You can't be what you can't see
Improving representation is one of the ways we can help improve access to physics. By having a more diverse range of people discussing physics on social media, we can help more young people identify with the physics community.
A diverse set of voices is a good start to addressing issues of inequality, through increasing the diversity of people we see and hear doing science. This can widen the impression of who can do science and therefore the number of young people who see science as 'for them'.
Research into what attracts or deters young people in respect of STEM subjects shows that the dominant educational and social representations of science are still overwhelmingly 'masculine' and focused on 'cleverness'.
Whilst it may seem positive to praise young people for having interest in a 'smart' subject, this can however put off young people who feel that they are not 'naturally gifted' or who think that these subjects are only for the smartest kids in the class, rather than for anyone. This reinforces the idea of physics being an 'elite' subject rather than a subject you can work hard at like anybody else.
We know that stereotypical or negative representations of physicists encountered on social media influence young people into thinking that physics isn’t a subject that they should explore. This is reinforced when most of the physicists that people see and hear about are from a narrow pool of society. This fails to display the diversity currently within physics and limits the growth of the discipline.
“As students get older, more of them tend to draw male scientists: In kindergarten, children draw roughly the same number of male and female scientists—girls tend to draw more female scientists while boys tend to draw more male ones. But by the time they’re in high school, students—males and females combined—draw four times as many male scientists as female ones.” - 50 Years of the Draw-a-Scientist Test - Edutopia
“…equity and social justice should be at the heart of the STEM education; if not we will just reinforce the inequalities that already exist” - ASPIRES
Elevating diverse voices in physics
What can people do to increase the diversity of voices that are heard on social media?
Although most social media platforms are very protective of their algorithms, evidence indicates that platforms that rely on recommendations can often end up recommending the same kind of people, posts and videos over and over again making it harder for a diverse range of voices to be heard. Add to this that it is easier for established users to be heard, and it makes it harder for less well-known and newer influencers to reach out.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of only collaborating with, or promoting the content of, people like you. This occurs because our existing circles are often very similar to us – similar place of work, education, upbringing, but also similar ethnicity, neurodiversity, gender, sexual orientation, or class. People can often defend a lack of diversity by saying they just don’t know any “______ physicists”. Just because you don’t know any doesn’t mean they aren’t out there! Increasing the diversity of people you work with is not only good for representation, but it can also increase the diversity of thoughts and ideas.
Groups currently promoting and elevating diverse voices in physics
If you are a group working in this field and would like to be added to this list, please email us here: [email protected]