Creative, maladjusted scientists: create a better culture for all

A less often mentioned quote of Martin Luther King from his Western Michigan, 1963 talk:

            "I must say there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted... I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation. and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few...

            I'm about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment."

I borrowed heavily on this talk when I performed in thirst this past year in DC. I started my talk there by asking the question: "Have you ever felt inappropriate? It often comes when you feel like you're the only one." In science when you ask questions about the culture and human interactions that go along with us being and doing science, you are often seen as being inappropriate and maladjusted to the way science is done.

In 2015 in the US, we continue to ask in many national contexts, "how do we address our inequities? How do we create conditions for excellence and growth for all? Is it possible?" These questions are social questions. Questions that look at how we as people create, build, and organize our societal culture. Scientists are also asking: "How do we do science? How can we do science in ways that support us as human beings doing it?" These questions reflect the theme of the Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research conference taking place June 10-12th, Berkeley, CA.

I believe we are seeing the growing movement of STEM professionals who are maladjusted to conditions that are not open, creative, and inclusive. They are building community, organizations, conferences, and alliances to make their fields collaborative, inclusive, and creative fields of practice.  This includes the growing Science Communication movement in which scientists are learning how to talk to a broader audience (ComSciCon, Alan Alda Center, ACS Chem Champs and Ready Set Go). Central to this movement is scientists being able to be more of who they are as people. People with humor, passion, interests, pride and great intelligence.

The newly formed Future of Research led by Kristen Krukenberg and Jessica Polka, postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School, is one of those organizations I would identify as maladjusted.  Together with accomplished, well-respected researchers Alberts, Kirshner, Tighlman, and Varmus (PNAS, 2014), they raise the questions "What can we do to make our scientific enterprise better? How can we organize our labs, funding and expectations to support the well being of Ph.D.s in the biomedical sciences?" As Tighlman said at the American Society for Cell Biology meeting this year, "We don't know the answer yet. We have to create it."

There are many more groups that you will continue to hear about in the coming months.  And a number of whom will be at the Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research conference in Berkeley this June 10-12, 2015. If you're interested in or already part of creating science as an inclusive, creative and open practice, join us.  Submit a poster, talk or workshop. Sponsor travel of innovators and organizers who might not otherwise be able to come. And importantly, come discover and create together collaborative ways of doing, seeing and being science.

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