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ABSTRACT

Much attention has been paid to what students and the general public should know about geoscience content through discipline literacy documents (cf. Geoscience Literacies, 2017), but there is little effort to teach about the identity and life of scientists, especially female geoscientists. The stereotypical view of a scientist being an older white male in a laboratory begins in the second grade, with adults viewing scientists’ personalities as robotic, potentially dangerous, and not necessarily a group that can be trusted (Rutjens and Heine, 2016). Social media can provide a platform to reach audiences that range in age, geographic location, and formal/informal settings. The use of selfies and hashtags on social networking services such as Twitter and Instagram can educate others in what scientists do and what scientists are like. Online campaigns such as #ActualLivingScientist and the Earth Science Women’s Network’s #dayofscience are examples of ways to generate conversation and build community in breaking the scientist stereotype. Whether a campaign is one month in length, as the National Science Foundation’s #NSFstories during Women’s History Month, or a year-long daily snapshot into the life of scientists during #365scienceselfies, the images and stories of female scientists become available to a global audience, especially to teen girls and young women who are more likely to use these visual social media platforms. Existing hashtags will continue and new social media campaigns will emerge with time, but to fully educate others about the lives of female geoscientists, we need to diversify our scientist participation on social media and post honest, unfiltered information about the ups and downs of being a scientist in this discipline.

INTRODUCTION

A collection of principles and concepts exists that outlines what all citizens, from students and educators to industry and government officials, should know across the fields of geoscience: specifically, earth science, climate science, atmospheric science, energy science, and ocean science (cf. Geoscience Literacies, 2017). Tewksbury et al. (2013) echo that along with these discipline literacies, geoscience education has changed notably over the past fifty years in terms of what we teach, whom we teach, and how we teach. Topics and pedagogical approaches reflect engaging students with everything from real-time flood data to use of geospatial technologies. The literacies do an excellent job of outlining the relevant geoscience content, the process of doing geoscience research, and realization of the role that humans play within Earth’s systems. However, one educational piece that is missing from these literacy discussions is a goal to learn more about the person behind the science—namely, the geoscientist. Learning about the scientist as a person can assist with breaking the many stereotypes that exist in society for who is able to do research and generating more interest in the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professionals (Cheryan et al., 2015).

What Does a Scientist Look Like?

Mead and Metraux (1957) asked the question “what does a scientist look like?” to American high school students and are credited with the first attempt to describe systematically what has been accepted as the standard image of a scientist: an elderly or middle-aged man with glasses in a white lab coat; he may or may not have a beard; he is surrounded by science equipment and other laboratory instruments; and, he is always reading or writing in a black notebook. Chambers (1983) formalized a Draw-a-Scientist Test (DAST) and found that these stereotypes begin to appear in drawings by students as early as the second grade. The stereotype is international, although American students are more likely to draw a science laboratory with chemicals, while Chinese students will include robots in their drawings (Farland-Smith, 2009). The sources of the stereotype varies, where American seventh-grade students report they are influenced by gender stereotypes in the mass media (Steinke et al., 2007), and Turkish fifth-grade students believe that movies, television programs, and magazines are not trusted sources of information about scientists (Türkmen, 2008).

Among adults, the perception of a scientist goes beyond the looks and extends to the personality. The stereotypical view among American adults of a scientist describes the scientist personality as robot-like and lacking emotions, as well as valuing knowledge over morality and being potentially dangerous (Rutjens and Heine, 2016). Scientists may have the respect of people, but not necessarily their trust (Fiske and Dupree, 2014).

To address the gender stereotype of a scientist, there are national and international efforts dedicated to calling attention to female scientists. In the United States, the Thursday of the American Geosciences Institute’s annual Earth Science Week celebration has a focus of Geoscience for Everyone. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution that every 11 February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Both of these campaigns use snapshots and marketing materials to showcase the career of a woman in STEM but not necessarily the life of a woman in STEM, which includes her challenges, successes, and day-to-day issues she faces as a scientist.

