We took extra steps to ensure our project was as inclusive as possible.
At iGEM Concordia, we recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion within the science community. We are committed to making the synthetic biology community more open to minorities and creating a learning environment where everyone feels welcome. Throughout the year, we have launched multiple initiatives aimed at fostering diversity and inclusion not only within our own team and university but also within other iGEM teams and among colombian school children and high school teachers.
1. Insight Interviews
We interviewed inclusion specialists and academic researchers regarding barriers to diversity & inclusion in STEM
2. Code of Conduct
We developed our team's Code of Conduct with the mentorship of iGEM's diversity & Inclusion Committee members
3. Inclusion Workshop
We offered other iGEM teams a workshop, presented by Asal Golshaie, on how to build an inclusive iGEM project
We started a pen pal program aimed at improving access to STEM for children and high school students in Colombia
5. Inclusion Posts
We launched a "Wednesday Inclusion Post" campaign aimed at raising awareness about inclusion in space-related & synbio research
6. Women in STEM
We launched a "Hashtagging for Social Action" campaign which focuses on representing women in STEM
Our inclusion efforts in numbers
1. Inclusion and Diversity Consultation
To understand existing challenges to diversity and inclusion in STEM, we consulted with Anne S. Meyer, iGEM's Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair and Anjali Agarwal, Associate Dean of Student Services and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Concordia University.
Diversity & Inclusion
Dr. Anne S. Meyer
Affiliation: University of Rochester, iGEM Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair
Anne is a synthetic biologist who uses bacteria to create advanced materials, sometimes with her lab's home-built 3D bacteria printer. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester and has been an iGEM advisor and judge since 2011. Anne and the iGEM Diversity Committee advised us on our inclusivity initiatives, including formulating a team Code of Conduct.Interview with Dr. Meyer
Inclusion & Diversity
Dr. Anjali Agarwal
Affiliation: Concordia University
Anjali Agarwal is the Associate Dean of Student Academic Services and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Concordia Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. Professor Anjali Agarwal supports iGEM Concordia on their inclusion initiatives, including their Code of Conduct, recruitment, team voting strategies and STEMpal project.
We gathered further insight from industry experts and academic researchers that we interviewed for our human practices, by asking them questions aimed at understanding how diversity and inclusion are incorporated in their work field.Human Practices Interviews
2. Code of Conduct
“I'm excited that you are doing this Code of Conduct, it's a document that will be a living document for the future years and to help with recruitment.”
Anne S. Meyer- iGEM Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair
Our Code of Conduct is an archive of wisdom, based on experience, with the goal of providing a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment. iGEM, and science in general, involves a great deal of interaction with others whether through weekly meetings, meetings with professors and mentors, or with the public. We have committed ourselves to bolstering our Code of Conduct as a collaborative and ever-evolving document, so as to maintain dialogue about equity, diversity and inclusion within the team.
We chose to consult equity, diversity and inclusion specialists in the development of this document as we recognize their experience is an invaluable resource. We have also shared a template on our Contribution page, which is available to other iGEM teams as a strong foundation if they wish to develop their own team's Code of Conduct.
We developed and followed the iGEM Concordia Code of Conduct to foster equity and inclusion within our team.
3. Inclusion Workshop
During our Canadian Mini Jamboree, we offered other iGEM members an online workshop, presented by our collaborator Asal Golshaie, a member of the iGEM Diversity and Inclusion Committee, on how to build an iGEM project with inclusive team culture and an inclusive project design.
Tips learned on how to develop an inclusive team culture
1. Create a welcoming and supportive environment for people of all backgrounds and identities:
We contributed a starter template of our Code of Conduct to future iGEM teams. We also promoted continuous dialogue within our own team as to collaboratively creating our own Code of Conduct and adapting it as we grow as a team. All respectful dialogue was welcome and we encouraged conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion such as questions as to what microagressions are or why pronouns are necessary.
2. Ensure that everyone on the team has a chance to try different aspects of the project that interest them:
At iGEM Concordia, we accomplished this by allowing our team members to be in more than one subteam and to assume more than one role. No member was type-cast according to their skills, all members were allowed a chance to learn new skills with the support of other team members and mentors. For example, some of our members who expressed a desire to learn coding and bioinformatics were encouraged to take short, free online introductory courses, they were, then, mentored by other software team members, and provided with the opportunity to contribute to software development.
3. Accomodate and adjust:
We held weekly subteam and full team meetings to regularly check in with all of our members. We were also very flexible in our scheduling of meetings, especially in light of personal circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Whenever needed our meeting times were changed, taking in consideration everyone's availabilities and time zones. Using an online scheduling platform, such as when2meet.com, made our scheduling much easier to coordinate. All of our team members appreciated having meeting minutes whenever they missed a meeting as it allowed them to quickly catch up on the team's progress and decisions. Whenever needed, team members had the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with their subteam leader to discuss their needs and concerns.
Tips learned on how to develop an inclusive iGEM project design
1. Diverse Representation in Methodology:
When identifying key stakeholders for potential human practices interviews, we implemented inclusion and diversity in our selection process. We were mindful of avoiding gender-bias, contacting an equal amount of women and men. We also contacted and interviewed researchers with different educational backgrounds and research experience levels. For example, we not only interviewed principal investigators who have been researching microgravity for years, such as Dr. Corey Nislow, but we also interviewed PhD candidates who are starting in this field of research such as McCauley Green and Morgan Irons. Their insight was instrumental in adapting our AstroBio database to researchers with various levels of research experience. For example, in our database, we included resources for researchers that are new to microgravity research: (1) we provided literature resources such as microgravity journals and genome-wide analysis papers and (2) we discussed current practices in microgravity research which include considerations and standardization in simulating microgravity and information on different types of microgravity simulators.
