Celebrating Science Odyssey with some SMOrES…..

Authored by Kristyn Rodzinyak (she/her) and Meghomita Das (she/her), with inputs from Emily Mick (she/her), Jessica Salas (she/her), Inga Boianju (she/her), Robert Collar (he/him) and Ingrid Birker (she/her)

The rock-fossil-volcano enthusiasts of the SMOrES club (Students at McGill Outreach in Earth Sciences) under the guidance of Kristyn Rodzinyak (Outreach Admin, Earth & Planetary Science) got together to work on several cool new virtual Earth Science-based workshops and demonstrations and introduce elementary schoolkids to the fascinating world of Rocks! Fossils! Volcanoes! And of course, Earth!! This was done in collaboration with Ingrid Birker, public program director at the Redpath Museum as part of the Science Odyssey sessions of 2021. 

Science Odyssey, powered by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)-Canada, is a national campaign that celebrates Canada’s achievements in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and arts. This includes engaging interactions in museums, research laboratories, and classrooms from all across Canada. It is held every year in May when hundreds of science outreach specialists come together to deliver fun, and inspiring activities to Canadians of all ages and instill a strong science culture in Canada.

The game plan was to develop 4 one-hour events to be hosted virtually on the weekends between May 1-16, 2021. The students of SMOrES came up with individual topics for each of these 4 events. Each event had a mix of demonstrations and a hands-on activity that the attendees could perform easily at home (under adult supervision). As part of the workshop development process, all our presenters went through extensive outreach training, provided by the Office of Science Outreach team: Jacky Farrell and Rebeca Esquivel. Each lesson plan had engagement questions, probing questions, and had a list of materials that were required for the sessions. All the events were presented in English. 

Developing the activities to be virtual yet hands-on was an interesting challenge. It was important to us to incorporate a hands-on aspect in order to make the activity more engaging for a young audience but on the other hand, [we] did not want to limit a kid’s ability to participate based on their ability to get the necessary materials”, says Emily Mick from SMORES. 

To streamline the process and draw in more crowds, Redpath Museum handled all the scheduling, registration, ZOOM links, land acknowledgment, and advertisement part of these events whereas Kristyn coordinated with the SMOrES membership to develop the individual events and conduct several run-throughs to ensure the events were conducted smoothly. She also handled the security of the events and moderated the questions that came up in the chat. In the end, SMOrES came up with 4 events:

1. Earth through time with a little help from hot cocoa, presented by Robert Collar on May 1, 2021. This event walked us through how the tectonic plates move and how the surface of the Earth looked like 65 million years ago. It also featured a live demonstration with hot cocoa! This event was attended by 11 registered participants.

With the help of Earth ViewerRobert Collar taught about how the Earth’s surface changes over time and a short introduction to how oceans and mountains form. The ideas were reinforced with a hot chocolate demonstration

 

2. Fossils, the key to the past, presented by Inga Boianju on May 2, 2021. For this event, we wondered if dinosaurs were real and how fossils teach us a lesson from the past. 17 attendees also got a live demonstration of how fossils are formed and preserved using everyday items like cookie dough! 

During the fossils activity, Inga Boianju lead participants through what is preserved in a fossil and different types of fossil before getting a chance to make their own impressions using salt dough.

3. These rocks…..rock! Presented by Emily Mick on May 9, 2021. Emily took us to the world of minerals and rocks, how they are similar yet different and the tools geologists use to identify the rock or the minerals present. 22 registered participants learned more about their favorite rock and what it was made of.

4. The explosive story of volcanoes, presented by Jessica Salas on May 16, 2021. This event walked the participants through the different types of volcanoes and the way they erupt. The 18 participants also learned how to make a miniature volcano of their own!

Jessica Salas showed an overview of shield, cinder, and stratovolcanoes including videos to show different eruption types. An activity to make your own volcano was shared including a demo of mentos/diet coke desktop “volcano”.

 

Inga Boianju, presenter of the Fossils event had some experience with virtual workshops when she ran a similar event last summer. But the Science Odyssey event had its challenges.

“………but this one was shorter and had a bigger than anticipated attendance, and so the challenge for me was to develop interaction and engagement with the attendees over a short period of time, to get them familiar with what fossils are, what kinds there are, and where you can find them, but also make it fun and interactive.”, says Inga.

For each of these events, there was positive engagement amongst the participants. Many raised challenging questions and shared what they knew about the topic for the day.

