SPIE Wiki update to boost STEM role models

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SPIE is holding an event to update and improve the Wikipedia pages of inspirational women, ethnic or racial minority scientists. 

The ‘Wikipedia Edit-a-thon’ will be held on Sunday 2 February during Photonics West 2020 taking place in San Francisco next year. 

According to figures referred to by SPIE, Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, with more than 32 million views a day. However, fewer than 18 per cent of the English-language biographies are about women. The statistics for ethnic and racial minorities are no better.

Having a fictional or non-fictional STEM role model increases the proportion of girls interested in getting a job in the sector to 52 per cent from 32 per cent, according to a Microsoft survey. However, a 2018 research report by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that just 37 per cent of STEM professionals portrayed in media are women.

More specific to the photonics field, having women figures to look up to is an important way of improving the uptake of women, which make up just 21 per cent of the photonics community, into the sector (according to SPIE figures).

Writing for Electro Optics, Daniela Marin, an engineering student at University of Colombia in the US, said that role models and mentors are vital for raising awareness, and interest in, optics and photonics courses. ‘I always had the blurred figure of a male cross my mind when I thought of an engineer, or I thought of my eye doctor when I thought of optics,’ Marin commented.

‘At college, I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to the eclectic themes associated with optics through my mentor…who taught me more than just the fundamentals of optics, [such as] what research was like, how to find opportunities, and provided advice when I felt unsure.’

During the upcoming SPIE event, a diversity activist will teach participants how to edit Wikipedia pages. Attendees will then have an opportunity to work together to research and write the biographies of scientists from under-represented groups. No previous experience is required. 

Attendees are encouraged to create a Wikipedia account beforehand to save time during the event. Tips on how to do so are may be found here

Related stories: The underrepresentation of women in STEM: Do stereotypes play a role?

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