‘Not the Science Type’ aims to shatter stereotypes at Twin Cities Film Fest - 1

“Not the Science Type” profiles four female scientists. (Submitted image)

A survey prompted Minnesota-based 3M to enter the film industry.

Through the company’s annual 3M State of Science Index Survey, which this year surveyed 1,000 respondents per country in 17 nations, researchers determined the public wants to see more diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, said Jayshree Seth, 3M corporate scientist and chief science advocate.

“We try to gauge the perception around science from the global public, and one of the themes that emerged from that is that people want more diversity and they recognize the importance of having more diversity,” Seth said. “This is a great time for science, actually, because the pandemic has really put the spotlight on science.”

People have seen how scientists have played a prominent role in finding a solution to the COVID-19 crisis by developing vaccines, for example, Seth noted.

However, she added, “We found that the global public believes that women and girls are not as encouraged as men and boys to pursue STEM (careers), and people also said that they think there are negative consequences to this.”

Seth believes a lack of role models and the persistence of negative stereotypes has played a role in the disparity among scientists.

As a result, 3M sponsored the film “Not the Science Type,” a compilation of short films profiling female scientists. A brief film about Seth will screen along with other short documentaries for $12 a ticket at the Twin Cities Film Fest 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, at the ShowPlace Icon Theatres in St. Louis Park. The nearly one-hour compilation profiling Seth and three other scientists may also be streamed for free online through the fest’s website, twincitiesfilmfest.org, during the festival period Oct. 21-30.

“The documentary series essentially tries to shatter those stereotypes and really challenge that,” Seth said.

Along with Seth, “Not the Science Type” examines the lives of nuclear engineer Ciara Sivels, scientist and inventor Gitaniali Rao and microbiologist Jessica Taaffe.

“While each has taken a different path to pursuing scientific excellence, they are bound by the common experience of feeling outcast or ‘not the type’ in traditionally homogenous scientific fields,” a description of the compilation says.

It notes Seth had not been interested in science herself as a young child in India but now holds 72 patents for her inventions. Her father’s position as a professor at an engineering college helped prompt her to enter the STEM field. She came to New York for graduate school, eventually gaining a doctoral degree. She started at 3M as a summer intern, leading to a full-time position and she’s spent 27 years so far at the company.

Of her own path, she said, “I realized that I am the science type. I get to define what a science type is, and I wanted to be one who brings in the humanities context and the empathy and all of that in our technology development and product development.”

Her role as chief science advocate for the company began after the index survey in 2018 found that four out of 10 respondents said their lives would be no different without science.

“They were actually taking the survey on their laptops and mobile phones, so it was very clear that science is sort of undervalued, under-appreciated, taken for granted,” Seth said. “It’s kind of behind the scenes, so we need to advocate for it.”

“Not the Science Type” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York ahead of its Twin Cities debut. It has been translated into 12 languages, such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French and Spanish, and has screened in Poland already with plans for an upcoming Italian premiere.

But Rob Brittain, the 3M communications manager who produced “Not the Science Type,” indicated the company “wanted to pitch it in our own backyard” thanks to the company’s connections in Minnesota and because its creators believe the film would resonate with participants in the Twin Cities Film Fest.

“We want to show that you can actually break those barriers and you can actually blaze new trails,” Seth said. “One of the taglines is ‘your potential is exponential.’ So, we want to kind of foster that conversation.”

While she said some core science areas are near reaching gender parity, Seth said, “In engineering, the numbers are pretty dismal yet.”

Along with a lack of awareness about role models in the field, Seth suggested that some girls may avoid it because engineering is presented in a dry manner instead of focusing on goals that can be accomplished, such as designing systems that can help save the rainforest.

“That is the context that is going to inspire young girls, and I saw that in myself and I also saw that decades later in my own daughter,” Seth said.

Cultural depictions of scientists as socially awkward or even villains in films can also lessen the appeal, she added.

“The good news is that the world is beginning to see that that it is having an impact, and people are agreeing that women and girls still face obstacles and there are negative consequences, so I think this is a perfect time for us to step up and show that you don’t have to be a specific race or gender, ethnicity or nationality,” Seth said.

At Tribeca, Brittain said, “I think the audience reception was really impressive for me – I mean, seeing people move to tears.”

He added, “Each one of these women’s stories is emotional, but they are committed to what they do, and that comes through in the film.”

While 3M has long promoted STEM education, Brittain said, “It’s very different when you talk about giving money versus telling a story, and this is all about storytelling and getting those stories out there so that we can inspire the next generation.”

In addition to the film fest website, the film is available to stream on iTunes, Google Play and the 3M YouTube channel.

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