Diversity was a long way from my mind when, during my PhD, I made my first explorations in writing popular science. At first, my writing simply a way to discover new science and share it in a more engaging way than I had done in my materials and methods chapter.
Now that writing has shaped my career, I find blogging a powerful way to explore a huge range of topics, and diversity is one of them.
Social media can support both the diversity of people engaging with science and the diversity of people doing science. Writing blogs in an style which is accessible to non-specialists is an enjoyable way to reach new people with science, and to engage them in a discussion
This is one of the ways the scientific community is making huge improvements in the way that science is shared with a diversity of people. Progress in the diversity of people actually doing science has been much slower.
Feeling yourself in a minority amongst your colleagues can be extremely isolating, so reading and writing online can be a valuable way to connect with others in a similar position. Sharing experiences of mental health strikes me as a prime example of how the internet can be used to support fellow scientists.
In my experience, discussions about the lack of senior women in science go round in circles, sometimes re-enforcing stereotypes (‘it’s the woman who looks after the children’) rather than getting closer to understanding the issue. As the comments below this piece on ‘Science: It’s a Girl Thing!’ reveal, there’s a healthy debate to be had online.
I’ve already blogged about how social media can be an equaliser, removing some of the inhibitions associated with interactions between junior and senior scientists. As junior scientists are a far more diverse crowd, the online debate will no doubt benefit from their greater contributions.
Despite the important issues they explore, I don’t think there are enough blogs covering diversity in science. I can, however, recommend the Scientific American Voices blog and Athene Donald’s explorations of women in science. I also hope many people will be inspired to write their own.
I am looking forward to meeting the participants in next month’s writing course and to hearing their different reasons for wanting to reach other audiences. In the meantime I want to share a very simple tip for online writing – how to use hyperlinks.
If we write about diversity we have to support it, and common hyperlinking practices make life harder for anyone using a screen reader. Just as you often scan a webpage looking for links, you can set a screen reader to read out hyperlinked text.
This makes it easy to navigate to the information you need, but only if the linked text is descriptive. If you hyperlink ‘click here’, anyone hearing this out of context will have no idea where it will take them.
Ditching ‘click here’ will also help with another theme of the writing course – use fewer words. Everybody knows how to use a hyperlink, and patronising instructions on where to click will never make for elegant prose.
Places are still available on the Society of Biology’s Writing for a non-specialist audience course on Tuesday 24th March 2015.