The STEMM Role Models app helps you find diverse speakers for your event | #mozsprint 2016

Kirstie Whitaker is postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge. Kirstie has been a huge advocate for open science, particularly around reproducible research. At our first Working Open Workshop, she introduced us to STEMM Role Models, a project she’s working on along with a group of researchers at UC Berkeley. I was won over with her plan to inspire future generations in STEMM fields!

Since then, Kirstie and the team have begun implementation on the STEMM Role Models app. I interviewed Kirstie to learn more about the STEMM Role Models app and find out how you can help during our Global Sprint 2016, June 2-3.


What is the STEMM Role Models app?

The STEMM Role Models app allows you to access and add to a database of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical professionals who can speak about their work at your event. You can search by keywords and find contact information, links to publications, blogs, social media profiles, youtube clips of previous presentations, and testimonials. Importantly, everyone in the database can identify as one or more of a selection of different underrepresented groups in STEMM. At the moment these include women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, people with a disability, those with caring responsibilities and those who have taken a non-traditional career path.

The goal is to ensure that conference organisers are able to access a diverse and representative group of the most exciting experts in their field around the world.

Why did you decide to work on this project?

It started when I posted a question on Facebook after hearing about the Rosalind Franklin App Competition

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“Happy 2016 Facebook friends. I’ve been puzzling about this competition today. What would be a good app to empower and/or support women in STEMM. What’s missing that we could create??”  This post sparked a discussion among a group of researchers I knew from my time at UC Davis: Amy Orsborn, Erin Rich and Elizabeth Minor. The ideas we discussed led to the STEMM Role Models app.

We were motivated by Erin’s personal experience of organising a gender balanced symposium. When she set out, she did not imagine how hard finding appropriate female speakers would be. Looking back over the years of conference presentations that she had attended only served up more examples of male researchers in her field. Ultimately, Erin spent many hours emailing these men asking them to recommend female colleagues. Her hard work paid off, but the other team members agreed: they had to be an easier way!

We have all personally noted the secondary role women often play as invited speakers at professional conferences. We wanted to ensure that anyone who wants to do the right thing has the tools that allow them to do so freely available when they need them. We ended up winning the runners up prize in the Rosalind Franklin appathon in February 2016.

How has the lack of diversity in STEMM fields affected you?

It can be very demoralising working as a female early career researcher in STEMM fields. It’s difficult to see your own career path when surrounded by the status quo of white, male academics. In many cases the inertia of the academic system is particularly damaging: it is not enough to simply see that there is a problem, someone must act to change it.

Each member of the development team has experienced the power that a positive role model can play in combating imposter syndrome and stereotype threat, and have been that role model for junior colleagues. We have witnessed the inequalities in the current system and are dedicated to changing the entrenched biases within it.

How will the STEMM Role Models App help promote diversity?

We don’t think that conference organisers set out to present ideas only from cis-gendered straight white men! They want to get the best speakers and don’t really care about demographics. When conference organisers use the STEMM Role Models app to ensure the invited speakers are representative of their field’s gender balance, they are increasing the visibility of women experts to their peers and to the public. (The same is true for members of any traditionally underrepresented group.)

On the surface, the STEMM Role Models app will provide a resource for conference organisers who are committed to overcoming their implicit biases and promoting a diverse representation at their event. But more profoundly, by encouraging the community to support its members through positive testimonials, it will empower members of underrepresented groups to overcome the effects of imposter syndrome and thrive in their careers. By working together to promote excellent work done by people from a diverse range of backgrounds we will empower the next generation who may be looking for examples of people “just like themselves” to excel as leaders in STEMM fields.

When will I be able to use the STEMM Role Models app?

We have a website and some wireframe schematics of what we want, but we haven’t had the time to implement our ideas. We hope to build a first prototype for use soon!

What problems have you run into while working on the STEMM Role Models App?

It’s tough sometimes balancing an exciting side project and our day jobs! We’re expanding into development outside the four founders’ expertise. We don’t have any funding so we’re reliant on the goodwill of the open source community which has been outstanding so far, and we don’t want to take any of the help we’re offered for granted. It has meant some pretty steep learning curves though: I started 2016 not knowing what CSS stood for and now I’m reviewing pull requests about testing frameworks and responsive web design!

What kind of skills do I need to help you build the STEMM Role Models App?

Ooooh – there are so many ways you can help! A really easy way would be to critique what we’ve written and offer suggestions on how we can communicate.

Aside from feedback, we would love for experts with the following skills to donate even just a couple of hours of their time to jump us forwards:

  • front end development (get our wireframes represented as HTML and CSS),
  • back end development (create a database and implement a way to interact with it!),
    • In particular we are looking for help implementing our database to store speaker info, either using a dbms or something lighter weight like using google sheets
  • proofreading (find all our broken links and typos),
  • user interface feedback (do our instructions make sense?),
  • writing funding applications (reaching out to get some money to PAY for people’s time and effort),
  • marketing (share the idea with your social and professional networks) and
  • general guidance from people in a variety of under-represented groups across all STEMM fields! Are you a conference organiser? What information would you want to search for? Are you a member of a traditionally under-represented group? Do you know others working on the same sorts of projects? Can you put us in touch?

How can others help you during the Mozilla Science Global Sprint, June 2-3?

We all have full time jobs, but for those two days the STEMM Role Models development team will be concentrating 100% on developing the app. We’re hosting a site at UC Berkeley and will be live streaming the discussions so you can join us in person or from wherever you are. We’re so looking forward to hearing your ideas, getting some feedback on what we’ve done so far and implementing some of the great suggestions from our community.

Bonus question: Where is your Research Fox sticker?

We have the research fox in our GitHub project README file! He’s so cuuuute!

I need a sticker on my travel coffee cup! It’s from a famous Seattle based chain and I get some terribly unhappy looks when I try to use it in independent coffee shops. Hopefully the Research Fox will make those baristas smile :)

Come join us wherever you are June 2-3 at the Mozilla Science Global Sprint to work on STEMM Role Models and pick up your own Research Fox! Have your own project or want to host a site? Submissions are open for projects and site hosts.