By Annie Pettit
What does a scientist look like? If a stereotypical image comes to mind, have a look at the responses to Twitter hashtags such as #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike, #StillAScientist, or #LooksLikeAScientist. You’ll see that scientists include young women scrambling through bogs and forests, wearing goggles and lab coats while running chemistry labs, and getting dirty from myriad angles. And for those of us in marketing and research, it also includes women who are experts in programming, statistics, data science, data visualization, big data, artificial intelligence, and so much more.
One amazing leader breaking down stereotypes related to science, age, gender, and race is Dr. Eugenia Duodu, a chemist trained at the University of Toronto who uses her science superpowers for the good of her community. Eugenia is the CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a registered charity, where she promotes literacy in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to low-income and marginalized people in the Toronto area of Canada. She began working there as a volunteer, and has grown the organization from just 4 science clubs to 19 clubs for youth across the region.
In 2017, she spoke at the annual TEDxYouth Conference about her experience pursuing a career in science as a black woman. Eugenia noted that when she was growing up, she liked science but she didn’t see it as a career for herself. She was more interested in helping her community. However, over time, as more and more friends, family, and educators encouraged her to pursue science, she realized she could have a passion for both and she could combine those passions.
As she progressed through her education, from high school to undergraduate and graduate school, she realized there were fewer and fewer people like her. Fewer and fewer women, black people, and people from lower-income communities. She needed to address that inconsistency. She needed to be the person to give other youth the opportunities and encouragement that she had benefited from. She needed to share her simple message with more people who needed to hear it: Seize opportunity, understand and overcome barriers, commit to the cause, be yourself. A leader was born.
Eugenia has a number of personal characteristics that make her an inspiring leader. For instance, she has a talent for communicating about science not only with academically trained scientists, but also people who have no background in science. She cites an example from when she worked for Toronto Community Housing. With a PhD in chemistry, she’d advanced to the top echelon of communicating with scientists using precise scientific language. However, when she went into people’s homes to explain to them why they were experiencing problems with their utilities, she used her knowledge of the community to explain science in plain language. No matter what industry you’re in, from science to marketing, without clear communication, leadership cannot happen.
Eugenia is also admirable for her recognition that regardless of their career path, people need to retain their sense of self. As such, you’ll see Eugenia saunter on stage, chat with audiences as if they’re her close buddies, and use colloquial language (but not in a Steve Buscemi kind of way). Just because stereotypical ‘scientists’ wear formal suits and use incomprehensible language doesn’t mean she, or you, need to continue that misguided strategy. She regularly tells and demonstrates there isn’t just one way for a scientist to be. The best way to lead is to allow people to see the real you, to see themselves in you. Without genuineness, leadership cannot happen.
Her focus on giving youth the tools and space to discover the world of science and be better equipped for success is how Eugenia is actively changing stereotypes. And, her leadership is an amazing example of how to use science for good.
I’m sure Eugenia would love to hear your words of encouragement so make sure you connect with Eugenia on Twitter.