terminally adorable Lesley Knope from Parks and Recreation. Female friendships are my lifeblood, and I have shamelessly leeched off of my gal pals to give me strength in moments where I have had none.

In a world where we brand women as hyper-competitive, bitchy and ready to tear each other down in an instant, celebrating women (and the power of women supporting each other) is the perfect counterattack on this misconception about female friendship. For that reason, I’m using Galentine’s Day to share some love for women in STEM on social media who I admire.

Sophia Pavelle

(Instagram: @sophiepavs)

Her Instagram bio reads ‘Zoologist, Wildlife presenter, Science Communicator and Adventurer’ – if that doesn’t get you interested, I don’t know what will.  She shares her adventures with stunning photography and videography, and I get great joy from observing her success in her field.

Her Instagram feed and YouTube videos make me feel like she breathes in the fresh air for me whilst I’m stuck in my office.

 

Michelle Barboza-Ramirez

(Instagram: michellembarboza)

An all-round badass, Michelle is a palaeontologist at Florida Museum and Founder of Femmes of STEM Podcast.

You have so much to learn from her, just by following her on Instagram, as she shares excavations and fossils, all perfectly partnered with amazing outfits.

 

Fit Scientist

(Instagram: @phdfitclub_)

From meal prep, to home workouts, to science, the Fit Scientist has got your back. She is inspirational in sharing she day-to-day life in the lab as well as her fitness journey. Whether you need some motivation to get off the sofa and to get into the gym, or to get your work done, a scroll through her feed will sort you out!

 

Nina Draws Scientists 

(Instagram: @nina.draws.scientists)

London-based illustrator of trailblazing female scientists.

When not at my desk or in the gym, I can be found in art galleries, and as a amateur artist in my spare time, STEM is incredibly important to me. I adore her style and her 10 heroines in STEM project was amazing to witness, and I would love to see her work turned into a zine so that I could own tangible versions of her art.

Please, just go and follow, you won’t regret it.

 

Meriame Berboucha

(Instagram: @meriameberboucha)

A fellow podcaster and science blogger, Meriame gives me daily inspiration. Her Instagram feed is perfection in communicating laser physics and branding. If you want to learn about personal branding for social media, have a scroll through @meriameberbouche.

And boy, can she sing!

 

Lisa

(Instagram: @lisa_inascienceworld)

A PhD student in Development Physiology, Lisa shares her experience in academia as well as surviving your viva. She is also the queen of getting to grips with that pesky work life balance.

Lisa is a fellow Crossfit fanatic and cyclist, giving me motivation in blogging world and the gym. I want to work out with her so badly.

 

Nicola

(Instagram: @freshscienceblog)

Cancer and molecular biology PhD researcher and writer, Nicola has been communicating science  through blogging with incredible consistency.

I have followed Nicola for what feels like forever, and she is another example of branding perfection. She is incredibly uniform in her image, and I’m a huge fan of her colour scheme, as well as her general attitude to using social media as a platform to promote science (and herself).

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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 11 marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an effort to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Current statistics show that women make up only 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK and 24% of those working in core STEM industries (Wise Campaign). Not only has the number of women in science been low for centuries, but they have been failed through a lack of recognition for their work. To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I wanted to celebrate some women from history who didn’t receive the recognition they deserved.

You will notice a common theme in these stories – women do groundbreaking work, and their male colleagues get the kudos (usually in the form of a Nobel Prize).

Nuclear physicist, Lise Meitner, was a vital research in the discovery of nuclear fission. For many decades, she collaborated with chemist Otto Hahn, but despite her signifiant contribution to this work, Hahn published their findings without acknowledging her work. Otto was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for spinning the atom, and Lise wasn’t recognised in her contribution.

Chien-Shiung Wu’s work turned the law of parity on it’s head and was a landmark moment in physics. This work was crucial in the development of the atom bomb and she is now valued as one of the most important physicists of the 20th Century. However, the 1957 Nobel Prize was awarded to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, despite her groundbreaking work.

Microbiologist Esther Lederberg developed basic techniques in the field of genetics that have been instrumental in understanding how genes work. Esther’s work played a vital role in her husband being awarded a Nobel Prize, but sadly she was not mentioned.

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You can’t be what you can’t see

Role models are vital in our development, they allow children to ground their interests in a tangible goal. However, if the representation of those around us is limited, what we can see ourselves becoming is restricted.

Broadening the representation of women in our media enables our young girls to see themselves in new roles, especially when they are looking up to women that they can directly identify with. This is vital in ensuring that girls aspire to STEM roles, as it allows them to consider that as a potential career path for them.

The impending 26th anniversary of my existence has made me quite sentimental, and I have been thinking about the people who inspired me. I think of my role models came from a broad sample, and I think that is partly because the lack of women in the media during my childhood meant that I had to get inspiration from where I could.

But there are certainly a few women in STEM who were instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in science.

Michaela Strachan

I have vivid memories of staring up at the television, whilst sitting crossed-legged on a wine red carpet, watching Michaela Strachan on the Really Wild Show. I was adamant that I wanted to be just like her – I even wanted to wear a paw print necklace, parachute trousers and camouflage tops. I think she played a really big role in my aspirations to become a scientist, especially my interest in biology.

Dr Alice Roberts

As I matured, and my preferences for children’s TV programmes dwindled, but another woman in STEM on the BBC became a huge inspiration to me. Dr Alice Roberts’ programmes about anatomy fascinated me and, as someone who wanted to study at Cardiff University like she did, I latched onto her as a role model.

She still remains someone that I admire to this very day.

Mam

And finally, and probably the most influential woman in my life, my mother. My mum is sharp-minded, kind-hearted and empathic beyond belief. She nurtured me not only physically, but she’s also nurtured my personality. I was a stubborn little girl, sometimes shy, but ‘bossy’. I treasure that that wasn’t discouraged, because my defiance has become my greatest tool in life, and she propagated it.

She taught me how to be compassionate, she taught me to be fierce and she taught me to be thrifty; three attributes that have served me well in life.

 

Please leave a comment with the people who inspired you, I would love to know.

 

 

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