SOCIAL MEDIA FEATURES

Computer-mediated technologies allow for the creation and sharing of information through web-based networks. There are several platforms designed for online social sharing, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. These platforms allow users to share more than text and add unique identifiers to help search for a specific topic and to aid community building. Here, I focus on the ability of a user to add a type of digital photograph (a selfie) and a keyword to associate the social media post with a certain discussion (the hashtag).

The Selfie

Selfie, Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2013 (Oxford University Press, 2013), is defined as “a photograph taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.). It is reported that selfies were being taken long before the term was created, with the first photographic selfie recorded by American amateur photographer Robert Cornelius in 1839 (Newhall, 1982, p. 30). Now, the term “selfie” is appearing in article titles, such as Strauss’ (2017) “Planet Earth to get a daily selfie” and Baird’s (2014) “Helping the Moon take a selfie,” expanding the term’s original definition.

Iqani and Schroeder (2015) define some general characteristics of selfies, that,

[T]hey are taken either at arm’s length or in a mirror, as such they are typically relatively close up pictures, they present the subject/self in a way that is considered attractive, good-looking or sexy by that subject, and they are entirely under the control of the photographer/subject. (p. 6)

Since 2014, the selfie stick has allowed users to take photos from a greater variety of distances and angles. Murray (2015) defines two purposes of a selfie, where the user either seeks a visual expression of vanity or a more artistically photographic self-portrait. Selfies are never accidental, as the user has complete control in deciding to approve and post an image to social media, thereby acting as a public relations marketer (Saltz, 2014).

Challenges to the Selfie

The General Electric (2017) commercial that has two men on the street running to catch up with female scientist Millie Dresselhaus to ask for a selfie (time 0:21) may bring a smile to your face. But the act of taking a selfie, or even using the term “selfie,” is not always received positively. Some people label this “new culture of self-absorption wrought by social media” as “digital narcissism” (Pham, 2015, p. 221), with the association between selfie posting behaviors and narcissism stronger among men than women (Sorokowski et al., 2015). The phrase “selfie addiction disorder” is being used in the literature to reflect a high tendency toward taking selfies (Shah, 2015; Shah and Tripathi, 2016).

Even in the academic culture, selfies receive a mixed reaction. A recent article published in The Guardian discussed how the “selfie epidemic” had now “infiltrated the world of academia” and challenged that academics should not have to use social media to please employers or to be considered enthusiastic about their work (Academics Anonymous, 2016). Yet educators use selfies with their students, realizing that the social media students use on a daily basis can often be academic, facilitate learning, and bring people together around important issues (Johnson et al., 2014). Although students can build community through the production and distribution of a digital self-portrait during ice-breakers and experiential learning, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) compliance must be taken under consideration (cf. Drake, 2014).

The Hashtag

Hashtags are found on social media platforms and consist of a word or phrase with a hash or pound sign (#) at the beginning. A hashtag allows a user to easily and quickly search for posts along the common theme of the hashtag, such as #WomenInSTEM and #EarthScienceWeek. Hashtags are not only used to share information but are being used for events such as conferences (the Geological Society of America Fall Meeting in 2017 used the hashtag #GSA2017) and weather-related disasters (the 2017 tracking and landfall of #HurricaneHarvey). Hashtag users may also engage in “hashtag activism,” defined as when a large number of postings appear on social media with a common hashtag representing a social or political claim (Yang, 2016). Examples of hashtags used for social/political purposes include #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, and #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

Combining a hashtag with a selfie in the same post can serve as a powerful tool for social media activism, or what Pham (2015) defines as “network vanity.” For example, women and a few men declared their “selfie love” in November 2013 through the #feministselfie hashtag campaign on Twitter, demonstrating the importance of having an image of oneself as a part of social activism. A second example of networked vanity is visual activism, bringing visibility to an issue through varied online platforms. The examples shared herein, focusing on promoting the image and personality of female geoscientists and all STEM women to a wider audience, prove excellent in the use of visual activism and hashtag activism to break the gendered stereotype of a scientist.