Jessica Salas, the presenter for the volcanoes workshop, says, “……their questions to me were interesting and sometimes even challenging. They knew a lot about volcanoes and they wanted to share their knowledge with us.” This inaugural event was a huge success amongst the SMORES team and the attendees for the event.

For the next iteration of such events, Robert Collar adds, “To cater to these audience members while still meeting the needs of younger participants, we’re considering dispensing “fun facts” in the Zoom chat throughout an activity. This idea was inspired by Prof. Jeanne Paquette, who would often attend an activity and use the chat function to share additional information beyond the activity’s scope. This idea is especially well-suited to virtual activity delivery, as replicating the discreteness of the chat function would be difficult in a classroom setting.”

The SMOrES team wishes to use the lessons they learned for the Science Odyssey events to develop more hands-on Earth Science workshops for the future. Plans include branching out to higher age groups and even live demos with active student engagement in such activities. After all, what can be more fun than making hot cocoa and messy volcanoes on a wonderful summer weekend? 

What it feels like to be queer in the Earth Sciences?

Authors: Jessica Salas (she/her) and Meghomita Das (she/her)

Two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) individuals scientists face higher rates of workplace discrimination, exclusion, harassment, assault, and more than their straight colleagues in their professional and academic environments. 

In June 2019, The Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society, and Royal Society of Chemistry surveyed more than 600 scientists working in academia and industry. The purpose of the survey was to explore the working place for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the UK and Ireland. The survey reported that 18% of the 2SLGBTQIA+ responders have experienced exclusionary behavior in their workplace, while 30% of all respondents have reported witnessing exclusionary behavior towards 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. 

2SLGBTQIA+ people are misrepresented in STEM due to a reinforced heteronormative standard in science careers. The lack of visibility of 2SLGBTQIA+ members is strengthened by a STEM culture that encourages 2SLGBTQIA+ people to remain closeted at work.  A 2013 survey found that more than 40% 2SLGBTQIA+ identified respondents working in STEM are not out to their colleagues.  The fact that scientists interact within an international community that includes many less inclusive cultures is one of the most common reasons why 2SLGBTQIA+ people keep themselves closeted. 

Sciences that have a significant field-based component, like the geosciences, pose an additional challenge for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Field-based sciences are riddled with cases of sexual harassment and assault during fieldwork. Alison Olcott and Matthew Downen conducted an online survey of geoscientists to understand the diversity in the field. Part of the survey also asked specific questions about fieldwork and remote research. Their survey showed that almost 55% of respondents indicated that the researcher did not feel safe because of their identity, expression, or presentation while doing fieldwork. A third of the respondents refused to do fieldwork due to concerns about personal safety related to their identity. As of July 2020, there are 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and many other countries or parts of countries where it is not illegal but the culture is not 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly. There is also a lack of faculty and department support for 2SLGBTQIA+ graduate students who are pursuing fieldwork in these countries. There should be awareness programs available for institutions and faculties related to safety issues associated with fieldwork and the potential dangers to 2SLGBTQIA+ geoscientists at field sites. 

The rainbow flag, as designed by Daniel Quasar in 2018.
Photo credits: iambirmingham.co.uk

This invisibility of 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM, and the lack of prominent 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals in faculty and leadership positions, leads to a lack of mentorship for current and future generations. It causes a sense of isolation within STEM that could potentially alter a person’s career trajectory within the field. As we move towards more inclusive policies and initiatives in STEM, we should engage with the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities to understand and develop training programs and resources that will address their representation in STEM. Some things to start of could include: 2SLGBTQIA+ specific mentorship programs, dedicated funds for graduate students to attend conferences like Gay AGU* (American Geophysical Union), field safety training programs in the department, and using gender-neutral lesson plans in class. While looking for more visibility, online 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM communities are becoming more important to fight back against the reality that STEM has offered to this community over the past decades. Below you can find links to the most popular online 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM communities:

-Out in STEM: https://www.ostem.org/

-500 queer scientist: https://500queerscientists.com/

Recommend reading and references:

 

*Gay AGU: This year, AGU 2020 had a special session and panel related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policies in Geosciences, and 2sLGBTQIA+ representations were discussed during that session. Unfortunately, the authors were not able to find a dedicated link for Gay AGU.

Conversation with Prof. Christie Rowe, Associate Professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, McGill University

Interview transcribed by Ms. Debarati Das (she/her), Ms. Meghomita Das (she/her), and Ms. Margaret Whelan (she/her)

Question

Please introduce your work and your research group!

Black and white headshot of Professor Christie Rowe

Prof Christie Rowe. Photo credits: Tim Sherry.

