Physiology News Magazine

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Editorial: Diversity Special Issue

News and Views

Editorial: Diversity Special Issue

News and Views

Julia Turan, Managing Editor

One of the most important lessons I learned during my undergraduate in neurobiology, was recognising just how little we know. I’ve carried this sentiment with me as I moved into a career in science communication, a profession similar to science in the importance it places on asking the right questions. And when I sat down to write for this issue, I had to ask myself, what does diversity mean to me?

Diversity can sometimes feel like it’s not for everyone: even when we may fit one or two “protected characteristics,” the feeling of privilege might stop us from feeling like we can be part of certain communities. It was hard not to feel an ironic sense of “imposter syndrome,” for lack of a better term, like all of a sudden it was a competition, and I wasn’t ticking the right boxes. It took me a while to realise my lived experience is unique to me: a busy intersection of traits that impact how the world treats me. I’m an American-born Hungarian-Jewish, bisexual, cis-woman who experiences mental health issues from time to time and I’m proud. And while recognising intersectionality is important, it’s not about arguing over who is more discriminated against.

Nowadays, I think many people would say that diversity is important. However, even with the best of intentions, it’s easy for this to be an empty statement, and we can easily forget the importance of knowing the specific struggles and needs of various communities different to our own: without concrete knowledge, we cannot take firm steps to help.

Given the overwhelming scope of diversity issues, we decided to focus on the immutable characteristics of sex/gender, ethnicity/race, age, disability and LGBTQI+ within the STEM community and scientific research. By commissioning articles on a broad mix of science, the experiences of scientists/educators/students, as well as covering issues and policy around diversity and inclusion in STEM, we hoped this issue would allow everyone to feel part of the conversation, by either relating to some of the experiences of the authors or by stepping outside of comfort zones to confront our own actions and those of our colleagues and institutes. And while the areas covered are by no means exhaustive, it is our hope that this Diversity Special Issue will be the start of a move to include more diversity content in the coming years.

Keith Siew, Scientific Editor

Who am I? I’m a physiologist who also happens to be a half-Irish, half-Chinese, gay, cis-male, dyslexic first-generaton PhD who’s had a sojourn or two with depression. While these traits don’t define who I am, they are undeniably important aspects of me which have shaped my experience of the world.
I recall the subtle feelings of otherness at a mostly white university, the constant struggle to pronounce my name and inevitable “but where are you really from?”, or awkward moments in the labs when it came time to tick the ethnicity box for spirometry results (when, like always, there was no box between Asian and Caucasian). As a dyslexic student, I’ve had to endlessly explain myself and fight for supports from those who simply didn’t “believe in it.” I’ve felt embarrassed about lulls in my career during periods of depression, unsure of how to ask for help from colleagues or friends who only saw my “happy side”. I’ve struggled to manage the stress of my studies with that of having to hide a part of myself from classmates for fear of rejection, when socialising is meant to help us unwind. To dealing with the daunting realisation that coming out doesn’t just happen once, but is a calculated decision with every new colleague and collaborator, whereby choosing to live openly may not be entirely without professional consequences.

Before starting this journey we thought we knew what diversity looks like. We thought it looked like the cover image of this magazine, a place where people felt represented and seen. We wanted to showcase the diversity of scientists, the research we do and the policies we write. We thought our own experiences gave us adequate insight to put this issue together.

Having read the contributions of our authors, we were instead left feeling a mix of shock, shame and anger for our ignorance of the sheer magnitude of the issues many underrepresented and discriminated communities face. Even those we identify with. It made us question what we had been doing to make a difference, and we came to feel that the answer was: not enough!

While it is not possible to cover every aspect of diversity, it is our hope that by the end of this issue, you too will have walked a few steps in someone else’s shoes and realised there is much left to do. We need to be more visible, we need to be more active, and we need to be better allies.

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