Pride in STEM

Inclusivity is an important value at the School of Physical Sciences, so in honour of LGBTQ+ STEM Day, we asked two staff members at the University of Kent who identify as LGBT individuals, to answer some questions about their relationship with STEM subjects.

Nick French currently works as an IT Technician in the School of Physical Sciences, and Paul Cornwall works as the Undergraduate Programme Administrator for the School of Biosciences.

What is your STEM background?

Nick: I completed my undergraduate degree in Computer Science and have worked in various IT related jobs since I graduated. I’ve been working now in the School of Physical Sciences for almost 5 years supporting the IT infrastructure in the department. This encompasses quite a large sphere of activity, including computer hardware, software and networking.

Paul: I studied for my Undergraduate Master’s degree in Astronomy, Space Science and Astrophysics at Kent. I didn’t do well in my A levels and didn’t get the support I needed. Kent offered a foundation year for those without the necessary qualifications to enter stage 1, and without this I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. Studying at Kent were some of the best years of my life and I knew I wanted to stay. I had worked in various departments at Kent while I was a student, including accommodation, hospitality and clearing so I knew it was a great place to work. The opportunity to work in administration came up and although it wasn’t a career path I had considered, I took the role. After a year working in SPS I got a job in the Planning and Business Information Office working with all kinds of student data. While not a STEM department it allowed me to use the skills and knowledge I developed during my degree. After four years, I moved to my current post of Undergraduate Programmes Administrator in the School of Biosciences. I oversee the administration of the school’s ≈750 undergraduate students (with the help of my colleagues!).

What do you love about it?

N: Having such a large range of responsibilities keeps my job varied, and always provides opportunities to learn new things. It doesn’t tend towards monotony especially as technology is evolving so rapidly. Supporting teaching and research presents different obstacles but it keeps me on my toes!

P: I enjoy interacting with and supporting the students in their journey at Kent. Having been in their position, I think I can bring my experience and knowledge to the role. Science has always been a passion of mine so to be working alongside and supporting incredibly talented academics in a very successful School is a privilege. I have brought many of the skills learned in my previous roles to my current job and I am able to problem solve and find more efficient ways of doing things. This frees up mine and others time to focus our efforts on the student experience.

Has it been hard to be out in STEM?

N: It does feel like the LGBT community and STEM community have a complicated history, and in the case of Alan Turing who is quite a prominent forefather of modern computing, quite a tragic history too. Growing up there was quite a stereotypical representation of gay men in media as being very “fashionable” or “arty” so pursuing science felt quite abnormal. As an adult, in a country where attitudes have evolved so much, I don’t feel like I don’t belong in STEM. I don’t use being gay as an identity, but instead is just one of the characteristics that make me who I am, alongside being a scientist.

P: It’s not something that I think about day-to-day as it’s just a part of my identity. I think it’s down to the fact that society’s views about homosexuality have progressed so much – even in the last couple of decades. Same-sex marriage is now legal and I feel we now have equality. There will always be people who don’t accept you but this can be true for anyone. I have never had a negative reaction when I refer to my partner, so I feel very lucky to be in such an inclusive environment.

How do you think STEM workplaces could support LGBT individuals better?

N: I think continuing to be accepting of others regardless of their sexuality or identity can only be a good thing. Having a wider variety of role models for younger generations to look up to. Not rewarding prestige towards members of STEM subjects who exhibit disrespectful behaviour to others.

P: I think equality of opportunity for everyone is essential in a free society. Continuing to promote the LGBT staff network to new members of staff is important – especially if there are people who are not so comfortable with their sexuality.

What advice would you give LGBT individuals wanting to pursue a career in STEM?

N: Go for it! If you love it then do it. Try not to feel like you need to conform to a certain stereotype in order to fit in. Not all workplaces are going to be accepting of differences, but if you’re brave enough to be yourself you can slowly make a positive change.

P: It’s an excellent area to study and work in. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work but the results are more than worth it. The skills you will learn will be transferable to so many careers – even ones you might not think about! Never be afraid to be yourself as you will only be unhappy in the long-run.

 

Many thanks to both Nick and Paul for taking the time to answer our questions!