Answer

I am a structural/field geologist and I have been at McGill for 9 years. I am an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and I currently supervise a research group of about 10 students that includes Post-docs, PhDs, Masters, and Undergrads. We all work on rock deformation and faults and shear zones. Most of our projects in some way incorporate reference to how the earthquake cycle is controlled or look for records of the earthquake cycle that reveal what causes punctuation in geologic events. We are broadly focused on observational scientific methods which include a lot of fieldwork or microscopy work. We also spend a lot of time talking to experimentalists and geophysicists to try to have a well-rounded view of rock deformation and what causes catastrophic earthquakes.

Question

What does EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) mean to you?

Answer

It’s such a journey to try to understand all the combinations and permutations that are folded under the umbrella that is EDI. An ideal to work towards would be the idea that people should always feel that they are being judged the same as anyone else, they have the same opportunities as everyone, and that their actions will lead to the same outcomes as anyone else’s. That would be the most fair or equitable case – but I think it goes much further than this. I also want everyone to feel supported as part of a network and part of a whole. That isn’t intrinsically what EDI means but it’s an essential part of it because it is where EDI failures occur a lot of the time. For example, networks have been established in STEM over millennia of cultural development that explicitly don’t address the needs of all people equally. Because that community is such an essential part of how we do science and recognize excellence in science, we have to strongly engage with who we are as scientists and how we can ensure everyone is getting the same opportunities. Part of this struggle comes from a built-in narrative that has been established in science which dictates that certain levels of performance and intelligence are not compatible with a variety of lifestyles or backgrounds. 

I’ve been through a lot of changes and learned a lot in the past few months especially but EDI is something that has been discussed throughout my whole career. I started thinking early on about the dynamics of gender roles in the sciences and experienced the direct effects of sexism in science. Now I’m starting to understand and am hearing more stories from people who are facing discrimination as members of communities that I am not a part of which helps to paint the picture of what the scientific community is built on. 

I think my most important role is to make sure that people come into my group and are given the tools they need to succeed. I also need to prepare the world for them and try to change the world so that their excellence and their genius can be recognized. As I get older I feel I am on safer ground to take more aggressive action on both of those points. It’s a good time to learn about this right now as so many people are sharing their experiences and their voices and their resources.

Question

How have you incorporated EDI policies into your research group? Any particular criteria used for selecting candidates in your group?

Answer

When I started at McGill, I brought in 3 grad students who were people I had known and worked with before. That really reflects where I was career-wise at the time. I did not feel confident in my ability to assess people who were from different educational backgrounds that I didn’t understand. That is a prime example of me having formalized bias in my admissions policy. I do understand why I did it at the time because it feels like you are making a safe decision by choosing someone who looks like you, has the same background as you, and knows the same people as you. Two things that I have learned over the arc of the last decade however are: it’s not right to do that and characteristics like these will not guarantee that a person is a good grad student or that I will be a good mentor to them. I think I placed too much confidence in the metrics that I understood for assessing people but in reality, students will blossom in their own way. Having observed that, I am willing to take what would have formerly been a risk, and admit students because they seem passionate. I also recognize that a lot of the traditional metrics rely on standardized testing and none of these predict grad school success very well. Being in a place where you work well however has everything to do with a good fit for your goals and your activities. This is done through personal interactions which are so important in the STEM culture.

Now, I do a 15-minute interview with every person who looks like they have at least an educational background in a field that would prepare them to join my group. I no longer filter that by whether I understand how their education was or not. This is a really time-consuming way of finding grad students, but when someone shows me a lot of interest and is driven, then I actually think it doesn’t matter what their precise background is because you learn everything you need and fast during your PhD.

group of students with their professor sitting at various tables

Prof Christie with her students having a post fieldwork chat with her students at a pizza bar in Maine.

Question

Can you comment on the output of your research group and how your mentorship has helped them pursue their own journeys? 

Answer

The type of mentorship I have with each member of my group is so individual and has to do with where we are in both of our lives at the time. If a student or postdoc is interested in the career that I have right now, then I can give them more personal and professional advice. If they want something different, I often can’t help them in the same way but I try to find ways for them to succeed in the life they choose! There is generally an arc to the relationship over the course of a PhD especially. As the student proceeds and if the PhD is successful, the dynamic moves from me leading more at the beginning to a more peer-to-peer relationship.

The key thing relative to EDI here is that it doesn’t mean that every interpersonal relationship is going to be the same but it should mean that whatever happens, there is no selection bias in the opportunities of a group. I try to always take feedback and listen, and sometimes I don’t always rise to the bar that I set for myself as an advisor and supporter. In this sense, I count on having a good culture between the students and emphasize this as a cultural value.

