Read Part 1 of Anne-Marie Imafidon's Presidential Address

President of the British Science Association, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, delivered her presidential address at the British Science Festival in September. In the first half of the interview she did with ITV’s Nitya Rajan, she went over her upbringing, early experiences and setting up Stemettes.

In the latter half of the chat, Anne-Marie went onto describe her hopes beyond the present, not just with regards to Stemettes, but the STEM landscape overall.

The future

Ten years has passed since the Stemettes (the social enterprise supporting girls and non-binary people into STEM careers) was founded, by the time another ten years have passed, Anne-Marie hopes the organisation no longer needs to exist –

I’d love [Stemettes] to be redundant. I want to finish, I want to complete this…I know that its optimistic but I think it would be lovely to see the Stemette way embedded across different parts of the system.

That is, very much, not currently the case, as Anne-Marie describes people still sending all-male panels to Stemettes events, and often finds herself being the only woman on science panels.

“One of my favourite things, when I do get invited as the only in one of these spaces, is to talk about periods quite a lot and shoehorn that in. Because there’s all these things that we end up not hearing about, not talking about that stay as taboos.”

She recounts that young women and non-binary people who come to Stemette events will often return from other conferences in some level of shock at the derogatory language they faced. It’s great that they want to come back to Stemette events where they feel welcome, Anne-Marie said, but it’s a sad state of affairs this is not a feeling they are experiencing in other spaces.

“So there’s still work to be done.”

Three steps forward

What does this work look like? Nitya asked. What good practice in STEM inclusion do we need to be seeing? Anne-Marie’s answer came in three parts.

“Good practice should look like a lack of elitism. It should look like anybody can come and partake and be a part of what’s going on and engage with it in a way that makes sense to them…so that’s part one.”

Part two, she said, is about telling different types of stories, branching out of the narrow set of narratives about science and including more women’s stories.

“We’ve got such a rich herstory, yes there’s Ada Lovelace, there’s Maria Curie, there’s Rosamund Franklin and Florence Nightingale.”

But there are so many more women who has made enormous contributions to STEM whose names are rarely heard, Anne-Marie offers the examples of Gladys West, an African American woman who worked on developing GPS, and Hedy Lamarr who developed a radio guidance system which has had world-changing ramifications.

“Every time we get to connect Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, we’ve got Hedy Lamarr to thank for that, and nobody knows.”

There has been an intentional erasure of these stories, Anne-Marie said, but that needs to change.

Dr Gladys West Hall of Fame by US Air Force is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

“If more of us knew our rich heritage in STEM, if more women know what women have done in this field, it would embolden them and allow them to know that they’re not the only one to feel like they’re the first woman ever to be in this space.”

The third angle on science which needs to come to the fore for a better future is the diversity which can be found in STEM, of options, people and roots. The creativity and altruism in some STEM fields needs to be highlighted and championed to draw in a new generation of future scientists.

If we talk about the problems we can solve and the people we can help with the science, the creativity involved, that it’s not just follow the formulas or follow the textbook …you can dream something up and you can make it happen.

Science innovation, requiring a vivid imagination and dedication to finding a way to realise it, is an art.

“You’re much more likely to win a Nobel prize in the sciences if you engaged with the arts as part of your upbringing. So we need to have more artists in our space engaging with what we’re doing.”

Giving creative people, who are successfully showcasing the blend of arts and science, is crucial for creating a new attitude to science moving forward.

“It’s important to value the difference because it’s not just about one type of science, it’s about the diversity of science, diversity of options, diversity of spaces, diversity of cross-disciplinary options that we have,” according to Anne-Marie.

Unprecedented times

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how important it is that science is not something that only happens in labs, and is only the concern of a select group of people. But its disconnection from wider society, the elitism involved, may have played a role in, for example, vaccine hesitancy.

“Science understanding leads to science trust, and this whole elitism thing, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by making it feel like only certain people can know the science and understand the science in a really big way.

“It’s times like this [the pandemic] when it comes home to roost, the message that science is only for these people.”

For a myriad of reasons, the future needs to be brighter, more inclusive and diverse which is why Anne-Marie is so dedicated to the Stemettes, and draws inspiration from the young people she works with.

“It’s always so interesting, the stories they have, the things they’re overcoming, the things they’re dealing with and that’s aside from wanting to be a girl or young person that’s engaging with science in 2022.

“The resilience I see in them is definitely the reason I keep going, definitely the reason I wake up every morning.”

Anne-Marie is President of the British Science Association 2022/23. Past Presidents include Professor Alice Roberts, Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor Dame Uta Frith and Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell.

Follow Anne-Marie and Stemettes on Twitter.