The keynote presentation at the UnConference, ScienceOnline2012 was given by Mireya Mayor, an Anthropologist/Primatologist who has worked for National Geographic, entitled The Vain Girl’s Survival Guide to Science and The Media, and told (part of) her tale of her path to becoming a scientist and science communicator, and some of the obstacles on it. You can watch a video of an earlier, similar presentation and audio of the talk — the story of someone who chose to dive into the deep end of science in the field, and quickly learned to swim. Pretty awesome. I had the thought that if she had chosen to be an archaeologist, she would be a real-life, modern-day Indiana Jones. (Maybe with less shooting)
There were some strong messages I took away from the talk. Mireya spoke of expectations and also of a risk she took in showing emotion in a documentary (in a situation involving gorilla poachers, and gorilla parts on a barbecue pit), which is more of a risk because she’s a woman. It’s a risk because of the stereotype of a scientist: a man in a lab coat, probably with a test tube and bunsen burner, and coldly analytical. (The only emotion you can show is geeky enthusiasm) So that particular scene strikes at all three facets of the stereotype — not a man, not in a lab, and showing a forbidden emotion.
That led into a related question: what does a scientist look like? I think it’s great when scientists show they are not at all like the stereotype, though I’ve seen that this does not always happen — read The Sexing Up Of Science (I’m Coming Out! And So Can You!) for another perspective, and Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First for some reactions to Mireya’s talk (including a response from her). The issue evokes some strong feelings, some surprising, some all too predictable. But the goal is getting people interested in science, so the approach seems to be working, as evidenced by feedback she gets, like I didn’t know I could become a scientist.
There’s some good science communication advice in the talk as well. Keep it simple, talk to a general audience as if you were talking to someone in a bar. Remember you may be dealing with people who don’t see the connection of the science to them — if they don’t see how it affects them, they don’t know why they should care about it.