I am a first-generation at university, female bioinformatician, initially labelled immigrant worker; and sometimes I am finding my scientific status difficult to carry in the elitist world of academia. On the other hand, I have the privilege of my white skin. For me, science thrives from diversity and creativity. During my PhD, I quickly understood that research was fruitful and enjoyable if conducted in a team of scientists with complementary skills and from various backgrounds. These thoughts were also fed by conversations that I had in our PhD office, on our East London campus and across different institutions as part of my DTP training. I was also learning a lot around, including thought-provoking books about inequality in academia (Bhopal, 2018; Saini, 2019). I wanted to act for a more inclusive and diverse science world. And this is when I heard about Letters to a Pre-Scientist.
Snail mail essentials
Why I volunteered for Letters to a Pre-Scientist
LPS is a wonderful organisation that matches young people in US low-income communities and STEM scientists, enabling a conversation about science, through four rounds of hand-written letters. I love snail mail! For some of the Pre-Scientists, this would be their first ever snail mail. The concept of desacralizing the status of scientists by conversing about life and career is amazing. The more we know about each other (culture, community, etc), the more networks we create, the better science becomes. If academia was more honest and willing to address what is broken in the system; if academia was more humanised and visible as a career option; the better science would be (Catherine Okuboyejo, 2020).
How I found it
The short but essential training was eye-opening. Given the current pool of Pre-Scientists (8-12 years-olds from US schools), I learnt about the school system there, the inequalities that they are facing, and the differences in STEM curriculum compared to Europe. Matching was fun! They matched my interests (within and outside science) with my penpal, while focusing on matching every student in the class. In my case, we matched on liking animals, cooking and Netflix. Excited to get the letters: once I got the email that the teacher sent the letter, I was eagerly waiting to receive the letter from the US. The stories from my penpal were always fascinating and I learnt a lot from it. I think my penpal learnt quite a lot as well.
LPS are recruiting each summer, check it out here: https://www.prescientist.org/