Curious to find out more about what the STEMinist movement is all about, we met with Alice Gray, a passionate neuroscience blogger and communicator, creator of Gray Matter YouTube series and a strong advocate of gender equality.
With a contagious positive attitude, she welcomed us in her flat overlooking Cardiff Bay and chatted about her journey into science and her love for art, about the perks of having an identical twin and her weightlifting bug.
Later on, we went for a stroll around the lively bay and stopped by Boundary Art to enjoy some amazing Chinese tea, where Alice shared with us her vision for the future of the human fabric in the world of science and her ambition to expand her science communication and women’s rights advocacy work.
Tell us about Alice Gray.
I’m a neuroscience blogger and writer from Pembrokeshire, with a passion for raising awareness for issues facing women and girls in science.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
My most vivid memories are at the beach as a child, as I grew up near Amroth, and I used to spend my summers playing on the sand and swimming in the sea.
Have you always wanted to be a scientist?
I have always loved science, but have had an equal love for art. During school, I had to decide which I preferred as a career, and I decided to pursue a career in science but regularly draw and paint.
Tell us about your experience as a Brownie and your journey “from being a shy little girl to someone who can give lectures in front of huge or intimidating crowds”.
During school I was very quiet in lessons, and my school reports would often have notes from teachers to my parents saying ‘Alice doesn’t speak up enough in class’. I was incredibly shy, and as the redheaded science geek, I wasn’t exactly popular - this led me to fairly invisible in school. Although shy, under the surface I was an incredibly committed person who was passionate about equality, and was also stubborn. As I got older I learnt to use my stubborn and committed nature to speak up about the issues I care about, and now I happily give lectures in front of huge or intimidating crowds, despite barely being able to put my hand up in school.
We’re curious to know more about STEMinism. When and how did you come across it and what is your involvement with it?
During the final year of my neuroscience degree, we had to complete a module that aimed to develop a more conscientious scientist, looking at topics like ethics, animal testing and philosophy. As a student who was passionate about the women’s rights movement, I was really excited to see that ‘Feminism in Science’ was on the list of topics the series would cover. I was really disappointed when I turned up to the four hour lecture, and this part of the module consisted of a single, 30 second presentation slide.
Through every point of my education, there was a severe lack of female role models, and I was fully aware of the barriers I would face as a female in a male dominated industry. So the lack of acknowledgement to these issues in this lecture series was frustrating, and I stormed home, opened up my laptop and started my blog to raise awareness for the glass ceiling that holds back women and girls in STEM.
What is STEM Squad and how did you come to be involved with it?
The STEM Squad is a social media group to connect women in STEM.
What are the major barriers that are preventing young girls and women to reach their full potential in the world of science today and what are the most effective ways to break these barriers?
At every point of our career cycles (starting from childhood to retirement) we loose women and girls from science, and this is not the result of a singular factor but the consequence of a combination of factors and influences that gradually cause girls to not see STEM as a potential career path for them: including the toys we give girls, the wording we use to describe little girls and the number of female role models they encounter.
We see a slow decline of girls throughout their education, despite girls being equally as excited about STEM subjects as boys. This slow decline continue well into our careers due to a lack of support, and the lack of women in STEM is especially true for the positions higher up the professional ladder.
We need to do more to tackle the way gender stereotypes influence girls, as well as providing more role models, and then supporting women in STEM throughout their career.
You started the Gray Matter YouTube series to increase the representation of women in STEM in the media, create role models and share neuroscience. What are some of the most memorable reactions to your videos?
I love answering people’s questions about neuroscience topics, and I recently met a lady who suffered from a condition and wanted to know more about it. She sent me the loveliest email thanking me for shedding light on what was going on inside her head, and it really hit me how science communication can really help people as well as capturing their interest.
Also, what did you learn about yourself throughout this venture?
By creating my Gray Matter videos, I have learnt that I can be a credible source for the public. I don’t have a PhD in science, and am often cautious of my perception as a scientist. But because I am good at communicating science, and am confident in my abilities, I can prove how science communication isn't just reserved for those with PhDs, but there is room for passionate communicators that can be relatable to the public.
From all subjects of your videos, which is the one the you feel closest to?
I feel closest to the topics that help to answer people’s questions, like the video about Alzheimer’s disease. I feel really strongly about informing people, especially when it comes to conditions that affect families.
You are currently working on a book, Women in White Coats. Can you share with us the story behind this new venture?
I have worked on this for a number of years, and I am collecting stories from women in STEM to raise awareness for the barriers that hold us back in the industry.
Have you read or experienced anything that made you think differently about science?
During university I was studying consciousness disorders, and Professor Jenny Kitzinger from Cardiff University gave us a lecture about how diagnosis and the attitudes of scientists/doctors can affect families.
This was the first time someone had introduced the idea that scientists should be questioned, and she completely changed how I viewed science and I can say that I wouldn’t have been driven to challenge science culture and inequality if it weren’t for the ideas she introduced to me in that lecture.
You seem to be a woman of many talents radiating positivity and vitality throughout all aspects of your life. What keeps you driven and what advice would you give to those feeling powerless and unworthy, too shy to shine and too insecure to even start thinking about their unfulfilled potential?
I am driven by what interests me, and I think that is why I became interested in science. I constantly want to learn more, challenge myself and grow, and science provides a great avenue. And I would give everyone the advice to try and dedicate time to things you are interested in, whether that is professionally or personally. Because when you do things that interest you, it is easy to feel fulfilled.
Who do you admire?
I personally take inspiration from powerful and passionate women, including Amy Poehler, Serena Williams, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Misty Copeland. I feel inspired by seeing women working hard and achieving, regardless of the industry.
What are some of the most important science magazines or blogs to subscribe to?
I love any form of science blog or magazine, including New Scientist.
What are some of the perks of having an identical twin?
You have a best friend for life, and she will always be there for me unconditionally. It is comforting to have someone who understands me entirely and knows everything about me, and sometimes I don’t even need to tell her.
What is your favourite childhood book?
I loved Judith Kerr’s Mog books as a child, and I loved the illustrations.
How does a regular day look like for you?
A regular day is pretty hectic, usually waking up early and going to bed late at night - and staring at a computer screen too much!
What other disciplines are you interested in and/or involved with?
Outside of science, I enjoy sports like baseball, cycling and weightlifting, as well as art and photography.
Weightlifting - why weightlifting?
I started weightlifting about a year and a half ago, after I wanted to improve my upper body strength and caught the bug.
As a person I am very competitive, especially with myself, and weightlifting gives me the opportunity to constantly push myself and improve. It also feels great to do something that shows the power in my body, which women aren’t necessarily taught to do.
What is your favourite dish? Can you please share your favourite recipe with us?
I love baking and have a baking blog which I started in university to share my recipes with my friends.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
Cardiff Bay is one of my favourite places, with the Pierhead being my favourite building. I love going for walks or long runs through Cardiff Bay.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
Being stubborn is not a bad thing.
What are you reading at the moment?
Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. I would also recommend Inferior by Angela Saini.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
I want to expand my science communication work, and my ultimate goal is to become a science TV presenter and work on STEM documentaries.
Thank you, Alice for the insight into STEMinism and your personal realm.