Marginalia Science: Breaking Barriers and Creating Inclusiveness

Marginalia LogoAs PhD students preparing for life in and after grad school, Hannah Nam, Ana Gantman, Laura Niemi, and Pia Dietze recall the traditional advice they would receive on how to market themselves and their research at conferences and meetings. But the power dynamics that can infuse those conversations didn’t make sense to them, and as women and minorities, they feared their words could be interpreted differently.

They also recall the barriers to connecting with mentors who had faced the same challenges in their careers. “We felt there weren’t enough opportunities for getting to know these people in the field,” says Ana, now an Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, “and we wanted to create a space for that.” Hannah, also an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University, adds “we wanted to do something that we felt we could have used.”

There were also conversations about the research that perhaps only members of marginalized groups might conceptualize, and how they wished these topics could receive more sunlight. They knew their colleagues were working on great research, but it was not getting much attention outside of their community. “We wanted to create a platform for that, too,” says Hannah.

They determined the easiest way to connect and get the word out was a listserv-type email newsletter. Coming up with a name for the group and the newsletter was not as easy. “We had a long list of terrible ideas,” jokes Hannah. (The dorkiest - 1 Minus Beta - was quickly rejected.) One name, however, rose to the top of their short list of somewhat less dorky names. A punster at heart, Ana suggested Marginalia. “It was maximally inclusive, but also a fun play on words,” she explains. Her inspiration came from the little notes or sudden great ideas that often get jotted down in the margins of a notebook. “Something that isn't the main text, but can still be an important contribution” says Hannah.

The resulting e-newsletter is now shared monthly with more than 160 of their like-minded peers, including students and professionals in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Israel and the Netherlands. It provides a centralized space to showcase new research by scientists largely underrepresented in psychology and the broader social sciences, including women, non-gender conforming individuals, members of LGBTQI+ community, people of color and the differently abled. In other words, the scientists who are not typically promoted by the academic status quo.

In addition to links to abstracts, events, grant opportunities and job postings, each edition of the newsletter includes a dose of helpful advice for under-represented minorities navigating an often perplexing job market. “But we always try to start the newsletter with something light and fun and joyful,” says Hannah (for example, an early edition of the newsletter opens with a picture of a hedgehog wearing a party hat). Information dissemination and career advice is their main focus, but they manage to balance the serious stuff with a healthy dose of positivity, encouragement and emotional support.

In an effort to broaden and strengthen their message, the group applied for and were recently awarded an SPSP Community Catalyst Grant. The funding they received through SPSP enabled the group to organize an after-hours meet-up during the recent convention in Portland.

“It was really amazing to get this grant from SPSP so that we could put this more official gathering together,” says Hannah. “It really increased our numbers,” adds Ana, “and it would be great to do this annually at SPSP. It’s the perfect place for it.”

More importantly, the gathering helped reinforce a sense of community and identity. “The goal for that evening was to keep things as low pressure as possible” says Hannah, “and we heard from lots of people who said that they were glad to have done a conference event and not feel self-conscious about it.” But they have also heard of potential collaborations as a result of conversations at the meetup. Ana, for example, was recently pitched an idea on women and sports from some grad students who connected at the February event.

“We really want to be driven by what our community wants,” says Hannah, “and be as broad-minded about this as possible.” It’s this philosophy that has inspired the next incarnation of the newsletter, in which they will hand over the reins to a guest editor each month, giving their Marginalia peers an opportunity to share with the group what they are thinking about and reading.

Long-term, Hannah, Ana, Pia and Laura hope their work might lead to greater visibility of “fringe” research beyond just the specialty journals. They would love to see more productive conversations around and broader acceptance of research topics like microaggressions, slut shaming, sex work legalization, sexual harassment and assault, and indigenous or First Nations issues.

“We would love to be able to give out awards for this kind of research and to fund grants” says Ana, but for now they are happy to be helping diverse voices find each other. As Ana points out, “because we know they are out there.”

Marginalia Team on Group Chat
The Marginalia team on a group chat


Interested in being a part of Marginalia? Drop a note to the team at marginaliascience@gmail.com or check out marginaliascience.com

To view a sample of some recent editions of the Marginalia newsletter, click here 

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