When the Crastina team decided on the Science & Sound theme, Nat knew she wanted to explore the intersection between science and Hip-Hop, being a big fan of the genre. A quick search lead us to Raven The Science Maven, a science communicator and educator who makes use of Hip-Hop to welcome people into STEM. Nat and Lauriane are delighted to be able to bring you Raven’s perspectives on Science & (her) Sound in this interview article.

Hello Raven! It is so good to be able to interview you, such an honour. I am really interested in knowing more about how exactly this blend of Hip Hop and science came about. Which came first for you, the science or the music? Does one serve the other?

I’ve really loved science from a very young age. I started playing the piano at about seven years old and I would say that I liked science and music at about the same time. I always felt like music had great potential to carry messages that could inspire people and also using music is a great way to put your own special message in the world and to make your voice heard. So, when it comes to being a science communicator, my messages are largely about science, and telling people that science is fun, and encouraging people to show up in science spaces and enjoy the vibes. I use music as a means to send those messages out into the world.

I have listened to all the songs available on YouTube and bought ‘The Protocol’ EP because I couldn’t get enough of your music! My absolute favourite is ‘Big Ole Geeks’ – it has been playing on repeat for days on my phone and I keep humming it. One thing I noticed with your music is that the songs are not exactly covering or teaching science content, like describing a given process or phenomenon, for example. Is the aim of the project more to do with engagement than with ‘formal’ teaching?

‘The Protocol’ is not a science teaching album. My album ‘The Protocol’ is really my way of sending out messages of empowerment to the STEM field. There’s a lot of people that feel like they don’t belong in the STEM field, even though they’re in it, and they deserve to be there because they worked hard to be there. But unfortunately, STEM culture makes people feel they’re not welcome sometimes. And I think that this is something that we all need to work on, especially if we want to make advancements in STEM and progress the fields: we have to make sure that everybody feels welcome to do the work. Tying back to what I said in the first answer, I want to put the message out there that people DO belong, and I want to do it in a way that is positive and also uses elements from the STEM field itself – like catchy words – to get the message across and to connect with people and create messaging that really resonates with them. I think that I’ve seen STEM rap music done in a way that’s very cheesy. And it’s because people set out with the intention of teaching STEM instead of cultivating an interest in STEM. I definitely think that there’s a place for music that can teach, but I also think that there should be a place for music that just sends positive messages out into the STEM field, not necessarily focusing on shoving information into people’s minds. I think that the STEM field, and science education really, has a bad reputation for just being about shoving facts into people’s brains. And, as an educator, I am more about making people feel welcome in the classroom and cultivating that positive learning environment so that people can feel encouraged to do the work.

Having read a bit more about your journey and the projects you are involved in, I am full of questions. Let’s perhaps start with your PhD subject which revolves around ‘science education, science identity, and approaches to Hip-Hop pedagogy in STEM’. Could you elaborate and tell us a little more about the questions you are seeking answers to, and what you have found so far? It sounds absolutely fascinating to me!

I study the relationship between the media representation of scientists and how adults who are either in or not in STEM fields identify with that representation and what the impact of that is. I interviewed 50 Black women, half of which have STEM careers and the other half who do not have STEM careers. What I’m learning is that, of all the women, 98% said that they identify the most commonly represented scientist in the media as white. 85% of the participants identify the most common representation of a scientist in America as male. And then 80% of all of the 50 women said that they had never seen a Black woman scientist on television, which is insane. Looking further into that data, I found that 78% of the women who didn’t have a career in STEM said that they would have pursued a career in STEM if they had seen representation of Black women scientists on TV. The common thread throughout the stories that I’ve collected from all the people I interviewed is that representation strikes inspiration. That’s not to say that all of the women, or even 78% of the women who didn’t have STEM careers today, would have had a STEM career today, but they said they would have pursued it, meaning that they would have felt like they were seen and heard in the space enough to try it. And that is major. So, in my research, I am really making a case – in fact, the data is making a case – for the inclusion of diversity in the media representation of scientists and how when you see that you are not the only one, then you won’t feel like you’re the only one.

I am also intrigued by your other professional ‘hats’. In particular, I was interested in knowing more about the culturally responsive science programs you develop – could you tell me a bit more about them, what they are and what they aim to achieve?

What I love about developing culturally responsive science programmes is that I’m never doing the same thing twice. The students that you work with are always different. Each class is different, each age group is different. So the way that I develop programmes depends on a lot of things. In general, I love to listen to the needs of the students first and I try not to jump into assuming that I know how the students work best or what it’s going to take to make the students feel completely comfortable with doing science in my classroom, for example. I do a really thorough needs analysis. I take a lot of time at the beginning of my courses to get to know the students and understand them. And, from there, I decide how to move forward with designing culturally responsive programmes. I’m really big on activism, so I do my best to look into issues that affect the communities around my students and try to see if the students are even aware of those issues. I also remind them that they have the power within themselves to change these issues, and to solve problems. I try to make things very personal in my class, and also try to help the students grow personally, throughout the course or throughout any programme that I’m designing. So the programmes that I develop often have goals of increasing self-awareness, increasing cultural awareness, and also increasing social awareness.

What do you think an inclusive science community looks like, and how do we achieve it?

I really think that we need to train scientists to be self-aware, socially aware and culturally aware. In doing so, we’re really going to improve a lot of situations that prevent the science community from being inclusive and that I believe stem from people not being self-aware, not understanding that their actions and their words really do have an impact on other people, or what some of those actions and words might be. Finding different ways to think about what they’re saying and doing, and also understanding how to be aware of yourself, that can all really become second nature. In terms of being socially aware, that means being aware of the issues that everyone in STEM is facing, from every perspective. No one person can know everything, but I think that it’s important for people to look past their perspective and explore other perspectives to know how to associate with other people and relate to other people, and also to learn how to help and protect other people. And then with regards to having people in STEM who are culturally aware: I think it’s really important to understand again the needs of other people who are not like you, and being able to read the room and understand what your workplace cultural climate is like and whether you think that is conducive to inclusivity. Also, just learning how to appreciate the diversity of cultures that exist in the STEM community. Those are, I believe, the key elements to achieving a really great inclusive science community. And I think that we are on our way there, especially with all that is happening as far as some social shifts and awareness go. I think that we’re on our way.

While I would have many more questions, I will finally ask the last question of this interview: what’s next, Raven? What wonderful worlds and challenges do you think await you in the future?

What is next? Well, I have a lot of things happening right now. I’m hoping to have my own TV show very soon; it’s either going to be on TV or a digital series online. But I’m very excited about that. I have a TEDx talk coming up on September 12, as well. That’s going to be done virtually because of COVID, but I’m very excited about that, too. During that talk, I will actually be discussing cultural awareness, self-awareness and social awareness and how all of those come into play in improving science culture and creating inclusive science communities. And yeah, I’m so excited. I’m so excited about everything. I can barely keep up with myself. But, you know, I’m very grateful for all of these opportunities. Thank you so much for the interview.

Thank you, Raven!

Where to find Raven

Raven’s Website

Raven’s Youtube channel

Raven’s Facebook page

Raven’s Instagram

Raven’s Twitter

About Nat das Neves Rodrigues Lopes

Nat das Neves Rodrigues Lopes did both her undergraduate degree and Ph.D. in Chemistry, in the UK: “My research explored the interactions between light and matter, something I have always been fascinated by! I did a lot of teaching during my Ph.D. and that’s when I first got interested in communicating my research to audiences beyond my immediate peers. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about public perceptions of science and public trust in scientists. I think it is urgent that we fix the public-expert relationship and I want to do my bit to help that!”