Veronica Nickerson (she/her), Cofounder of Trans in STEM, works in a state lab for public health and is currently working with the “Covid Team” processing and testing patient samples for SARS-CoV-2. She plans to return to academia to continue her education by pursuing a PhD in biological sciences.
Dr. Sebastian Groh (they/he), Cofounder of Trans in STEM, is a research associate in Vertebrate Palaeontology at University College London. When he isn’t teaching vertebrate evolution to students, his research focuses mostly on crocodile evolution and the different methods used to reconstruct the evolutionary history of different species.
Note: Nickerson and Groh chose to co-write all replies below.
What is Trans in STEM?
Trans in STEM is a group founded by and for trans people in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM), regardless of their education level. This includes everyone who does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth and works or studies in STEMM. Our aim is to provide a safe space for trans people in STEMM—to provide visibility and show how many of us there actually are in STEMM, to discuss the challenges they face, connect folks with mentors within their fields, to showcase and promote each other’s work, and support initiatives aimed at supporting our community. At the moment we're still basically two people with a laptop, and active mainly on Facebook—where we have a closed FB group solely for trans people in STEM—and on Twitter.
How did Trans in STEM begin?
During Veronica’s final semester, in the fall of 2018, one of her courses required her to create a Twitter account and to follow scientists whose work she was interested in and practice science communication. She wanted to find other trans scientists to follow because she didn’t see people like herself in STEMM, and felt that STEMM might not be a feasible career path. Initially, her search turned up Ben Barres, who had passed a year prior. This led to her posting on Twitter to start the conversation about the lack of representation of trans people in STEMM.
At about the same time, Seb took over the @realscientists account on Twitter for a week and (amongst other things) talked about being trans in STEM. After seeing Veronica's tweet, Seb reached out to discuss the thoughts she was having about visibility and feelings of isolation due to the lack of representation. After some discussion, they decided it would be a great idea to found some sort of group or network specifically for trans people in STEMM, since nothing similar existed at the time. Veronica set up the email address and Twitter while Seb founded the Facebook group, and they’ve been working together since.
What has Trans in STEM been involved in so far?
We’ve done a couple of things, including promoting/helping to promote LGBT+ STEM Day to the wider audience and a showcase of amazing trans-in-STEMM people for Trans Day of Visibility in 2019. In 2020, we also helped organize a Trans in STEM panel with some fantastic speakers for LGBT+ STEM Day. Other things are more subtle, such as looking out for each other in the Trans in STEM Facebook group and working to promote our interests on Twitter.
What do you want LGBTQ+ scientists to know about Trans in STEM?
For LBGQ+ scientists, we love sciences just as much as you all do! Our identity is just one part of us—ask us about our science, too, not just about what it’s like being trans in STEMM. We need your allyship, [so] speak out even if we aren’t in the room. Trans people are not a monolith and intersectionality is important—listen to different people, not just one. For trans people in STEMM or considering it, you are not alone, and you have as much right as anyone else to work in STEMM.
What’s next for Trans in STEM?
We’re hoping to put on more events like the one for LGBT+ STEM Day last year so that we can show the wonderful amount of trans people in STEMM and draw strength from the experiences that unite us. Some sort of symposium (in which trans people can show off their work and network with each other) for trans people in STEMM would also be fantastic if we can find the time and energy to organize one! Eventually, we would also like to speak at universities or businesses for the purpose of education, and potentially help with the development of best practices and policies to make STEMM more accessible to trans people and other underrepresented populations. We’re also very aware that it’s currently two white people running all this and would really like to get more POC trans people in particular involved, e.g. with curating the Twitter account. (If you read this and this is you, shoot us a message on Twitter!)
Has there been anything challenging or surprising that you’ve learned or experienced while doing this work?
It's been incredibly encouraging to see just how many trans people there are in STEMM. (We have over 150 members in the Facebook group alone!) It’s quite normal for us to feel isolated—often we're the only openly out trans people at our departments or even faculties, and it can be very isolating and depressing. To know that there are so many of us and we’re not alone in our struggles is really important. We've also found that it's difficult to not sound like a broken record. How many ways can we say “Respect trans people and identities”?