Telling Our Stories: Gender Minorities in the Sciences at the Academy

An overarching theme arose at the Academy’s inaugural Gender Minorities in the Sciences panel: the importance of storytelling.  

Gender minority scientists, including women, nonbinary and other gender nonconforming individuals, have worked to overcome the large amount of gender bias in recruitment, promotions, publications, salaries, access to adequate funding and various other areas over the last decade. Though their participation in the sciences continues to grow, gender minorities remain underrepresented and face significant challenges. 

Hosted by the Women, Trans and Gender-Expansive IDEAL Working Group at the Academy of Natural Sciences, five phenomenal figures with diverse scientific backgrounds each spoke of their experiences growing up and entering the STEM field, often with overlapping themes. 

JoEllen McBride, associate director at the Graduate Student Center of University of Pennsylvania, told parallel stories of female astronomer Maria Margaretha Kirch working in Germany in the 1700s and her very own challenges, failures and successes as she eked out space for herself, and others, in research careers.  

She voiced the demand, often repeated by many young students and minority scientists, that those who hold the key to the gates must not bar the way for others, but instead, ask themselves what they can do to support budding professionals.  

“There are doors in front of you,” Laura Guertin, distinguished professor of earth sciences at Penn State Brandywine said, “and when those doors open, you need to find the inner strength to be brave enough to go through them.”  

Finding those opportunities and making connections are vitally important to creating a safe and supportive community. But Guertin adds, don’t forget your humanity: “You can be a scientist, but you can also embrace your creative side.” She shared several examples of her artistic work, including quilts that tell the story of ghost forests along the Northeast Coast. 

Alexis Pedrick, director of digital engagement and podcast cohost at the Science History Institute, was born a storyteller and lover of the natural world. In search of those deeper connections between science and society, she stumbled upon the historical women in the sciences depicted in archival photographs who remain unnamed and unknown, despite their contributions. She felt driven then to expand the narrative.  

“When I reflect on participating in science as a Black woman, the thing that matters to me is stories.”  

Allison Haug, manager of global projects and commercial manufacturing for Incyte, faced a major pivot in her science career that required her to acknowledge her worth. Instead of balking at the challenge, she embraced the pivot. She looked at her future creatively and saw new avenues of growth in unexpected places.  

In her story, she encouraged everyone in the sciences to embrace their own changes and their support community. 

Ebony Dyson, scientist and senior instructor at eCLOSE Insitute in Philadelphia and Women In Natural Sciences alumna, spoke on finding a balance between creativity, science and education. She embraced her multifaceted interests, and by doing so, discovered it was the key to unlocking her full potential.  

Now, as she guides young students into STEM fields, her creative passion helps them feel welcomed in the sciences. 

As all these stories unfolded, we were reminded of the work still to do in making science an equitable environment for all people. But we cannot forget these perspectives filled with joy, curiosity and enthusiasm.  

There is a bright future being crafted now in the hands of these scientists, communicators, educators — and we cannot wait to see what the next chapter brings.

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