Historically, people around the world have been excluded from the scientific community based on gender, ethnicity, and/or socioeconomic status . At present, women are still a minority in academia. For example, in Western Europe, 21.7% of heads of higher education institutions were female in 2017 . Women of color in the United States are especially underrepresented in academia, and are more likely to hold lower-ranking positions .This eminent exclusivity limits the number of people working on the advancement of knowledge, thereby missing out on a wide range of perspectives, experiences and backgrounds, resulting in lags in the advancements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) . Furthermore, diversity and inclusivity in science leads to a more thorough representation of people’s needs and views, rather than only those of a select few . Inclusivity means that everyone should have the opportunity to take part in scientific and technological advancements and in discussions on their implications regardless of their gender, ethnicity, and/or socioeconomic status.
Inclusion within iGEM
The iGEM foundation acknowledges the values of equity, equality, diversity and inclusivity within the scientific community, and has therefore developed an open community in which they encourage collaboration. Since 2013, iGEM has formed a committee focusing on diversity and inclusivity. It helps teams with these matters and ensures that the competition itself is inclusive by, for example, promoting equal representation of genders in the judging panels . While inclusion is being considered more and more in the iGEM community and the broader STEM community, more work needs to be done to ensure an inclusive and welcoming community . This is why iGEM encourages all its members to reflect critically on their own actions and inspire others to make the STEM community a welcoming one.
Inclusion within PHOCUS
First and foremost, we, team PHOCUS, share these values and have been critical about the inclusivity of our project throughout the competition. We acknowledge that inclusiveness is key to an equitable scientific community. Reflecting on a wide range of different views and opinions increases our chance of identifying problems within the design and further potential implementation of our project. In the long term this would increase our chance of contributing to creating a better and equal world to all.
We are a team of people with individual values, priorities and ways of working, and we quickly realised that this could be one of our strengths. Throughout the project we have endeavored to create an inclusive environment where all team members have a feeling of belonging, and our values are accommodated to the best of our abilities. We do this to ensure that everyone can learn as much as they can from the iGEM experience and get the most out of our project. Starting off by actively seeking out coaching to better understand each other and learn to effectively communicate to ensure everyone can thrive in their own way. Everyone has different workflows and therefore we have tried to be as flexible as possible to accommodate everyone's preferences to create a welcoming environment. We all value a healthy work-home balance, and agreed to work 40 hours in the week to prevent overworking and anxiety. This agreement was important to the team especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic where working from home was the norm initially. Yet, despite the pandemic, we managed to organise a wide variety of (socially distant) activities to get to know each other better and gain more understanding for each other. Additionally, every day, we would start off with a “Personal Round” to check in with each other. It was an open space where any concerns, hurdles or questions would be shared. These moments have allowed us to understand each other's situation to a greater depth, and adjust to them if necessary.
Values associated with inclusiveness are prominent in the vision of our project: to achieve food security and economic stability across the globe. We intend to do this by tackling the locust crisis with the development of a safe and fast bio-pesticide through responsible innovation and collaboration. As this can only be achieved by taking into account the socio-economic, environmental and political factors in the affected areas , we acknowledge cultural differences and what these would mean for the implementation and acceptance of our project. Ignoring this could lead to a failed implementation or negative outcomes for a specific group of people. To prevent this, we have had extensive contact with stakeholders including local farmers and experts on locusts, agricultural development, and international organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to help shape PHOCUS. By including their input and feedback , we believe we have built a base for a realistic project that takes into account what is necessary to tackle the locust crisis. From a more societal perspective, we have sent a questionnaire to Kenyan farmers through Susan Nguku, Agriculture Extension Officer of the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. This questionnaire was approved by the ethical committee of the TU Delft. Its purpose was to see whether the values of the farmers are represented in a sophisticated way in our project.
SYNBIO FOR EVERYONE
We believe the best way to overcome societal barriers within SynBio is to understand different perspectives and concerns from a broad audience. We strive to give people the tools to join the discussion on SynBio, so that everyone can be involved. For this, we find it important to include both the young and old, as we feel these are the groups that are furthest away from the discussion. For children, we have written a book and shared it at schools, and hosted interactive quizzes for children in India together with Cambrionics. For the elderly, we have given lectures on SynBio and held discussions on the topic. We also focussed on a portion of the broader public in between these age groups; students, by having discussions and talks with them.
As an iGEM team based in the Netherlands, most of our outreach activities were prepared in Dutch. This includes lectures for the elderly on SynBio and our project, as well as a children’s book written in English and translated to Dutch. Furthermore, we have translated our promotional video and added subtitles to it in both Dutch and Spanish to the public closest to our team, and plan to do the same for the presentation video. To this end, we are raising awareness on the locust crisis in areas where no direct effect is felt.
Phage Fred in search of his friend
One can not start too early with teaching children about the wondrous world of microbiology! There is a growing understanding of the power of children’s early thinking, curiosity and need to make sense of the world. This, together with appropriate guidance, makes up the foundation for their inquiry skills . Children are the world’s future and we want to give them a foundation to later contribute to this discussion. That's why we have written a children's book for children of 4-6 years old. To make sure it is appropriate and engaging, it has been checked by Franneke Forkink, a support staff member in kindergarten schools. The children's book is about a bacteriophage looking for his friend the bacterium. It teaches children about the existence of bacteria and bacteriophages, that they are everywhere and the fact that they interact together. In turn, the children have taught us that their imagination and creativity is limitless, and welcomed in the world of science. The book, called 'Phage Fred in search of his friend', has been written in Dutch and English to reach as many children as possible. It has been distributed amongst various (inter)national schools in The Netherlands and by our friends at Cambrionics in India. Furthermore, an online version is shared with other iGEM teams in Vienna, Austin and Montpellier as they are also working with phages. They translated the book to German and French to share it locally. Our book remains on our Wiki to be downloaded and translated by anyone!