CAMPAIGNS AND SHORT-TERM EFFORTS

Individuals to organizations have jumpstarted short- and long-term social media efforts that highlight female geoscientists. Each of the following campaigns discussed in this section encouraged female scientists to post selfies and descriptions of themselves and something in their lives as scientists.

Because Facebook is not known for its broad use and adoption of hashtags, these campaigns existed on the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram. The percentage of American adults on Twitter (24%) is comparable to the number of online adults using Instagram (32%) (Greenwood et al., 2016). For American teenagers (ages 13–17), 33% use Twitter and 52% use Instagram (Lenhart, 2015). Both platforms allow the posting of one or more photos and the use of one or more hashtags at a time. Twitter limits the amount of accompanying text in a post to 280 characters (an increase from 140 characters prior to November 2017), while Instagram does not have a limit to the text included with an image.

#365scienceselfies Project

The idea for the #365scienceselfies Project originated in a tweet by Dr. Jacquelyn Gill, Assistant Professor of Paleoecology and Plant Ecology at the University of Maine. In a tweet posted to her Twitter account (@JacquelynGill) in late 2015, she stated:

Inspired by #365feministselfies, #365scienceselfies will be a snapshot a day in a scientist’s year. Feel free to join me! (Gill, 2015)

In an interview with Dr. Gill, she shared that her motivation for starting this project was to expand public perceptions of whom scientists are, to get past the stereotypes, and to humanize scientists (Guertin, 2016a). She also stated that as there are many women scientists on social media, and that as females are more likely to post selfies, this would be a great opportunity for people (especially graduate students pursuing science careers) to see the full lives of scientists.

The #365scienceselfies Project officially kicked off on 1 Jan. 2016. Posting on either Twitter or Instagram or both social media platforms was left to the preference of the participant. Scientist participants posted a number of photos each day, ranging from documenting research in the laboratory and in the field to working on grant proposals and journal articles. Photos captured time in the classroom, time spent at meetings, and time traveling to/from conferences. Several selfies also captured moments from personal lives, such as spending time with family, exercising, celebrating birthdays, and even adopting a dog. Additional details about the #365scienceselfies Project as it unfolded during 2016 are described in Guertin (2016b).

Roughly thirty women and three men regularly posted selfies with the hashtag #365scienceselfies on Twitter and Instagram during the year. Female geoscientists that participated in the #365scienceselfies Project include myself and Dr. Anne Jefferson (Kent State University). A community of bloggers at WildlifeSNPits (https://wildlifesnpits.wordpress.com/) challenged each other to participate in the #365scienceselfies Project. Dr. Emily Puckett, Dr. Stephanie Schuttler, and Dr. Anna MacDonald all blog on the intersection of conservation and evolution, but took the time to document their lives as post-doctoral researchers through selfies.

My own participation in the #365scienceselfies Project did not involve photos of myself but instead a stand-in stuffed animal. As I knew that I was terrible at taking selfies (a significant lack of experience) and that I would take too much time to set up the daily photos, a Beanie Baby anteater represented me in my daily life. I explained in my 1 January selfie the significance of the anteater to me, that he was a gift I received on my first day of teaching in my first faculty position, and that he is my good luck charm and travels with me to all of my conferences and field seminars. Using stuffed animals for online narratives is not a new concept, as institutions such as university libraries have used stuffed toys to build trust and engagement between university students and library services and facilities (Bennett and Thompson, 2016).

The Outcomes

Dr. Gill’s ultimate goal of the #365scienceselfies Project was to change the perception about who does science and what doing science is like (Guertin, 2016a). It is difficult to know if she accomplished her goal, because there were no surveys conducted with the individuals who viewed the selfies addressing any change of perceptions of scientists, especially of women in STEM. Qui et al. (2015) document that selfies are effective in reflecting their owners’ personality traits, that there are facial and contextual cues in selfies related to the selfie owners’ degree of agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Without any project assessment, it is possible to infer that the viewers of the #365scienceselfies learned something about female scientists beyond the typed descriptions accompanying the photos.

