Scott Polar Research Institute,
University of Cambridge
Minorities in Polar Research/Polar Impact
The son of Indian immigrants , raised in England, he grew up to be a polar explorer and works to add diversity to the field.
Prem did his undergraduate work in marine geography. He found a class division between students who went on to be conservationists and students who went on to work in industry. The students who went on to be conservationists, or went on to stay in academia, and went on to do masters and Ph.Ds were typically students who really enjoyed their undergrad because they did a dissertation project they really enjoyed.
Finding this project involved knowing they could go somewhere amazing -- Antarctica or the Great Barrier Reef, for example --and conduct a really cool research project. Prem felt that a lot of the working class kids didn’t know such an option was available until it was just too late and they saw the other students doing it. Then these students would realize what they had missed: "If I knew I could have done that, that’s what I would have done."
Learn about Polar Impacts/Minorities in Polar Science, the organization that Prem founded, here.
Loads of cultural barriers can be isolating for minorities, whether you’re at home or off on a research station in Antarctica. For minorities who want to open up about issues they’re facing, it can feel risky. When Prem joined the British Antarctic Survey he could see there were groups someone could go to, based on sexual orientation or on gender, where they could find "a known figure" to talk to about certain issues -- a safe space. Because there weren’t enough people of minorities in polar science, there was no such group. So Prem felt that if he did want to open up it could feel like "Russian roulette" (professional suicide), because he didn't know how the other person might react. That’s why he set up Minorities in Polar Research.
One problem is knowing these opportunities exist. Even though technically such opportunities may be freely available -- on line or on the bulletin board-- the difference can be whether you know it’s a good opportunity and you should go for it. Prem says that’s often to do with class because if you have parents who have been to university or you have friends who are well educated they might have cousins, older siblings, parents who have done these thing, and they’ll point them out to you.
He gives the example of NASA opening up an opportunity for people to apply to become astronauts. "How many of us actually think we can feasibly do it?" Prem asks. He goes on, "I know it’s a crazy comparison, but to some people seeing a poster saying 'Do you want to go to a coral reef in Indonesia and go diving to do a survey of fish?' that’s just, in their mind, as feasible as applying to NASA to be an astronaut, because it something you don’t know anyone doing in your life."
Seals in space: the song!
Hear it (and find out more about Prem) here.
CAN I CREATE CHANGE?
NOT BELIEVING IN YOURSELF
Can i create change?
Prem says: "I’ve joined the world of polar science in the past two years and nearly every single leader of a major polar organization is female, so you know that’s been a drastic change. That shows me change is possible. That’s sort of what made me realize that, number one — it’s possible, andn number two — you can do it; and number three — this is the change that can happen if you work on these issues."