Lots of people have been asking for my response to the recent Science magazine opinion piece “Why I don’t use Instagram for science outreach,” so here it is. This is why I use Instagram for Science Outreach.
I never felt like wildlife biology (my field of science) was for people like me. As a young girl, wildlife content was geared towards hunters or whimsical (e.g. unicorns, ponies). My first years in grad school, I came in as “me” with make-up on and business casual clothes – not even that fancy, but I increasingly felt like I didn’t belong. Almost no one wore make-up, and Chakos and field clothes (REI, Columbia) were worn even though people did not go to the field. It was implied that any moment I would spend on myself, doing things that were not related to science (e.g. putting on makeup, shopping) was a sign that I was not a serious scientist. It was made very clear to me that almost every waking moment should be spent on science.
So I conformed. I limited my makeup and wore yoga pants to show I was so busy doing my research that I couldn’t possibly have the time to put on pants with a zipper (even though it took me longer to pick out a yoga pants outfit). But I felt awful. I felt sad. I didn’t feel like me.
So then I rebelled (I honestly also had so much eyeshadow that I figured it would take me forever to get through it if I didn’t wear it every day). So I started wearing it again. And I felt better.
I felt like me and when I feel good, I am more productive. It’s kind of like when you dress up for a job interview in a suit, you start to feel more powerful. Clothes have meaning. I’ve been giving talks to classrooms for 8 years now. Every time I enter a classroom, including this last Friday, the students tell me they thought I was a student teacher or a mom. They are SHOCKED when I tell them I an the scientist.
I first changed my handle to @FancyScientist for Twitter because the teachers I worked with kept calling me fancy and I felt it reflected my personality. I started doing #FancyScientist #FancyFriday to show that I am not the only fancy scientist. That there are lots of us out there – to show young girls that they don’t have to choose between liking fancy, frivolous things and liking serious things like science (and to show those in academia too).
Because society often casts us into stereotypes, we feel like we have to choose one. It was never my intention to show one type of scientist, or to tell scientists that they have to be feminine or frilly. In fact I have gone out of my way to show diversity in people and diversity in fanciness. But I also get that Instagram can be TOXIC for women, scientists included. That we only post when we look and feel our best (myself included). Remember it’s a highlights real – and that we usually just show our best selves. In fact, for my body, I had to unfollow any account that made me feel like I needed to sculpt my abs and started following women who love their bodies. So today I’m showing my unfancy self. And a reminder that science is for everyone!
Stephanie Manka, Ph.D. is a wildlife biologist with 20 years of experience in mammal ecology and conservation, education, and outreach. Read her story to find out how she went from the daughter of a jeweler to a Ph.D. in wildlife biology.