Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion by iGEM Teams
Several iGEM teams have focused their Education and Public Engagement efforts on enabling equal opportunity in scientific practice. Many of these efforts have inspired the mission and activities of the iGEM Diversity & Inclusion Committee. We have compiled some of them for you here, and hope that they will inspire you too!
Paris Bettencourt 2013
The Paris Bettencourt 2013 team conducted a large study investigating gender representation within synthetic biology research labs, conferences, publications, and iGEM. The team utilized available information reported on the iGEM website to create an extensive database, collecting gender ratios of students and advisors for 600+ iGEM teams over 5 years. They performed statistical analyses using this data and showed, among other results, that success in iGEM can be correlated with gender diversity. The results of their investigation led them to recommend that iGEM work to actively improve gender representation, which motivated the creation of the iGEM Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
The Marburg 2014 team pioneered work in addressing inclusivity by engaging with BLISTA, a local institute for students who are visually impaired. Their unique collaboration allowed them to recognize how much we fundamentally rely on sight to understand science and operate research, and to identify the many different ways in which visually impaired students are inherently excluded from these activities. The team’s quest to confront this social injustice led them to develop analysis techniques based on audio readouts versus visual readouts, which they in turn applied to their own project. Moreover, the team sought ways to make their laboratory environment more inclusive, for example, by eliminating physical tripping hazards and creating braille scripts. Their inspirational engagement efforts motivated the creation of the “Best Education & Public Engagement Prize”, and their most valuable lesson can be summed up by their quote: “We learned that it is possible to integrate visually impaired people into science if we try.”
Georgia State University 2017
The Georgia State University 2017 team engaged with hearing-impaired students and professionals, seeking a greater understanding of how such students experience the laboratory and communicate. The team worked on promoting the accessibility of scientific communication to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. As part of their public engagement and outreach efforts, they met with students through the Georgia Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (GCDHH) and asked interpreters to help sign their explanations about iGEM and basics of synthetic biology and undergraduate research. The team then worked to integrate relevant lessons into their lab practice, exploring and implementing protocols to improve accessibility. These included learning and trying to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL) themselves and developing new signs for the hearing impaired to discuss synthetic biology. Furthermore, the team developed a guide to help others create more accessible presentations.
The Marburg 2018 team built on the extensive work developed by their own team in previous years to tackle accessibility for visually impaired scientists. The team reached out to interview members of their university and collaborated with the Carl-Strehl-School for the visually impaired to learn about accommodations made for students with visual impairment studying biological sciences. Using what they learned from these interactions, the team developed a “barrier-free wiki” that would enable persons with visually impairment to easily view their wiki without adjustment. They additionally compiled a helpful guide for future teams to create visually accessible wikis, with specific information on best navigation and formatting practices.
OLS Canmore Canada 2018
The OLS Canmore Canada 2018 team worked on improving laboratory accessibility for persons with physical disabilities. One of their team members had cerebral palsy, a condition which affects motor coordination and makes working in the lab with small volumes and fragile equipment significantly more difficult. Nevertheless, the team helped this member to perform benchwork over the season and identified several technological areas in which accessibility could be improved. Utilizing her personal experiences and feedback, they developed designs for a more accessible pipette that could theoretically provide the extra stability required for precise and coordinated movement.