Cambrionics Life Science
We wanted to include children that are closer to the affected area we base our project on. That is why we paired up with Cambrionics Life Science, a start-up located in Chennai, India. Their vision is to “make learning biology enriching and an unforgettable experience”. Cambrionics designs "learning modules for kids, teens and adults engaging their keen, inquisitive and imaginative minds via research oriented experiential learning modules”. We shared our book with them to pique children’s interest in bacteriophages. We also hosted and attended several quizzes organised by them. These quizzes had SynBio as their main topic. Weekly, over 50 children aged 4 to 11 attended these quizzes and actively participated in discussions on synthetic biology at the end of each quiz. We had the chance to explain what our project entails to these curious children. Various questions followed on how we are ensuring our bacteriophage does not harm people, whether our bacteriophage could also tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, and broader questions about SynBio. Our favorite question was whether we could bring dinosaurs back to life through SynBio!
We have had the opportunity to discuss our project and its implications on several occasions with students that follow similar studies through lunch lectures or presentations. These were hosted by S.V. LIFE and S.V.N.B. Hooke, the study associations of Life Science & Technology and Nanobiology from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). The students shared their inquiries and concerns with us regarding the engineering of phages, the safety of our project as a whole, and ethical questions on SynBio in general. Thus, including people with a similar background has helped us look critically at how we have built our project. We also gained new insights from holding a discussion with students from other faculties, via Salon, a discussion platform from the TU Delft that invites people to join discussions on current topics, to respectfully share their views and experiences.
Lectures for the elderly: “Oud Geleerd, Jong Gedaan”
We were keen to include the wisest people in society: the elderly. Having lived through multiple experiences, they may have grounds to have diverging opinions regarding our project or synthetic biology in general. Including them in conversations on STEM related topics may lead to novel output with regard to well-grounded concerns or any unanswered questions they have on their minds. Our aim is to entertain these questions and possible concerns to reach a consensus on the impact of synthetic biology and our project. We have done so by giving a series of progressive lectures, made possible by the Dutch foundation “Oud Geleerd, Jong Gedaan '' (Learnt by old, done by young), that promotes students to give multiple lectures to the elderly. The lectures were given in a library in Rotterdam. We worked hard to make sure that the material presented was both engaging and informative, taking into account and respecting their differences in knowledge concerning the topic.
These lectures took the participants on a journey, from learning what microbes are, to what is being done with microbes in biotechnology to better the world, to what we are doing with bacteriophages to fight against the locust crisis. These interactive lectures gave us insights on their opinions on genetically modified organisms, expressing whether they agreed on genetic manipulation or not.
We were asked to continue with this project in Westland, a municipality in the Netherlands, after our iGEM project has finished.
THE LANGUAGE OF SYNBIO
We want to overcome a barrier people face everyday: language. Although English is an internationally spoken language across the world, it is estimated that 80% of the world does not master it . Furthermore, studies show that learning English as a second language is impaired by socioeconomically disadvantaged status . However, we wanted to welcome all people to be part of the discussion, regardless of their status and thus also language. This is why we have invested in translating our outreach activities to different languages to the best of our possibilities. From our in-house skills, we have translated material to Dutch and Spanish, and have asked iGEM teams across the globe to help us translate videos and our children’s book into multiple languages.
The world of SynBio
As one of our goals this year was to make synthetic biology more accessible, we created a video initiative with the goal to show the broader audience what possibilities SynBio has to offer. Together with 49 teams, from around the world, we produced an informative video to show people what can be achieved with SynBio. Each team explained the problem they are trying to solve and the way they are trying to solve this. This was done in English. Yet, to reach as many people as possible in local areas, we asked iGEM teams to add subtitles in different languages. Our video can be watched with Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, Greek, Swedish and Spanish subtitles and has reached over 1500 views.
Inclusiveness can be approached in different ways. We have tried to include all age groups in the conversation of synthetic biology, its usages and implications, and tried to reach them regardless of their language. We realise that our impact will be limited over the course of only a few months, but we hope our efforts have reached plenty of creative children, ingenious students and wise and critical elderly. For us, our experiences have reinforced the importance of remaining open minded and inclusive within the world of science and beyond.
- Luykx, A., & Lee, O. (2014). Handbook of research on science education (pp. 171-174) (986021115 762971704 S. K. Abell & 986021116 762971704 N. G. Lederman, Authors).
- Pattono, R. (2019). European Commission. Manuscript, She Figures 2018, European Commission, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
- US Department of Education. (n.d.). Use the Data. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/use-the-data
- Majevadia, J. (n.d.). Diversity in science: Royal Society. Retrieved October 3, 2020, from https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/diversity-in-science/topic/
- Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://2020.igem.org/Diversity/Introduction
- Committee. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://2020.igem.org/Diversity/Committee
- Johnson, D., & Acri née Lybecker, K. (2009, August 17). Challenges to Technology Transfer: A Literature Review of the Constraints on Environmental Technology Dissemination. Retrieved October 7, 2020, from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1456222
- Worth, K. (2010). Science in Early Childhood Classrooms: Content and Process. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://ecrp.illinois.edu/beyond/seed/worth.html
- Cambrionics Life science. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.cambrionics.com/
- Lyons, D. (2017, July 26). How Many People Speak English, And Where Is It Spoken? Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-english-and-where-is-it-spoken
- Pinilla-Portiño, N. (2018). The Influence of Learners’ Socioeconomic Status on Learning English as a Foreign Language. Journal of Asia TEFL, 15.doi:10.18823/asiatefl.2018.15.2.1.550