Dr. Jessica L. Ware is Associate Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, co-founder of Entomologists of Color, Diversity director of DEI SSB, Vice President of the Entomological Society of America, and President of the World Dragonfly Association.
How did you first get interested in science?
Hard to say, but I definitely loved nature as a kid, and when I was in high school I remember realizing that I looked forward to biology class and enjoyed learning about organisms. I also loved swimming and being in the water, which led me to University of British Columbia (UBC) to study marine biology.
What experiences led you to your current career path?
Well, I was fortunate to have professors at UBC who told me about work-study positions, and I was offered one working in the Spencer Entomological Museum on campus. Then I was hired as a field assistant, and from then on I felt like entomology was all I wanted to do!
What is your current research on?
I study insect evolution, especially that of dragonflies, damselflies, cockroaches, and termites mostly! I use morphology, genetics, and genomics to try to better understand the evolution of diet, reproductive behavior, and dispersal.
You recently became the first diversity officer for the Society of Systematic Biology, and you co-founded EntoPOC. Broadly, how do you view the role of diversity in the sciences? And more specifically, what is EntoPOC’s mission, why is it important to you, and what initiatives does EntoPOC currently have in progress?
As a Black bisexual woman, I've definitely felt like "the only one" throughout much of my schooling and career. As a student, I experienced white professors who told racist jokes in class, or who discouraged Black women from becoming scientists. As a professor, I saw colleagues intentionally and unintentionally uphold systems that excluded people of color from participation. As such, I think that I have a responsibility to put my efforts into "holding the door open"—to recruit and retain BIPOC scientists, and to change the system that works against their participation.
There is inherent value in not blocking our fellow humans from participating in science; value in recruiting people from many different, human backgrounds and creating spaces for their science to thrive. Studies have shown the value of diversity in science, from more creative approaches to problem solving, to higher research output. Yet unfortunately, I've heard even recently people question why diversity matters. I think working on initiatives like the DEI SSB Committee and EntoPOC are ways to work toward broadening participation in science!
Entomologists of color, EntoPOC, has a three-pronged mission: recruitment, retention, and activism/advocacy. We approach recruitment through funding free memberships to entomological societies for BIPOC students of color. We have retention initiatives such as the mentorship program we ran for 40 students who attended the Entomological Society of America's national meeting, and the upcoming journal club, which focuses on how to read and write scientific papers. We're working on a study to survey the current BIPOC-identified entomologists, and the folks running entomology programs, to get at what's working to diversify our field (and what needs addressing).
You also recently became President-Elect of the Entomological Society of America, congrats! What have been your goals thus far as leadership in ESA, and what will your focus be as President?
I am so honored to have been elected in this position! I plan to work on initiatives to lower barriers to collaboration and foster interdisciplinary work across the many sub-disciplines of entomology!
You were also the very first contributor to 500 Queer Scientists ❤️. Why was it important to you to contribute your story?
When Lauren [Esposito] first told me about her idea for 500 Queer Scientists, I thought, "I know what it feels like to be 'the only one,' too!" It can be lonely, isolating, and intimidating to think there's no one else who looks like you, or who has the same gender identity or sexual orientation as you. There is strength in visibility campaigns—in knowing that you're not alone in your profession! As queer people in general, one can often feel erased, as heterosexuality is always your assumed identity when you're at work. It felt important to publicly self-identify in 500 Queer Scientists to break that assumption, and to share with the world that there are Black queer people in science!
My brother is a trans person, and he went into the arts (he's a visual and performance artist). He and I are identical twins and have very similar interests and ways of thinking. When he went to school, he was encouraged by his humanities professors to discuss his feelings and identity in his work, while I was not-so-subtly encouraged to do the exact opposite! I think it's interesting how initiatives like 500 Queer Scientists have, in such a short amount of time, changed the narrative so that scientists can be human, can have feelings, and can be from along the gender spectrum. Thank you, 500 Queer Scientists! [Ed note: Thank YOU.]