This month we are SO excited to bring you one of our STEM heros, RAVEN BAXTER aka Raven the Science Maven aka "Queen of Science Rap." Raven is an educator, molecular scientist and is completing her doctorate in Science Education. She has received national attention for her raps about science and just recently released a new album called "The Protocol." In addition to her many accomplishments, she is also the co-founder of STEMbassy, a science communication organization. Read below to hear more about her amazing work and life as a science educator!
MUSE: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
RAVEN: My name is Raven Baxter and I suppose I would describe myself as someone who is very fun-loving, outgoing and passionate about spreading enthusiasm for science to the world! I’ve worn many roles in science as a cancer researcher, professor, and academic advisor. Now I am completing a [doctoral] degree in science education and launching a career in science communication!
My doctoral work involves studying the relationships between how scientists are represented in the media and how adults identify with science. This work is important to understand how we can create better connections between science and the general public. My results thus far have shown that more diversity in STEM fields is needed to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to enter and remain in STEM fields.
MUSE: Okay first tell us: how did you get into STEM? Did you always know you wanted to be a scientist?
RAVEN: Definitely a corny way to start my answer to this, but I certainly ALWAYS knew that I was going to be a scientist. When I was younger, I would torture my mother with endless questions about science! I would mix together lotion with nail polish and other cosmetics just to see what would happen when the different chemicals were mixed with one another!
I remember a time where I received a silly putty toy as a gift for my birthday and the packaging said that it could copy newspaper print. The ink would transfer to the silly putty when you pressed it onto a page. I did that, it was successful, and I decided to test what other things it could copy. I decided to try to copy the TV remote! That didn’t go well because the silly putty wouldn’t come off of the remote! I ended up getting in trouble, but I think that might have been a point where my mother decided to get me into as many STEM-oriented programs as possible. One of the best programs that she involved me in was Space Camp! It was an amazing experience and I made lifelong friends as well as a decision to pursue a lifelong career in science.
MUSE: You’ve worked as a biology professor, corporate drug discovery scientist and so much more. What were these experiences like for you and what did you like/dislike about them?
RAVEN: My role as a corporate drug discovery scientist was an amazing opportunity as I worked on a multitude of projects that each were unique in their own right. I learned a broad skill set in molecular biology! Those experiences were invaluable to my career and allowed me to be well-versed on many subjects in the field. I wish that there was more support for diversity in the STEM workforce. I have several negative experiences due to the lack of support for diversity in the workplace. My experience in that environment is actually one of two specific experiences that inspired me to have a career in science communication and be a representative of science in my community that promotes diversity.
My role as a biology professor was incredibly rewarding in that I had a greater impact on my community and the next generation of scientists, since I was able to work outside of a lab and communicate with more people in my day-to-day activities. Teaching is one of my strongest skills, and I am passionate about science. I am at my best when I can combine my skills and my passions into one career!
MUSE: You are currently in a PhD program for science education. What projects are you currently working on in your PhD/what is the focus of your research?
RAVEN: As I stated earlier in the interview, I am conducting a study on the relationship between how scientists are represented in the media and how adults identify with science. So far, I’ve interviewed several dozen Black women both in STEM and not in STEM, and my data shows that 98% of them do not identify with what they believe is the most common portrayal of a scientist in America. An overwhelming majority of these women identified that portrayal as White and male. Additionally, there is evidence in research that has previously been done that shows learning outcomes are improved when a learner can relate to their teacher. I am conducting this research to contribute to this body of research and make an academic case for why more diversity is needed in science and more diverse voices are needed in science education and communication!
MUSE: What do you enjoy most about graduate school/your PhD program?
RAVEN: I am currently earning a doctorate in science education at the University at Buffalo. What I enjoy most about my program is that it is interdisciplinary, and I have room to explore all of the fields that contribute to what I am interested in as a student. I can take science education, hip hop, film, and counseling courses. I think that it’s a huge blessing to be able to do this because I love to be well-rounded. I already have two STEM degrees in molecular biology, so expanding to a different field was very appealing to me. I’m hoping to finish my degree in the fall of 2020.
