Happy Monday of what’s already my third full week in Paris – I can barely believe it!So much has happened since I last blogged.
I first need to back up about two weeks to talk about the Semaine des jeunes talents scientifiques internationaux (Week of International Scientific Young Talents). I was invited by the French Embassy in the U.S. to attend this event, which was hosted by Universcience in honor of the anniversaries of their two museums, Palais de la decouverte and Cite des sciences et de l’industrie. 42 young scientists from 26 countries around the world attended the event, about two from each country. And it was bilingual, with programs in both French and English!
I had zero expectations going into the week, and I didn’t have much information beforehand, either, besides knowing that it was an international conference and that we’d be learning about science outreach. But what I took away from the week was so much more than I think I could have ever expected.
We learned about science communication by taking behind-the-scenes tours of exhibits at Cite and Palais de la decouverte, where we learned from start to finish what it takes to design and profit from a museum exhibition. We explored the thought process that it takes to decide what idea you want to communicate to the audience and how to best convey that idea through different media. We discussed issues of accessibility of material, related to language barriers, disabilities, age, and cultural backgrounds. After learning it all, we got to critique live museum exhibitions and discuss why certain choices were made with people who had conceived the exhibits originally.
In addition to spending time at the Universcience museums, we got to explore other locations in Paris serving in their own ways to support science. Most prominently, we visited L’Oreal headquarters just outside of the city for a workshop on women in STEM and to tour their laboratories.
Given the diverse backgrounds of all the participants, it was quite an educational discussion to learn about the differences and similarities in the issues that impact gender diversity in STEM fields around the world. The issues ranged from community/familial expectations of women to support for women starting their own families to the pervasive assumption that science is just not a field for women. To give us the tools to combat these issues back home, we also brainstormed ways that we could begin to change the perception of what it means to be a scientist. Most importantly, to be effective, the change needs to be supported by both women and men.
To further support science communication and understanding between all of us, we were given the opportunity to each present our own research to the rest of the participants as well as representatives from Universcience and the French government – in 3 minutes or less! The diversity of projects that all of us are focused on was amazing – from cancer research to environmental startups to public education to physics and more, it was a real treat to learn about what each other is passionate about and what inspired us to attend this meeting.
We were also taken to a variety of other museums, both scientific and not, around Paris for other events throughout the week.
On our last night, we were treated to dinner in the Petit Salon of the Musee d’Orsay!
And on our last full day, we visited Musee de l’Homme to learn about what makes us human…
and the Fondation Louis Vuitton for an art exhibition.
But my overall most important takeaway from the week wasn’t any of this. Instead, it was how a group of 42 strangers from very different scientific, cultural, and language backgrounds could come together so closely in such a short amount of time to form friendships, learn from each other, and especially come to the realization that in spite of our differences, we can accomplish this much together. I can honestly say that I have 41 new friends all over the world that I can’t wait to see again – some from countries that were already on my radar to visit, but more commonly, countries that weren’t until I put faces to them this week.
And that’s the beauty of an event like this – making connections you would never have made otherwise, and realizing that while there are so many forces in the world trying to pull people apart, maybe those of us who have opportunities like this can have a place in trying to keep people together.
In between all of the conference activities, we found time to explore this amazing city together and connect even more.