Changing Perspectives and Finding Inspiration:
With Kamal B., Geology major
Kamal B. is a sophomore, studying Geology. After exploring options during her first semester, she found her niche and loves the way she’s able to have an impact through her field. She found her passions through “a geology class on climate change,” that she took during her first year at college. She “loved learning about the history of climate change on Earth,” and it inspired her to pursue this major.
Geologists have to use a unique skill, where they view the world from a geocentric view rather than an anthropocentric perspective. That means keeping in mind that the Earth is way older than the history of humans. In fact, humans as we know them have probably been on the Earth for about 200,000 years – but Earth is over 4 billion years old! That’s a huge difference. Seeing the Earth from this view, where you recognize that its whole history has not revolved around humanity, can be a humbling and fascinating experience. It means knowing that there were big and powerful species before us (like dinosaurs!) and there will continue to be other important species. Our actions can impact the Earth in huge ways, but that doesn’t mean our history is Earth’s whole story. There’s a lot to learn from what came before us.
Seeing things from other views can be hard, though. It takes a lot of practice – whether it’s in the lab or another setting in life. We have to practice checking our own bias every day. Bias in science can be dangerous. It can cause us to interpret data differently, if we’re expecting certain results. Sometimes it’s harmless. Did you see the dress picture that went viral in February 2015? Some people thought it looked blue and black and some people thought it looked white and gold, due to differences in color perception.
However, if people were told it was black and blue (or if they were told it was white and gold) they were much more likely to see it as those colors than if they were not told which colors it was. This is called confirmation bias. We look for evidence that supports our beliefs. (Spoiler alert: the dress was actually black and blue. Personally, I usually see it as white and gold, though.) When you put that kind of logic into a lab setting, you can see how it can mess up our interpretation of data.
Other times, bias isn’t as innocent as interpreting the color of a dress. Bias can hurt people and cause us to perpetuate stereotypes. Bias also affects the questions we ask. If we assume the world works a certain way or everyone has had the same experience as us, we won’t ask about anything that contradicts those ideas. That’s why it’s so important to both have diversity in STEM (like by including more women!) and to try to be conscious of the biases we have.
Even if we practice those skills in the lab, though, sometimes we forget about them in everyday life. We forget to respect other people’s perspectives and to learn from each other. Other times we remember, but other people forget to do the same for us. It can feel really hurtful when other people don’t try to see things from your perspective or respect your ideas. Kamal has certainly felt like people don’t always see her view on the world. Not everyone has always understood her desire to study geology, especially as a female in the field. It’s something that she wishes would change, since she knows she’s just as intelligent as her male peers. Representation is improving for women in geology, though. As of 2014, one third of PhDs in physical sciences and science technologies were earned by women. We’re optimistic that the number will continue to climb up towards fifty percent in coming years.
Kamal is a woman who challenges herself – she loves learning and contributing to the world around her. Her friends notice her persistence and strong work ethic. Those are qualities that can feel difficult to achieve, so I was curious about how she stays motivated. Kamal knows several things that help her, but the biggest is
“Knowing that the research that I am involved in is making a big impact in how we see the world around us.”
When we talk to people who have habits of persistence and who challenge themselves, one of the common elements is believing in something. These women have passion. They’re inspired by something big enough to excite their interests and light their curiosity. It’s important to find that piece of inspiration, because then when things do get challenging, it’s helpful to remember why you’re doing it. For Kamal, she knows that geologists are making a big difference in our world. Global warming is a huge issue that everyone should be considering. It can affect where you live, how much energy you consume, and even how bad your allergies are. Kamal sees geology as an effective way to learn more about the issue. She says,
“It [Geology] is helping us to learn more about climate change on the Earth and how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past which will teach us about what to expect in the future.”
As her classmate, Kamal’s passion and dedication inspires me every day. I know I feel more inspired and ready to take on the world when I’m around her. She says it best, noting that,
“Having other powerful, intelligent women around me makes me feel strong.”
I love that she recognizes herself as one of those powerful, intelligent women and knows to look to her community when she needs a little push. Thank you for sharing your story, Kamal!
To learn more about physical scientists, check out letters from professionals like Kayla Iacovino on our Role Model page.
Let’s start a discussion:
How do you practice understanding someone else’s perspective?
How do you make sure other people hear your ideas? How can we support each other in having our voices heard?
What inspires you?
What do you know about geology? What do you want to learn?