The community bloggers from WildlifeSNPits each analyzed their own participation and reflected upon the impacts of participating (see Schuttler, 2017; Macdonald, 2017; Puckett, 2017). The positive outcomes, as perceived by the WildlifeSNPits bloggers and myself, include learning more about fellow scientists, their work, and their hobbies. Dr. Schuttler noted that her favorite selfies were the ones where she was able to express her personality. Although each of us note that most of our colleagues, friends, and casual acquaintances are scientists, there were others that commented on our posts who were non-scientists, meeting the project goal of helping others learn more about scientists.

Negative outcomes include a certain level of discomfort; taking of taking so many personal photos seemed excessive and too self-indulgent. It was also a challenge and at times stressful to take a photo every day, as we ran out of ideas, or some days were just boring. Dr. Puckett took 101 selfies across all 366 days, Dr. MacDonald took 197 selfies, Dr. Schuttler took 222 selfies, and I took a photo each of the 366 days in 2016 (it was a Leap Year). Each of us noted a struggle of showing the reality of science, as there has to be failure to have science (Schuttler, 2017), yet we were selective in posting only the best part of our lives, a behavior documented by teenagers (Lenhart et al., 2015). I only posted two negative days, ranting about students, or parents, not getting access to my building on campus—but never about colleagues or administration.

A selfie is often a solo activity. Having a photo of just a female scientist and her equipment or computer makes science seem like a very lonely or isolating career. There are certainly times when one must work individually on research, but it was a challenge to capture the collaborative nature of science with just a selfie. At times, Dr. Puckett was able to convince her laboratory colleagues to join in with a photo. I specifically set out to include faculty, staff, and friends in my anteater selfies, and I had 35 selfies that included everyone from my campus walking group to my hairdresser and my Zumba instructors.

Each of us is unsure if the #365scienceselfies Project was a science communication success and if the target audience was effectively reached. The collection of selfies each of us produced is an excellent highlight reel of one year of a science career, but as each of us personally selected what to post and what not to post—our year documenting our lives as female scientists is not without bias. This behavior of self-selecting our online posts to showcase the overall good and positive part of our lives is what Singh and Sharma (2016) classify as “online reputation management.”

Short-Term Hashtags

There are several hashtags that arose throughout the first half of 2017 to call attention to the identity and lives of scientists. Individuals and organizations reacted to particular stories in the news, wanted to take advantage of national celebrations relating to women in STEM, or were looking to raise awareness and fundraise for an organization. A selection of these short-term efforts are presented here with examples from female geoscientist participants.

#ActualLivingScientist

On 2 February, Dr. David Steen posted on Twitter,

Most Americans can’t name a living scientist (it’s true, look it up!); no wonder they don’t fully appreciate what we do. So…Hi, I’m Dave. (Steen, 2017)

On the same day, Mary Roblyer replied on Twitter with,

Hi Dave! Maybe this is a good opportunity for other scientists 2 introduce themselves with a pic and #actuallivingscientist. (Roblyer, 2017)

This kicked off a new and continuing campaign with the hashtag #actuallivingscientist.

Scientists from seismologists to oceanographers introduced themselves, with many showcasing their field sites and research. IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) promoted the campaign by posting on their Twitter account a photo with seismologist and IRIS Informal Education Specialist Dr. Wendy Bohon Nature and the text,

Are you an #actuallivingscientist? Tell us about what you do! Bonus points for photos. (IRIS Earthquake Sci, 2017)

Oceanographer Dr. Megan Cimino posted on Twitter a collection of five photos, including one where she is wearing a Santa hat, with,

Hi! I’m Megan, an #actuallivingscientist. I use ocean robots to study animals and their habitat. It’s a lot of fun, even when working on xmas. (Cimino, 2017)

Marine/freshwater ecologist and Ph.D. student Katherine O’Reilly took a lighthearted approach to the photo she included with her tweet—herself dressed in a shark costume.

