Pinoy Scientists page harnesses social media to break stereotypes

Stereotypes water down the complex narratives hidden in every person in favor of prevailing societal perceptions, and scientists are no exception.

In media, experts in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are usually portrayed as glorious inventors and spotless, laboratory coat-wearing white men. This gives an impression that, despite their presence in such fields being normal, women and people of color in STEM disciplines seem dissonant—painting a picture that depicts the scientific community as exclusive and that there are expected traits or standards one should possess to become a scientist.

To inspire the youth and break unrealistic stereotypes of scientists, astrophysicist and data analyst Dr. Reinabelle Reyes created Pinoy Scientists, a blog to feature outstanding Filipino scientists weekly, detailing what they do every day “at work and at play”, their academic journey, and interesting stories they might have.

‘Yes, we exist!’

Reyes started her initiative in 2012, inspired by a Tumblr blog called Looks Like Science, which depicts the lives of various scientists without their usual lab coats. Realizing that there was nothing similar for a Filipino audience, she began publishing “short features on Filipino scientists” on the same platform to recognize them and hopefully inspire other Filipinos.

“We started by reaching out to the scientists we knew, who in turn, started encouraging their own contacts from all over the world to sign up,” Reyes explains, narrating that since the people she featured also had their own networks of fellow Filipino scientists, establishing contact and expanding the project’s scope became much easier.

The Pinoy Scientists Facebook page was later created in 2017 in hopes of reaching a wider audience. Two years later, Asian Scientist Magazine Community and Editorial Executive Kamila Navarro joined as the page’s moderator, proposing the creation of an Instagram account to further address the “lack of representation of Filipino scientists” online. 

Besides sharing a bit of personal information like what they do inside and outside work, featured scientists “take over” handling of the Facebook and Instagram accounts for a week, hosting question-and-answer sessions with the page’s followers. They also reveal a myriad of experiences—from how they started in their STEM careers and their published research, to interesting trivia, tips, and hobbies. The blog, meanwhile, also dedicates a post to each featured scientist to tell their stories, helping to deconstruct stereotypes by humanizing their interests in addition to their pursuits in the field or lab.

During his takeover last July, Miguel Feria, head of an artificial intelligence startup named Indigo Research, shared how he utilizes the Python programming language to generate networks—an algorithmic way of looking at the connections between objects or nodes, such as interrelated words. He also has a passion for getting tattoos, with one featuring balangays—large boats that serve as the main modes of transportation across the islands in the Philippines. These boats also symbolized his fascination with networks, as he elaborated in his Instagram post, “[Balangays] represented how the different islands in the Philippines were all connected by the sea.”

More recently, scientist and law student Dr. Armbien Sabillo. After earning a BS in Vertebrate Physiology and a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology abroad, he took the path less traveled by pursuing a JD in Intellectual Property Law at the University of California, Berkely. Bridging science and law, Sabillo aspires to advance innovations as a patent attorney and to eventually “become a policymaker to ensure equitable access to research funding and science education,” according to one of his takeover posts.

The page’s takeover format and guidelines provide “daily hashtag themes” and “example posts”, which are “extremely helpful in steering content”, describes forensic anthropologist Dr. Matthew Go in an interview with The LaSallian.

Offering a sense of structure and consistency to the weekly posts, as well as ensuring that the contents are not all about work and technicalities, one theme is #MotivationMonday for scientists to reflect on their motivations for pursuing their current field. #WisdomWednesday is another example, prompting scientists to share interesting facts about their field of study or relevant career advice.

Go, whose field of study involves examining skeletal remains to assist in legal cases, relishes the experience as an “opportunity to introduce folks to the amazing—often unrecognized—contributions that Forensic Anthropology provides [to] society.”

A well-oiled machine

In choosing who to feature, Reyes says that there is only one criterion: “They need to be currently active in STEM or adjacent fields.” Testament to that is the evident diversity of disciplines and individuals who have graced the page, including some very specific specializations like Nanotechnology, Nuclear Physics, and Public Health Statistics.

Though most featured scientists tend to be at the postgraduate level, Reyes guarantees that age does not matter as long as they can be “role models and inspirations” like Audrey Pe, the 18-year old founder of Women in Tech who had been “taking a gap year before starting university” when she was featured last August 2019.

Not only is the page a way for scientists to connect with the non-scientific community, but also to explore the wide scope of STEM disciplines. Because scientists are often misrepresented or underrepresented, Pinoy Scientists provides a platform with scientists from different fields to interact with each other and introduce their fields. 

“[Filipinos] all over the world are doing and have done incredible and unique work, and I am happy there is a [platform] where they can be [recognized and] appreciated,” Go praises.

To further promote Filipino scientists, Go recognizes that “more work by the great team behind Pinoy Scientists is ahead of them” to reach out to a larger percentage of the population, including the youth and especially those with little exposure to STEM. Besides promoting through social media, Reyes notes that they are “always open to partnerships and collaborations toward shared advocacies in Science, science communication, and education.”

By Kenneth Edward Tan

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