2. Will anyone be disadvantaged?
In our consultation with Dr. Edval Rodrigues de Viveiros , we learned about the challenges that are faced by researchers in Brazil who are interested in building microgravity simulators, which include high costs, difficulty to procure some materials, and lack of open source engineering protocols and designs. Consequently, we have started a comprehensive documentation of our engineering process to be able to share our protocols and designs on our wiki next year. We also decided to reduce costs and to use easily accessible materials as much as possible for other researchers around the world to be able to replicate our microgravity simulator.
3. Sharing Your Work Accessibly:
In partnership with the iGEM UToulouse 2020 team, we contributed a user-friendly, bilingual (translated into French language), and comprehensive information package on lessons that we have learned about starting a space research project that future iGEM teams and student teams, in general, can greatly benefit from.
4. Inclusive Language and Communication:
During our online zoom meetings with other team members and during our online panel discussions and Canadian Mini Jamboree, we encouraged participants to add their preferred gender pronouns to their zoom name. We do this to create a welcoming space and convey that the space we hold at our events is inclusive.
Latin America gathers only 0.53% of the most influential scientists worldwide(1). Access to STEM-related fields is restricted by socioeconomic status and accessibility to education. For example, growing up in South America as a woman, one of our team members was not aware of the field of synthetic biology and she did not have the opportunity to see women represented as scientists. This limited her imagination as to the possibilities that were available to her.
"Representation, exposure, those are so important. You don't know until you've been exposed to something and then seeing somebody who looks like you in that environment gives you that hope that if they can do it, I can do it."
Morgan Irons- Excerpt from our human practices interview
Interview with Morgan
To remedy this gap, iGEM Concordia launched STEMpal, a pen pal program to facilitate accessibility to STEM for youth in Colombia. First, we connected with ACTUANDO, a community center that advocates for social equality and education in Colombia. Through ACTUANDO, we were able to connect with secondary school teachers in Villavicencio. Our discussions with these teachers focused on understanding the gap between available students' opportunities, or accessibility to STEM, and students' motivation and excitement about science. After multiple discussions, a recurring conclusion became apparent: students experienced an important lack of exposure to STEM and more specifically to STEM-related information that was representative of their community.
"I don't think there's going to be a magic solution to increasing diversity. I think the best way to address it is by outreach to the younger you can. How young can you reach out? The younger, the better, because that's going to then propagate."
Dr. Corey Nislow- Excerpt from our human practices interview
Interview with Dr. Nislow
Upon consideration of our exchange with secondary school teachers, we offered ACTUANDO a penpal startup proposal with two key phases. The first phase consists of exposing students to STEM in an inclusive and diverse manner. To do so, we have created a magazine that ACTUANDO will be sharing with students on a monthly basis. Some of the questions that the magazine addresses are the following:
Why is STEM important? Why should I be interested in STEM?
What have people, who are like me, done in the field? Can I actually enter this field?
What can I do with STEM knowledge that could help my community?
The second phase, which will start next year (due to the COVID-19 situation), consists of communicating directly with each student through email communication and by hosting workshops online. As we learned from our inclusion consultations, accurately representing a pen pal means listening first. Who are they? Who do they align themselves with? We intend to achieve this by engaging in active listening to the students throughout our direct communications.
5. Social Media Campaigns
We have also initiated two social media campaigns. The first campaign, Wednesday Inclusion Posts, was aimed at raising awareness about inclusion in STEM, specifically for space-related and synthetic biology research fields. The second campaign, #Hashtagging for Social Action, focused on representing women in STEM.
Wednesday Inclusion Posts
We recognize our reach and our ability to impact our community through sharing our values on our social media accounts. Every Wednesday, we celebrated and promoted equity, diversity and inclusivity, especially in the fields of STEM and space research. These posts celebrate groups who promote STEM, such as InSTEM for Indigenous Youth across Canada, or groups who promote inclusion and education for equality, such as WoAA (Women of Aerospace and Aeronautics) who host free workshops such as “Allyship in Aerospace”.
Hashtag Social Media Campaign: Women in STEM
The STEM field is highly known to be male dominated, in fact only 30% of the world researchers are women (2), less than a third of females chose to take higher education courses in the subject of mathematics. Long standing bias and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science-related fields.
At iGEM Concordia, we want to create a community that acknowledges the opportunities a person can have in the field. We want to showcase the opportunities scientists have in the industry and showcase that women can also thrive in this field. To do so, iGEM Concordia partnered with Women in STEM, a student group at Concordia University that advocates to bridge the gap of women in STEM. We created a social media campaign #Hashtagging for Social Action which focuses on the representation of women in these fields. The goal was to bring awareness to multiple diversity and inclusion issues that affect us all. The idea was to share posts that encourage reflection and engage social media users in conversation. The campaign featured female-identifying students belonging to underrepresented groups within the STEM community.
We will further these initiatives for equity, diversity and inclusion within iGEM Concordia and in all endeavours we undertake as we continue to promote a safe space for our team, with constant collaborative renewal of our living Code of Conduct. We are excited to connect with more student groups, like Women in STEM Concordia, who support the values of representation in STEM and exposure of minorities in STEM, and to welcome all ideas which could make our team and project a place which everyone can envision themselves being part of.
Moutinho, S. (20, December 18). Latinoamérica reúne solo 0,53% de los científicos más influyentes del mundo. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.scidev.net/america-latina/comunicacion/noticias/latinoamerica-cientificos-mas-influyentes-del-mundo.html
WoAA Official. (2020, July 11). ,WoAA Panel- Microaggressions and Anti-Racism in Aerospace and Aeronautics . Retrieved July 11, 2020
Women in Science. (2020, February 18). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from Unesco