25 June 2018

In Praise of Hashtags

Posted by Olivia Ambrogio


By Olivia V. Ambrogio

Rainbow decorations in Dupont Circle, DC, for Pride 2018. Photo: Olivia V. Ambrogio

My first year in grad school, I was wrapping up a check-in meeting with the PI of the lab I was doing a rotation in; we’d stopped talking research and were just chatting. As she sipped her coffee, apropos of nothing in the conversation, I asked, “So, are there queer people in biology?”

I do regret the timing of that question, because she choked a little on her coffee (she was fine). And to be fair, I didn’t mean the question literally: I was queer, and out, as was she (& this is still the case). What I really meant was, Is there a space for queer people in biology?

Please understand: this is a different issue than feeling safe or welcome, though that’s of course related, and I was lucky enough to be in a place where I felt both. But when you’re in a field where the accepted understanding is that one’s life doesn’t inform one’s work (don’t get me started on THAT)—and therefore doesn’t need to be explicitly mentioned or a part of it—it’s easy to feel lonely, isolated, unseen.

This is hard to notice if it’s not affecting you; I know how ignorant I am of the experiences of people in other underrepresented groups precisely because I know how oblivious most straight/cis people are to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people.

I could go on, but that’s not my intention right now. My desire is to praise the rise of science communication, and science-focused social media, for how it’s helped change this sense of isolation and lack of visibility.

There’s a flourishing community of scientists and science-related people on what we in scicomm fondly call Science Twitter, and within that community thrives a rich diversity and abundance of hashtags. Some are funny (e.g. #reviewforscience), some are descriptive (#scicomm), and some help to connect people who have not always found another community in science: #WomenInSTEM, #BlackInSTEM, STEMdiversity, and—it being Pride Month—#LGBTSTEM, #QueerInSTEM, #OutInSTEM, #SciPride, and #LGBTScience. Through these hashtags, scientists and others share information, resources, and their own stories with anyone and everyone.

I don’t pretend that hashtags are a substitute for the systemic change we need to make science a truly inclusive endeavor. They do, however, create a (searchable) online space for people to find each other, discuss topics that matter, and show that they are present—that they exist—that they can be seen. That’s not nothing.

That’s why, as we work towards a better scientific world, I say, Power to the hashtag.

Olivia V. Ambrogio is the Manager of AGU’s Sharing Science program.