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Capturing the Many Options of Paths into Science Through Personal Stories
Stories in Science is an online platform where people can share stories about their relationship with science and read stories that have been shared by others. As noted on the website, “We are surrounded by so many stories in science. Stories of success, failure, fear, discovery, serendipity, collaboration, separation, inspiration, mentorship, and so much more.” One of the aims of the site is to inspire and to connect with those involved in science as well as those interested in science. Reading through the stories, there seem to be some common themes around challenges, determination, support, and surprising turns.
Stories in Science is led by the STEM Education Advocacy Group which is based in Boston. The group is driven by the idea that equitable access to quality science education is achievable around the world. Their work is currently focused on analyzing, advising, and advocating for science education initiatives and organizations around the world. I reached out to two of the co-directors, Fanuel Muindi, PhD and Jessica Tsai, MD-PhD, with some questions. Below is a transcript of our Q&A.
Mary Preap: Why do you think it’s important to share these kinds of stories?
Jessica Tsai: We rarely hear these stories, but everyone has them. I think it’s important to share these stories because they bring people together. We’ve all had frustrations, mistakes, and failures, but it’s easy to think you are alone in your struggles. These kinds of stories are especially important for young people. Getting involved in science or engineering can seem daunting to someone who has never done it before. I also think these stories have value for more seasoned scientists. Fanuel and I like to call these our “origin stories.” They remind us of that initial spark that attracted us to science. It’s so important to ground yourself and remember those moments on your journey where you thought, “Wow. Science is just so cool.”
Fanuel Muindi: Jessica really stated it nicely that, at the core, these stories bring people together. I think there is a fabric, if you will, that we are slowly unraveling as we continue to collect more and more stories. It’s important to reveal the temporal and spatial structure of this beautiful fabric and show the many connections that exist between stories. Both Jessica and I truly believe that one story has the power to make a difference. All it takes is one story to inspire the next generation!
Mary Preap: There are a number of great stories that people shared. What is one of your favorites so far?
Jessica Tsai: They are all so great – it’s so tough to pick just one! But, if I had to choose I would say Robert Sapolsky’s story has been my favorite so far. I’m a bit partial because I took his course Human Behavioral Biology as an undergraduate at Stanford University. I just love the juxtaposition of the lab coat and hiking shoes. His story is easily accessible and beautifully reconciles his love of these two wonderful things as he describes his incredible path of pursuing both field work and traditional lab work. My favorite line in the story is at the end where he writes, “This is a wonderful way to spend your life.” Reading that story just makes me smile.
Fanuel Muindi: It has been an honor to read these stories. As you can imagine, some of these stories are rather personal as authors attempt to put us in their shoes. Each one is great in its own way. If I had to pick one so far, I would select Dr. Steve Ramirez’s story titled “From engrams to psychiatric disorder and back.” Steve is a neuroscientist and he does a nice job taking us through the moments and conversations when things began to fall into place in his thinking. I particularly like then he wrote the following: “I was never a 4.0 GPA person and according to my GRE scores, I can barely speak English or do long division. But that’s why research made sense to me: these numbers don’t matter in a world of asking questions, testing hypotheses, and observing brains in action.” This is a powerful statement coming from a rising superstar in neuroscience research. I highly recommend people read his story.
Mary Preap: Is there anything in regards to people’s reactions or submissions that has surprised you?
Jessica Tsai: I’m still surprised at how much these stories really resonate with people. Everyone has vastly different experiences and backgrounds, yet there are critical elements of every story that seem to be universal. These elements – wonder, excitement, curiosity, struggle, perseverance – are not unique to science. Science just happens to bring them out. I’m not a meteorologist nor have I ever had a moving office on a research vessel traveling across the Atlantic Ocean! Yet, somehow, I feel a sense of camaraderie reading Stephanie Fiedler’s story. I understand what she means when she says, “The wobbly journey is a good reminder to maintain a flexible mind.” So, what I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is that I’m really surprised by the meaningful connections these stories bring to people who have never met each other. That is truly amazing to me.
Fanuel Muindi: I have been so moved by how supportive people have been towards this project. I think it is amazing that many people see the potential of this project and most are willing to write a story. It is wonderful to work with authors as they write their stories. I am very excited about the future!
If you are interested in reading the stories or sharing your own story, you can check it out by visiting www.storiesinscience.org.
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