In my upper level course this semester, I am really trying to interject personality into the lectures and discussions. By personality, I don’t (just) mean humor and compassion. What I also mean is that I am trying to convey that our subject matter is an area of active research, done by (gasp!) real people.
I started the term by giving the “old white guy tour,” summarizing the historical development of the field and some of the key figures that have contributed. I called it the “old white guy tour” which at least got a smile from one or two of my students. I wanted to acknowledge that I was aware that what I was presenting lacked female and minority representation. When I got to the contemporary crop of researchers, I made sure to point out the (few) women. But I think every name I mentioned belonged to a Caucasian. There are definitely some minorities doing research in the field, but they haven’t risen yet to the all-star level. Hopefully that will change.
As we go through the class and read the literature, I am trying to point out that the names on the papers are more than just names. I’ll say things like “This work came out of Young Gun’s Ph.D. research, work that he did with his advisor Elder Statesman. And here are there pictures and what they are working on currently.” Since my students are mostly juniors and seniors, I figure that by telling such stories, maybe I will pique someone’s interest and they will decide to apply for graduate school with Young Gun, Elder Statesman, or even … me (a practice that is encouraged in our youthful MS program).
I also tell them stories about my own research and field experiences. Selfishly, I do it because it’s a lot easier to accurately and enthusiastically describe my own research than things I’ve only read about in papers. I also do it because I want to humanize scientists and the professoriate, and again, it’s easiest to use myself as an example (cf. this blog). Finally, I do it because, if they are not going to see women’s names on the papers we are reading, my students (male and female) need someone to show them that women CAN do this. Women can go in the field, in the lab, in the computer programming. Sure, conditions can be rugged, days can be long, experiments can be tedious, and math can be hard, but none of those things precludes the full participation of women.
The slideshow history of -ology may feature a bunch of old white guys, but I’m hoping that the next chapter will be multi-ethnic and fully populated by both women and men. And I’m going to try to help realize that future by continuing to tell stories.