Posted on 15 January 2018
The ‘LGBT STEMinar’ 2018 was organised by Dr Derek Wann and Dr Leonie Jones from the Department of Chemistry and hosted in the National STEM Learning Centre at the University of York. The event involved over 150 people and celebrated the contributions of LGBT+ scientists and engineers, whilst exploring the challenges they face.
STEM subjects have been traditionally, and wrongly, thought of as heterosexual, masculine fields. However, the future of science relies on innovation, and it is vital that people from all walks of life enter the profession. LGBT+ individuals are an important part of this diversity. The STEMinar showcases the diversity of people across all STEM disciplines and provides role models and support to people at junior stages of their careers or others who are unsure whether to come out.
The opening keynote speaker was Dr Beth Montague-Hellen, organiser of the first LGBT STEMinar held in Sheffield in 2016. Beth talked about the personal importance of community and reflected on the way in which the STEMinars are enabling a diverse array of scientists and engineers to find unique and comfortable communities of their own.
From the speciation of bats to pulsar astrophysics, the scientific talks reflected the remarkable contributions of LGBT+ scientists across the UK to a range of areas. Dr Paul Clarke, from the Department of Chemistry at York, explained his ground-breaking work on the chemistry of the origins of life. Kiri Thornalley, a student in Professor David Smith’s research group, explained her Masters project exploring self-assembled systems with potential medicinal applications.
For much of the day, extensive Twitter discussions involving both STEMinar attendees and participants from further afield, led to the trending of #LGBTSTEMinar18 in the top five UK hashtags. A key aspect of the STEMinar events is to act as a beacon; demonstrating to LGBT+ people in STEM that there is a large community of people happy to talk about science and support those facing difficulties.
In optimistic mood, Professor Tom Welton, Dean of Faculty at Imperial College London, reflected on his own career as an ‘out’ gay man working in Chemistry. He explained the support he had experienced and told the audience that in our everyday lives, we are all role models. Summing up the day, Professor David Smith from the Department of Chemistry at York built on this theme by highlighting the many ways in which LGBT+ people working in STEM can support others, such as volunteering as STEM or Stonewall ambassadors to engage the next generation of STEM students in schools.
The LGBT STEMinar has a uniquely supportive community atmosphere, with personality and humour being close to the surface throughout the day. Many attendees commented on feeling a sense of belonging and noted the relaxed nature of the meeting in contrast to traditional scientific conferences.
To find out more about the LGBT STEMinar series of conferences and to explore the contributions of LGBT+ people working in STEM, visit the LGBT STEM blog.