Science Insights Online: Science Is For Everyone

by Katie Nicoll Baines

I had the great honour of being invited to speak as part of the Science Insights Online programme in late July 2020. Science Insights is a work experience programme for 5th year high school pupils designed to give them real insight into the work and life of research scientists, delivered by The University of Edinburgh. I was asked to deliver a short presentation entitled ‘Science is for Everyone’ and to talk about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in STEM.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the work of Evidence Base to a younger audience and demonstrate how varied a career path I have had, having done a PhD in a scientific discipline. While Evidence Base is currently focused on ‘Growing The Big Grant Club’ (understanding structural barriers to accessing large grants) we are very conscious that this work is crucial in building a world where opportunities to have a career in STEM are truly equal. The title ‘Science is for Everyone’ led me to thinking about what this means in reality. Obviously not everyone is interested in a career in science, but ultimately there should be no reasons other than your personal interests that preclude you from pursuing your career aspirations. Unfortunately, this ideal is not yet the reality we live in.

In my video for the students, I spoke about my experience working across disciplines and on collaborative projects from an early stage in my career. I mentioned the short-comings of academia that I had begun to appreciate as my career began to mature – most notably (at least to me as a white, middle class woman) the decline of women participating in science as the career ladder progresses. In my current role as project manager of the evidence base project I have come to appreciate how important it is that science is for everyone. The problem we are faced with is that historically, this hasn’t been the case. We are working very hard to change that legacy of exclusion.

Following the video presentation, there was a live Q&A session with the students, and I was really impressed by the maturity of their questions. Some were keen to know what actions could be taken to promote equality in STEM, several commented as to how great it was to hear that work like this was happening at the University and that these issues were being addressed. One student sent a brief message of appreciation for my visible trans-pride flag in the background of my video and I spoke briefly about the importance of allyship and demonstrating ways to show support to marginalised communities.

As part of the Science Insights programme, students had to write, their own blogs to share their highlights and one student mentioned the talk I gave, “Another highlight of my week was Dr Katie Baines’ talk about her research into equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM. I’m a young leader at my local Brownies, so empowering young girls and women so that they feel capable in STEM careers is really important to me. Katie really inspired me because she came from a scientific research background but then used her experience to drive more of a social change, something that I had no idea you could do with a science degree. Our generation more than ever is likely to completely change career paths multiple times – this is something that used to scare me but now I’ve realised how exciting this is. I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’ll end up but Science Insights has shown me that there’s a world of opportunity that is waiting for me.”

I was once again struck by the maturity of this young person, their awareness of how careers paths of future generations are likely to be varied as well as how they related their own experience as a leader in their local Brownies to the responsibility I was demonstrating in my own role. Working in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion can often feel like an uphill struggle with very little reward on a daily basis – it’s important to celebrate these small successes as well as keeping in mind the bigger picture of the goal we are working towards and remember that these excellent young people represent great hope for the future.