3M’s Not the Science Type is a documentary film that addresses negative stereotypes and the need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM. The film features four female scientists who challenge stereotypes and confront discrimination as they rise to prominence in their fields of science.
This January, the film is an official selection at Brand Storytelling, a sanctioned event of the Sundance Film Festival. Brand Storytelling highlights the best brand-funded films that focus on entertaining, informing and inspiring audiences with compelling stories.
Not the Science Type was conceptualized when 3M’s State of Science Index confirmed in 2021 that girls and women in STEM continue to face obstacles because of their gender, amongst other barriers. The study found 70% of people believe there are negative consequences to society if the science community fails to attract more women to STEM careers. And 87% of people agree more needs to be done to encourage and keep women and girls engaged in STEM education.
Dr. Ciara Sivels is one of the women the film follows and is the first black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan. Dr. Sivels developed an interest in math and science at an early age but had no intention of pursuing a career in STEM. That changed when her high school teacher, Mr. Harrell, recognized her potential and encouraged her to consider engineering as a career option.
“Teachers can change what STEM looks like for students by making it fun, exciting and challenging. Mr. Harrell did just that for me and put me on a path to be successful,” said Dr. Sivels. “My experience with Mr. Harrell showed me just how important it is to have an advocate for you in the classroom. For me that changed my perspective about representation and pushed me to apply and ultimately become an IF/THEN Ambassador for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, changing the narrative on what a scientist looks like.”
Representation is a central theme throughout the film. Cast member Dr. Jessica Taaffe, a microbiologist, initially felt she needed to tone down her personality to be respected since she did not see many others like her in the field. It was not until she developed a solid peer group on social media that she felt empowered to embrace herself in the workplace.
“We had encountered similar struggles in our identities as women in science and the type of scientific careers we wanted, and this brought us together. We have been each other's cheerleaders, soundboards and inspiration for years,” said Dr. Taaffe. “They helped me feel more comfortable in being myself in my profession, because they too were ‘Not the Science Type.’”
According to Dr. Taaffe, the growing discussion surrounding equity in STEM is a positive indication for the future, but more needs to be done. “If anything, we've seen from this pandemic how important it is to have participation and collaboration from scientists around the world, and more can be done to truly make STEM careers more accessible and realistic all over the globe.”
Dr. Sivels, who is an elementary school math mentor working to encourage young students as Mr. Harrell did for her, hopes that as the STEM equity conversation progresses, “people continue telling their stories and inspiring the next generation.”
Not the Science Type relays a message of hope and inspiration for future generations as these women overcome inherent biases and break through boundaries to show all that is possible. In addition to being showcased at this year’s Brand Storytelling, the film is available on Apple TV, Google Play and YouTube.
Closing the gaps underrepresented groups experience in STEM is a priority for 3M and Not the Science Type is an extension of those efforts. In 2021, the company announced its goal to advance economic equity by creating five million unique STEM and Skilled Trades learning experiences for underrepresented individuals by the end of 2025.