Representation Matters: Bringing Diversity to Marine Sciences
When you imagine a scientist, what image comes to mind? Is it a white male with glasses in a lab coat holding up a colorful liquid in a glass vial, or is it a woman of color in a wetsuit out at sea? Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS) is attempting to change the global perspective of not only marine scientists but all STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scientists, by diversifying the world of shark research and creating an inclusive community for women, specifically women of color, in science.
Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS)
MISS was founded by four black female shark researchers, who strived to be seen in a discipline which was largely inaccessible for women. Jasmin Graham (president and CEO), Amani Webber-Schultz (CFO), Carlee Jackson (Director of Communications) and Jaida Elcock (Director of Public Relations) sought to promote diversity and inclusion in shark and marine science, and wishes to encourage other women of color to push through barriers and contribute to marine sciences knowledge. The belief of MISS is that diversity in scientists creates diversity in thought, which leads to innovative new ideas. The idea for MISS came about in June 2020 when the #BlackInNature hashtag was created as part of #BlackBirdersWeek hosted by @BlackAFInStem on Twitter. MISS is sponsored by Field School and the Field School Foundation, and are working in collaboration with the Bimi Shark Lab in the Bahamas as well as the Ocean Research Instituted in South Africa.
Work done by MISS to promote diversity in science is critical, as underrepresented demographics may not be exposed to resources or role models that would encourage them to pursue marine science. Shark science is a novel and unique field, and undergraduate students may not be properly counselled by the opportunities it could lead to. Young minority students – both men and women – may be discouraged from pursuing marine science simply because they do not see themselves and people like them represented in the field. It is crucial that organisations like MISS exist, to reach out to students of underrepresented groups, to show them that they can be marine scientists too.
How Is Miss Supporting Women Scientists?
The goals of MISS are to help women of color overcome financial barriers that have historically kept women out of the field of shark science; create a network of support for women of color in shark science; and promote career growth among women of color in shark science. Many entry level conservation jobs create a financial barrier for minorities as these jobs are often unpaid, and MISS is attempting to offer paid internships through sourcing of funding and sponsorships.
In an attempt to encourage women of color to get involved in marine and shark science, MISS is planning on hosting workshops where participants will get hands-on field experience doing shark research. Participants will be exposed to various research techniques, as well as partake in personal development conversations and activities to build the Women in Sciences community.
MISS further invites any women of color (and acknowledge that race and gender are social constructs) from any career stage to sign up as a member. The perks of becoming a member are as follows:
· Access to a network of women interested in shark science.
· Professional development opportunities.
· Resources to succeed in shark science.
· Opportunities for collaboration and to share research.
· Participation in special events and programs.
· The chance to shape MISS as it continues to grow and reach more women.
A future goal for MISS is to participate in outreach with schools to bring shark science into children’s lives early on, to break the stigma around sharks and also to show that people from any gender, race or background can partake in marine science. They also plan to financially and professionally support women to attend conferences to enable them a wider platform to share their research.
MISS currently has more than 200 members and is providing fully funded opportunities for young female students to gain field experience with sharks, including partaking in workshops, summer camps and paid internships.
The Importance Of Diversity
Establishing and maintaining a diverse workforce represents a big opportunity for furthering research in marine science, and also to cultivate global ocean science leaders who can collaborate effectively to make new discoveries and develop new technologies and research techniques.
Research and scientific breakthroughs are predominantly made by entire research teams, not just an individual person, and as such, progress in science often results due to diverse perspectives within a research team. Therefore, the ability to see a problem differently, and not just “being smart” is often the key to scientific breakthroughs. Although it might be a blanket statement, in general people from different backgrounds tend to approach work and problem solving differently, resulting in innovative solutions.
How Do We Increase Diversity In Marine Science?
Increasing diversity within STEM and marine science specifically is complicated, and requires work on many arenas. Studies have shown that a sense of belonging and acceptance in academia is related to academic success. Students that are underrepresented in a certain field may feel overwhelmed by being “the first” in a certain graduate program or job position, and may not continue with the program.
Systemic barriers, like bias towards a certain ethnicity, also prevent underrepresented groups from entering the STEM workforce. Discrimination against minority groups can prevent students from pursuing science careers.
Many universities have realised these problems faced by minority groups, and programs are being set up to promote diversity within science. The Minorities in Marine Science Undergraduate Program (MIMSUP) at Washinton University’s Shannon Point Marine Center is one such program that exposes underrepresented students to a range of marine science professions.
Increased diversity in marine sciences promotes environmental protection, social justice, and prevents cultural imperialism in conservation. There is often a very problematic assumption that black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) communities do not care about their environment, which as a result lead to few role models and mentors from within these communities.