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Symbiotic STEM

A Modern Mentoring SySTEM

Symbiotic STEM (or SySTEM) is a database of enthusiastic mentors at all career stages, from undergraduate students to full time scientists. Our SySTEM enables mentees and their teachers to find mentors with scientific interests and personal identities that can best help mentees learn and grow.

a flexible mentoring tool (that means no minimal time commitment)

We strive to make our program as flexible as possible by using a virtual platform. 

  • Teachers + group leaders can use our database to invite mentors to events at any time. 

  • Mentors always have the option to decline event invitations. 

  • Plan mentoring events from scratch or use/modify lesson plans other teachers have used with our program! 

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humanizing stem, promoting diversity

We firmly believe that representation matters.

  • We encourage mentors to self identify not only with their field of interest and career stage, but also with other personal identities that might connect them to a mentee.

  • Our program exposes mentors and mentees to diverse STEM fields, ideas, and career paths.
     

Learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and why it matters below.

Our Philosophy

facilitating mutual growth

We've found that when mentors and mentees talk science, everybody benefits. 

  • Both mentors and mentees: 

    • Become better communicators

    • Consider tough questions from different perspectives

    • Explore new topics

    • Experience the curiosity and passion that drives science forward

 

Our commitment to mutual mentoring is reflected in our name. Learn about symbiosis (a really cool scientific topic) below!
 

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TEACHING critical thinking and scientific literacy

We believe that all students should learn to think like scientists, no matter what career path they plan to follow. 

  • We can all play a part to combat anti-science sentiment and misinformation by equipping students to ask questions, think critically, and use sources wisely.

  • Our program encourages conversations beyond just scientific and medical careers, from attending college to understanding current events in science and medicine. 

Why diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

We firmly believe that representation matters, including in STEM fields.

That is why we encourage mentors to self identify not only with their field of interest and career stage, but also with other personal identities that might connect them to a mentee.

For more on DEI in general, check out dei.extension.org

 

Want to know more about the importance of DEI in STEM? We've got you covered: 

Why DEI?

Elitist science is harmful to us all 

  • In extreme cases, elite scientists have taken advantage of minority populations, even experimenting on those unwilling or unable to consent. Acknowledging and teaching about these events is critical for preventing future atrocities, as is making sure these groups have a voice in the scientific community.

    • Giving full justice to the number and extent of these atrocities would take literal volumes, but some examples from the US include:

Even though science is becoming more diverse, we have a long way to go. 

Great discoveries and advancements are fueled by diverse viewpoints and inclusion

  • Scientists are only human: we have implicit and explicit biases that influence how we interpret the world around us. The best way to keep these biases in check is to include many diverse viewpoints.

  • Even though it might seem like scientific discoveries occur in huge leaps thanks to one incredible individual, most of our knowledge comes from many small, individual contributions from generations of scientists and their different viewpoints. Every voice is important.
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  • By all metrics, diverse groups perform better.
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  • Many fields have seen incredible recent advances thanks to a formally marginalized group joining the conversation and turning the way of looking at a problem upside down. For example: 

    • The idea of "man the hunter" (aka that we owe our large brains to the calories our ancestors got from the meat men hunted) was overturned when women entered the male-dominated field in the late 1960s. 

    • Temple Grandin revolutionized animal behavior studies and the treatment of animals, especially cattle and other animals raised for meat. These changes were inspired by Grandin's own experience with severe autism, including ways she was able to calm herself down. 

    • Indigenous researchers, including wildlife biologist Flo Gardipee and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, pioneered non-invasive methods for sampling animal DNA and using traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples to prevent environmental degradation.

      • Check out this excerpt from Dr. Kimmerer's book Braiding Sweetgrass, on the challenges and rewards of tackling scientific problems from a new angle. 

    • Ralph William Braun invented and engineered the first motorized wheelchairs, which he initially used to keep up with colleagues at his job.

Mentoring prevents exclusion from science by encouraging individuals on a personal level

What is symbiosis?

Symbiosis is a relationship or interaction between two different types of living things.

 

Scientifically speaking, there are a few different types of symbiosis, depending on whether both or only one of the organisms benefits (read about them here). However, when we talk about “symbiotic relationships,” we’re usually referring only to the type of relationship where two organisms benefit each other, such as the way anemones and clownfish work together to survive in coral reefs. This type of symbiotic relationship is fittingly called mutualism.

 

The relationship between anemone and clownfish might be one of the most well-known examples of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, but there are plenty of others. While some of them involve large animals, such as the oxpecker birds that remove and eat itchy insects bothering oxen, others involve much smaller living things that are inside of our own bodies! For example, each of our bodies is home to trillions of bacteria (called our microbiome), which help us with everything from digesting food to keeping us safe from pathogens that make us sick. At an even more microscopic level, the very cells that make up our bodies all have a symbiotic relationship with a tiny bacterium that lives inside of them, called the mitochondria. These mitochondria coexist with most living things on the planet, including all people, animals, and plants, and help us turn the food we eat into the energy that lets us live. Mutualistic symbiotic relationships are all around us (and inside of us!) and without them, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.

 

When naming our mentoring organization, we were inspired by the way that both mentors and mentees benefit and grow from mentoring relationships. We hope that besides being a fun science lesson, our name emphasizes the importance of working together to build a better future through a more diverse and mutually beneficial science.

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What is symbiosis?
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