Hi, I’m Katherine (AKA Katie). I’m an #ActualLivingScientist studying #GreatLakes fish & enjoy long walks on the beach setting minnow traps. (O’Reilly, 2017)

#DressLikeAWoman

Another hashtag appeared the following day, #DressLikeAWoman, motivated by the reported new dress code for female staffers at The White House. Many female scientists started using both #actuallivingscientist and #DressLikeAWoman in the same post, including photos where they were dressed in appropriate outdoor apparel and with field gear. Structural geologist Dr. Kim Hannula posted a selfie with a mountain and,

I’m Kim, an #actuallivingscientist, studying how students learn to imagine the insides of mtns & I #DressLikeAWoman. (Hannula, 2017)

Geoscience educator and pedagogical researcher Dr. Kaatje Kraft included an image of herself leading a field trip with,

I teach science to non-scientists and research what motivates them to learn. I am an #actuallivingscientist and I #DressLikeAWoman. (Kraft, 2017)

Volcanologist Dr. Meagen Pollock tweeted two photos of herself in the field and posted,

I am an #actuallivingscientist who studies lava chemistry. I am a human being who believes in human rights. Let’s talk. #DressLikeAWoman. (Pollock, 2017)

#NSFStories for Women’s History Month

In March 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted a social media campaign for Women’s History Month. NSF dedicated its Instagram account to feature the stories of NSF-supported women working and learning in STEM. NSF asked women to take a field photo or selfie and answer the following questions: (1) Why did you become a scientist? (2) What do you do? (3) What inspires you? Thirty-two #NSFstories of women in STEM were posted on the NSF Instagram account in March, and NSF is continuing to share stories of the female scientists they have funded.

Two sample #NSFstories published on the National Science Foundation Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/nsfgov/) include:

I’m a scientist because there’s an endless list of things to learn and science is one of those fields where I can keep questioning. Science turns “I don’t know” into “I dont know, yet” and that’s what inspires me each day. As an @nsfgov #GRFP fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to create an individualized PhD project that combines analytical chemistry and soil ecology to study #climatechange in the #Arctic. Whether I’m in the lab or the field, I’m thinking about how chemical reactions happening at the molecular level are impacting landscape-scale processes like the release of greenhouse gases with warming temperatures. As an #interdisciplinary #gradstudent in the Bredesen Center, I have the opportunity to then think about how that scientific information can be used to inform U.S. policy. (National Science Foundation, 2017a)

It was an inspirational chemistry teacher in high school that first encouraged me to pursue a science degree in college. Her belief in my abilities, and her own excitement for teaching, led me to an undergraduate degree in geology and PhD in marine geology & geophysics. I love learning new and exciting things about our ocean - but I also love sharing my knowledge with others. NSF funding has assisted me in developing improved pedagogical approaches for teaching Earth science to K-12 teachers and students, as well as using authentic data sets and technology and broadening participation of higher education students in STEM courses and degrees. I am so inspired when fresh ideas for teaching and communicating Earth science discoveries are able to “hook” even non-science majors to learning about our planet and why Earth science matters—to everyone! (National Science Foundation, 2017b)

#dayofscience

On 13 July 2017, the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN) hosted a Science-A-Thon. Male and female scientists were encouraged to participate by showcasing a day in their life by posting 12 photos over 12 hours, while at the same time raising money for ESWN. With the hashtags #ScientistForADay and #dayofscience, hundreds of people from across the globe shared a glimpse into their personal and professional lives over social media. Of the 145 scientists who registered to participate through the website https://www.scienceathon.org/, 86% were female. Some of the participants compiled their twelve postings from the day into Storify (https://storify.com/), a social media platform whose users created stories or timelines from social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others. Sample Storifies1 from the female earth science participants, providing viewers a glimpse into their full lives as scientists, include:

Latest Project—#ScientistsWhoSelfie

As I was writing this chapter, Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau from Louisiana State University successfully concluded a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign on the platform “experiment” to see if scientists could challenge the scientist stereotype of being male and white through postings on social media, specifically Instagram. In addition, Dr. Jarreau and her collaborators hope to increase the trust American adults have in scientists by improving scientists’ use of social media, and they will start by investigating if scientists should personalize their Instagram postings or use only professional, work-related images (see the fundraising archive page at https://experiment.com/projects/to-selfie-or-not-to-selfie-how-can-scientists-foster-public-trust-on-instagram). The Instagram account (@scientistselfies) and Twitter account (@scientistselfie) both repost photos and tweets that use the hashtag #ScientistsWhoSelfie and will be posting project updates.

