I went to an LGBTQ+ STEM community and careers conference, here’s what I learned

9th December 2022

PhD student Gabriel Astorga recently attended a national event in London to mark the international day of LGBTQIA+ people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Gab explains more about the importance of events like these and what he learnt from the day.

“Visibility, acceptance and pride are three words that encompass a feeling of community as an LGBTQIA+ person.A view between two people's backs of heads of a projected screen titled "Community & Careers Conference". Below the Pride in STEM logo.

Last year I attended the Out Thinkers event at the 2021 Norwich Science Festival as a new PhD student. This was my first event learning about and celebrating LGBTQ+ diversity in the STEMM community and I met a group of fantastic scientists and researchers. I didn’t know there were other scientists out there like me and the representation I saw opened my eyes to the possibilities out there.

As I moved onto my second year as a PhD student, I wanted to find out more about this community and meet more like-minded people. Some of the researchers who I had met at the Out Thinkers event organised a community and careers conference organised by Pride in STEM to mark the International Day of LGBTQIA+ people in STEM.

I saw this event advertised and a colleague encouraged me to attend, saying that it was a great way to learn about other LGBTQ+ scientists and researchers, so I applied for a space.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I discovered a lot about our community and here’s what I learned.

We build our community

The STEM conference started with a talk about building the community around us – both inside our workplace and in our day-to-day lives. The idea of community is important, as the people we surround ourselves with can be beneficial to not only us, but to our workplaces, home, and wider local community. We must also take responsibility for the collective power our community has and use that power to make a constructive and sustainable workplace and society.

The talk emphasised the importance of learning from others, taking accountability and taking the time to invest in people who understand and support you. I found this resonated with my time at the Quadram Institute, where I found my community with my lab group, student peers, and the Quadram Student Forum. I was lucky, as the community that is currently building my knowledge and confidence as a PhD student was here from the very start of my studies.

Science is creative! Let’s act like it!

Navigating the STEM fields demands us to get creative and think of fresh ways to explore new questions. A panel of three LGBTQ+ scientists talked about creativity in their work and how they found it in other aspects of their life.

By exploring a creative outlet outside of their fields (baking, pottery, poetry and art) these scientists found themselves applying new techniques and thought processes to their scientific work. An example was a recent PhD graduate who worked with 3D structures of proteins during her PhD. She found that pottery helped with her work-life balance, gave her a sense of achievement and helped her visualise models in her project.

We have to create inclusivity and diversity

A running theme throughout the community and careers STEM conference was that inclusivity and diversity are built into the workplace. This requires hard work by an equality, diversity and inclusivity committee, but also requires engagement from us as individuals.

When equality, diversity and inclusivity is displayed and actively participated in, not only do we feel valued as employees, but as a research institute we work more effectively.

When I started studying at the Quadram Institute, I saw the diversity and inclusivity straight away. This is really important to me as there is a diverse range of role models I can learn from. One thing that stuck with me from this part of the conference was this phrase – “If you can see it, you can learn to be it”.

Being LGBTQ+ on the Norwich Research Park

A group of people in colourful clothing smiling and waving. At the front of the group a banner with the EI, JIC, Quadram, TSL and NBIP logos and the text "Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion".

NBI LGBTQ+ group at Norwich Pride. Photograph taken by Josh Waites

Since the start of my PhD, I’ve attended a range of different LGBTQ+ events at the Norwich Research Park. The best thing about attending these events is always the people. I never knew this community was here when I was younger, but I’m grateful the new generation of scientists will get to experience the visibility, acceptance, and pride we continue to build today.

The Norwich Research Park has a fantastic group of volunteers who help set up and run events that build this community. There are a range of events on the research park like the international day of LGBTQIA+ people in STEM, celebration of LGBTQ+ in STEMM at the Norwich science festival, and the Norwich Research Park pride parade. The group are always open to new members.

The LGBTQ+ STEM conference is a fantastic way of meeting other LGBTQ+ scientists and researchers and learning about community and careers in STEMM. I met a range of LGBTQ+ people working and studying in different universities, institutes, industrial companies, and academic journals. All their experiences were unique, but the one common thing was that they never had events like this when they were younger.

For anyone thinking about attending future events, I have two words – Do it!”

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