Ben Murdin, Department of Physics
When school children are asked to draw a scientist in the 70’s they mainly picture an elderly man in a white coat with facial hair surrounded by weird machinery or test tubes, and although if asked to picture specifically a physicist many people might today picture TV’s Jim Al-Khalili (or should I say: Surrey’s Jim Al-Khalili?) most would probably think of Einstein. Sadly, western physics is indeed still a majority male, white, middle-class discipline, and change is slow in coming. However, there is great diversity in those that are working alongside that majority, and even within the dominant group there is a rich variety of backgrounds that can be hidden. In order to combat implicit bias and reduce stereotype threat among students present and aspiring, Justin Read and colleagues created a large diversity display at the entrance to the Physics Department in collaboration with the Winchester Science Museum who also created a sister display. The display shows a variety of people, famous and not so famous, most of whom have some connection to Surrey. Some of them are “ordinary” practicing physicists, and our aim was to show how you don’t have to be a genius like Einstein to love physics and be successful, including in other related professions like data science. Most of them have some characteristic that illustrates how anyone from any background can “do” physics, and this includes not just women and ethnic minorities but also neurodiverse people, people with visible and invisible disabilities, and the LGBT+ community. The first few case profiles were nominated by the Department’s EDI committee, but the majority were nominated by staff and students.
It has to be said that it did take quite a bit of work by Justin and colleagues to maintain the visibility of the project and get people to make nominations and create the content: as you might expect there were some enthusiastic people that submitted several suggestions at the start, but to get a long enough list that a good cross-section could be chosen for the display took time. And it also required us consciously overcoming our own unconscious biases, to think of nominating people that don’t look like ourselves. And this was another reward in the exercise of creation, not just the reward of the finished product to be viewed by others – all the existing staff and students in the Department had to confront those biases and think less about our in-group and harder about the out-group whom we probably see less often. The display is about diversity, but it still makes me think of how much we all have in common.
For more information contact: Ben Murdin, Head of the Photonics and Quantum Sciences Group, firstname.lastname@example.org