BENEFITS

Will anyone benefit from these social media campaigns promoting the lives of scientists? Certainly, the scientists following each other on social media are already aware of what the life of a scientist is like, although the opportunity to follow scientists outside of the geosciences is an opportunity to learn more about how research is carried out in other STEM disciplines. And none of these campaigns focus specifically on helping the general population name a specific scientist, so polls such as the one by Research!America (2009) will most likely still show that 83% of Americans cannot name a living scientist.

There are additional outcomes to consider that are not being assessed but are still important. For example, K–12 teachers printed out the tweets with the #actuallivingscientist hashtag and generated bulletin board displays to showcase STEM career fields to their students and to provide inspiration for science fair projects. Some of these classroom bulletin boards have 50 or more tweets with images for students to view, reflecting a diversity of scientists through scientist selfies. Several photos of these bulletin boards were then posted again on Twitter with the #actuallivingscientist hashtag.

Teenagers may find these scientist selfies on their own. Lenhart (2015) reports that 61% of girls use Instagram, while 44% of boys use the same platform. With teenage girls dominating the visually oriented social media sites, postings of female scientists may reach young girls and inspire them to see themselves as scientists. Cheryan et al. (2015) showed that presenting role models that challenge cultural STEM stereotypes does increase interest in STEM, and that diversifying stereotypes will result in a more diverse community. It is possible that through formal interventions in school and informal contact via social media, young adults may see through the stereotype and feel a closer connection to the scientist, not just the science.

Importantly, Lin-Siegler et al. (2016) found that when high school students learn about the personal struggles and failed experiments of great scientists, as well as the actions the scientists took to overcome those hurdles, their science grades improved, with low-achievers benefitting the most. Although the #365scientistselfies participants admitted that the daily postings were filtered and did not accurately portray the bad days and negative side of being a scientist, knowing that sharing our failures and recovery from failure improves science grades of high school students is something future social media projects should address.

Whether there are benefits that can be directly measured or not, there is a role that social media can play in promoting female geoscientists. Selfies and hashtags generate community, discussion, and even educational materials for formal and informal audiences. Nature News and Comment (2016) posted that the #ActualLivingScientist trend is a reminder of how important it is for scientists to engage with the public. It will be interesting to see how the use of social media by the general public coordinates with how scientists use these platforms to challenge preconceptions about what a female geoscientist and her life looks like.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Dr. Beth Johnson for her efforts to organize women in geoscience topical sessions for regional and national Geological Society of America meetings. The author would also like to extend her gratitude and appreciation to the women earth scientists on social media that offer their experiences, reflections, and selfies through public posts for others to learn and grow from their sharing of information.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Dr. Beth Johnson for her efforts to organize women in geoscience topical sessions for regional and national Geological Society of America meetings. The author would also like to extend her gratitude and appreciation to the women earth scientists on social media that offer their experiences, reflections, and selfies through public posts for others to learn and grow from their sharing of information.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Dr. Beth Johnson for her efforts to organize women in geoscience topical sessions for regional and national Geological Society of America meetings. The author would also like to extend her gratitude and appreciation to the women earth scientists on social media that offer their experiences, reflections, and selfies through public posts for others to learn and grow from their sharing of information.

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1
The Storify website will be shutting down in May 2018. The following Storifies are now available from another website.
1
The Storify website will be shutting down in May 2018. The following Storifies are now available from another website.
1
The Storify website will be shutting down in May 2018. The following Storifies are now available from another website.

Figures & Tables

Contents

References

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