Now, I must say that there is an intense amount of politics that goes into being a Ph.D. student, and I’m really glad to have an advisor that has been able to help me navigate through any issues that I’ve had in my program.
MUSE: We first learned about you from watching you combine rap and science with the song “Big Ole Geeks.” (And yes we can sing along with every word!!) How did you have this idea to combine (rap!) music and science?
RAVEN: That’s so awesome that you can sing every word! I am always in awe when people share that with me. It means a lot! As I shared earlier, I think that there is an immense value in being interdisciplinary and being able to blend your various talents, skills, and identities into one vibe. I am a firm believer in being your unapologetic self as well as bringing all elements that you have to offer to the table no matter what you’re doing or where you are. I’ve found that in STEM culture we are often told to hide parts of our identity to maintain the status-quo. There is research that shows that forcing marginalized populations to adhere to these expectations can be harmful, even traumatic. So, why keep doing it? My mission is to provide an example to the public of someone who unapologetically embraces who they are and ignores these notions of what STEM should act, be, or look like.
MUSE: You have a new album called “The Protocol” coming out soon and we CANNOT wait! Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect and how you’ve juggled this with your PhD?
RAVEN: My album is very much connected to the work that I am doing in my doctoral program. I’m really excited about it! The album has messages of encouragement and empowerment. All of the songs are explicitly STEM-related, but done in a way that you can still shake it to and not feel like you’re listening to Kidz Bop or some sing-song music that doesn’t feel natural or enjoyable. I’ve been wanting to come out with this album for almost an entire year now, and I’m really excited to put out something new, fresh, and right on time for summer shenanigans!
MUSE: As if you were not already the Beyonce of STEM, you also founded an organization called STEMbassy, can you tell us a little about this organization and what inspired you to start it?
RAVEN: I’m the Beyonce of STEM? You named it and I’m going to claim it!
STEMbassy is an organization that is focused on amplifying the voices of powerhouses in STEM. We are made up of a diverse cast of accomplished and thoughtful people who are so passionate about improving STEM culture. We have a weekly live talk show that is open to the public and we have some amazing conversations about current events in STEM. We really pride ourselves on showing what diversity looks like and that people from all backgrounds can come together and have a place to be their unapologetic selves. We have had our challenges but we’ve grown from them beautifully and from what we’ve been able to achieve this far, I know that we’re going to stick around for a long time. We have some amazing and interesting projects up our sleeve and we’re so excited to launch them! Stay tuned.
MUSE: Can you describe a challenge you’ve faced in STEM and how you overcame it?
RAVEN: I think that the biggest challenges that I’ve faced in STEM can all fall into one category. This category would be, times where I’ve felt silenced or have silenced myself. There are so many times when something has happened to me and I felt like I couldn’t speak up because I was a minority and didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. And people being uncomfortable in my field due to being a minority is such a common occurrence, and it’s not fair. Those days are over for me! I realized that the only way that this culture is going to change is if I speak up for myself and present myself the way that I want to be accepted.
MUSE: We could not agree more Raven! What are your hobbies outside of STEM? How do you relax and have fun outside of such challenging school/work demands?
RAVEN: I’m really happy to say that everything that I do in STEM, particularly as a science communicator, feels like a hobby. I’m working towards crafting a full-time career out of this. I love what I do! Making music, connecting with people both in person and online, and spreading the good word of STEM! I think that everyone should aim to do something that fulfills all aspects of their life and make that their livelihood. I don’t think that we should pursue things that drain us and make life less enjoyable.
MUSE: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a scientist or go to graduate school for STEM?
RAVEN: My advice would be to work hard, look for support when you need it, and never give up your voice.
MUSE: Why are diversity and representation so important for underrepresented groups in STEM?
RAVEN: There is research that shows how important diversity is to groups when making decisions. Imagine how STEM as a whole would improve if there was better representation? I also think that it’s so important that underrepresented groups in STEM begin to voice their own narratives of what they are experiencing in their STEM journeys.
MUSE: Any parting thoughts you’d like to share?
RAVEN: I am so glad to have your support and thank you for featuring me on your platform. I wish you and all of your students success!
We cannot thank Raven enough for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this interview with us!