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Emotional openness key for STEM researchers

Emotional openness key for STEM researchers
Dr Emily Grossman, “Too sensitive for science?”,The James Hutton Institute
“Emotional openness can lead to what I refer to as the three Cs; Compassion, Collaboration and Creativity - qualities that are as essential in STEM. Being able to allow ourselves to be sensitive and emotional people, as we all are underneath, can allow us greater access to these three Cs”

What makes a good scientist? What qualities are assets for success in the highly competitive and challenging environment of science? An outdated stereotype often paints a picture that all scientists are cold, hard, unemotional... and male. This damaging stereotype can lead to many young people, especially girls, rejecting the opportunity to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Dr Emily Grossman, an internationally acclaimed science author and expert in molecular biology and genetics, shared the challenges she has faced as a woman in STEM by presenting her talk “Too sensitive for science?”, at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, in support of International Women’s Day. The talk explored the barriers faced by young people, particularly girls, when entering the industry – and discussed the value of emotions in both men and women.

In 2015, a controversial statement by Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt provoked heated discussion about the barriers faced by women when entering a STEM environment. As part of the ensuing debate, Dr Grossman was interviewed on Sky News where she supported women in STEM and commented that it was OK for scientists to cry.

Following the interview, she received a huge backlash of negativity. This led to Dr Grossmann delivering a critically acclaimed TEDx talk at UCL titled “Why Science Needs People Who Cry on the value of emotions in STEM”, just a few months later.

On the importance of being emotionally open, Dr Grossman said: “An ability to identify our emotions and express them freely makes us more rounded, authentic and overall better human beings.

“It can also bring a huge amount of benefits to the workplace itself, to our studies and to our research.

“Emotional openness can lead to what I refer to as the three Cs; Compassion, Collaboration and Creativity - qualities that are as essential in STEM. Being able to allow ourselves to be sensitive and emotional people, as we all are underneath, can allow us greater access to these three Cs”.

The event was well attended with an opportunity given to ask questions and share ideas at its conclusion. It was noted in the discussion that the ability to embrace and identify emotions is vital in some of the scientific disciplines covered at the Institute, particularly by our Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences (SEGS) group.

Dr Annie McKee, a researcher in the SEGS group, added: “I thought Emily was very engaging and had a good story to tell. She approached the topic from a natural science perspective.

“It is important to realise that social scientists, due to the nature of the type of data that they gather and their approach to analysis, are continually reflective and evaluating emotions – both of the research participant, and themselves as a researcher, to ensure that bias is accounted for. Our research subjects are human beings who are fundamentally emotional, as are we.”

Dr Liz Dinnie, also a researcher in SEGs, supported this idea adding “I am a social scientist, more specifically a sociologist, and sociologists and geographers have been thinking about women and (social) science for quite a while.

Social science and especially qualitative social science has used empathy, emotions and reflexivity to advantage in understanding people and populations. This approach is brought together under the term ‘feminist standpoint theory’. Sensitivity has long been seen as a potential skill, especially in interviewing marginalized/minority populations in empirical research.”

Notes to editors

More information about Dr Grossman and the work she is involved with can be found via her website: https://www.emilygrossman.co.uk/

More information from: 

Adam Walker, Communications Officer, James Hutton Institute, Tel: 01224 395095 (direct line), 0344 928 5428 (switchboard).


Printed from /news/emotional-openness-key-stem-researchers on 24/01/19 10:40:04 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.