Question

How have you seen this “lab wide safe space” amongst the alumni and current members of your research group change and grow over the years?

Answer

I try to encourage this so much and I get in trouble sometimes for buying merch pitchers for “Rowe Group” reunions at conferences. I think of it in terms of high school sports whereby your team changes every year and sometimes you have a team with great chemistry and other times you don’t. I definitely try to have a disproportionate influence on it but I can’t control that. One of the things that have been really great for the social fabric of the group is having incredible postdocs. They play a really important role in soft mentoring because the older I get the larger the gap between me and my students. It’s nice having someone to partially fill that gap.

Question

Do you have any role models? Who are they and why? 

Answer

I definitely admire and try to emulate certain things from certain people. Some are people I have had very little contact with and others that I have worked with for a very long time. My former Phd advisor (Casey Moore) is definitely one of them. He was naturally very fair and got along with everyone. I realized how unusual he was when there was a graduate student in my program who was displaying very obvious signs of mental illness and Casey took him in and did everything in his power to make it work for this student. I found that a very inspiring act of principle and fairness that you very rarely see. 

three geologists working in the field

Prof Christie back in her PhD days in Alaska, circa 2004.

I have had to look elsewhere for strong female role models which are harder to find probably because of gender behavior traditions in society. My postdoc advisor (Emily Brodsky) is a really interesting example. She is very strong and very capable of self-promoting. I feel like I think about her when I need to summon some energy to put myself out there.

My very good friend Heather Savage is in many ways a role model and a huge resource for me as well. I look to her for advice on making it work in my familial life (being a good parent and partner) while also having a cool lab and doing interesting and diverse science. She generally just works with positive/healthy people and balances everything!

Question

What do you wish your mentors had done differently (if anything) while you were a grad student?

Answer

I had a different view at that time in terms of what a mentor or graduate advisor is. I think with my current views on EDI we have to be interventionist in some way. I don’t think it’s possible to expect only students to do the work to make an equitable inclusive culture. People in leadership positions need to proactively acknowledge this fact and decide on ways they are going to make and promote an equitable safe space within STEM. 

I went to grad school in 2001 and I think that if someone acted like a 2020 professor in 2001 it would be very out of context and ineffective. That being said, there were people quietly doing effective things and I wish I had thought about it more and been a part of it. We were very concerned about bringing women into STEM in 2001. You can see the effect of it as there is a groundswell of women in their early 40s currently in geosciences. If you move up that age bracket (into women currently in their early 50s) there are still very few. In fact, a lot of the women in that older age bracket still negate to acknowledge the sexism and sexual assault/harassment that existed and I can’t believe that it was less rampant back then when there were fewer women and less dialogue. With every potential case of prejudice, there is normally an alibi situation and some ambiguity involved which was always used as a justification. This is probably what was happening with women and like I said now we are on much safer ground and so that gives us power and we need to use it. 

Question

How do you wish to champion EDI efforts in geosciences in the future (getting diverse speakers, hiring committees, outreach activities, and group-level activities)?

Answer

There are some things that are obviously part of my responsibility sphere already that need design help and intervention. For example, I am working on putting forth field safety plans that ensure any student or person conducting fieldwork has the tools to do so safely.

On the department scale, our recruitment process is very ad hoc right now and we don’t discuss the standards, criteria, or policies between research groups. I know this will confront the autonomous aspect of the department’s culture which is what allowed me to explore my interviewing process (and I am grateful for that) but I think we need to develop some good guidance/code of conduct in order to enable people to recruit students/faculty according to good principles.

Question

What would be your message to the students who might see/read this? A parting message if you will.

Answer

A lot of students that are entering grad school do not realize what the life of a grad student is. They anticipate some sort of confirmation of their merit and they don’t realize the individuality of the project – you are applying for one job and it’s about fit. I want students to know that they should be interviewing their prospective advisors as hard or harder than the advisors are assessing them. They should also find out everything they can about the local culture and the health of the research group by talking to students above/below and alumni. 

Woman sitting on a rock outcrop with a notebook

Prof Christie in her field area in Alaska, making important observations of the outcrops.

You should also be able to talk about your long term goals. If you put the time in to really think about where this potential graduate program might take you, you are much better equipped to assess if that advisor is the right person to help you get there. I think sometimes people don’t develop their own vision so they think the prof will take care of the vision for them.

 

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