So few of the Keynote talks that we see in conferences and workshops are by women scientists. Can we change that bias?
We reached out to 500 Women Scientist leadership member Maryam Zaringhalam to talk about her experience on her first Keynote talk. Read her interview below.
Bio: Maryam Zaringhalam is a DC-based biologist, science writer, and AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. She serves on the leadership of 500 Women Scientists and is a Senior Producer for the Story Collider team, where she works to bring true, personal stories about science to live audiences in the DC area. You can follow her on Twitter @webmz_ or visit her website webmz.nyc.
Q1. What was your first Keynote talk about?
My first keynote was about science communication for ComSciCon Rocky Mountain West [in 2018]. I wanted to touch on my science communication journey — how I wound up communicating science for policy, advocacy, and entertainment. I remember being early in my science communication career and looking at my role models thinking they were born naturals. While some certainly are, a lot got there through hard work and journeys that weren’t so straightforward. So I really wanted to underscore how much trial and error there has been through my career, and how learning to be a better communicator has helped me work through those bumps I encountered along the way and make sense of what my goals are as a public-facing scientist.
Q2. What was the before and after experience of your first Keynote talk?
Slide design is really important to me, so I spent a lot of time on my slide deck, making sure that it was visually compelling and light on text. I then drafted a sort of script for what I wanted to say and rehearsed in front of friends to make sure what I was saying made sense. I was super nervous going in because I wanted to make sure I delivered a talk that was informative, engaging, and worth the travel costs ComSciCon covered. Afterwards, I got a lot of questions from the audience to clarify certain parts of the talk or elaborate, and I’ve since iterated on that talk to clarify sections and emphasize others. Every talk I give I hope will be better than the last, and listening to my audience and hearing their needs is a key ingredient in ensuring that improvement actually happens.
Q3. We do not see a lot of women keynote speakers. Do you see that trend changing? Do you have any thoughts on how the situation could be improved?
I see a growing awareness of this problem, thanks to the power of social media. Conference goers now have the ability to publicly call out all-male or all-white panels and point out trends in the kinds of people invited to meetings to give keynotes. And we also have tools now — like querying 500 Women Scientists Request a Woman Scientist Database or drawing from visibility campaigns like 500 Queer Scientists — that can help conference organizers identify potential speakers that better represent the people in the room. The bolder we can be in calling out meeting lineups that don’t reflect us — and offering up alternative speakers who are just as qualified to give a keynote or serve on a panel — the better conferences and events we’ll have.
Interview conducted by Promita Chakraborty, the Editor of 500 Poppies.