LGBTQ+ Plant Scientist Blog Series: Sterling Field
Combining passion for working with the LGBTQ+ community and Plants
I have the honor of kicking off this blog series for LGBTQ+ folks in Plant Science. Me and Alex started the LGBTQ+ Plant Scientists group and network to help connect folks in our field, and to also share resources we have identified, give a face to our community, and to help make sure we are cultivating a space in our discipline for our community. Since we do not have a template for what this blog series will be other than LGBTQ+ and Plant Science, I figure I will talk a bit about my past and how my identity has also been an influence on me as a scientist.
I have always loved plants, even since I was a child. I grew up liking to garden, but I always felt like it was not something a ‘normal’ boy should like to do. I remember trying to learn more about gardening by going to my middle school library and browsing the gardening section, I would choose a gardening book and sandwich it between two other books to hide it until I got home where I could read it. After I came out of the closet, I also began to be able to be okay with being different, and this led into me being able to research things I wanted to research without caring if it is a ‘masculine’ thing to do.
I came out when I was 14, and immediately started trying to find my local LGBTQ+ community, I honestly think that the only way I was able to survive was through the connections I had made to this community. One challenge though was when I started college was taking the general science courses and found it difficult to balance trying to maintain a connection with the LGBTQ+ community while also suffering through calculus and general chemistry. One way I was able to stay sane was by attending meetings for the Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (oSTEM) student group. I ended up being president of the group and later partnering with the National Organization of Scientist and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) and the Battelle LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group to bring the National Out To Innovate Conference to Ohio State. While I was doing this, I was also involved in plant research and noticed that while overall STEM had some LGBTQ+ visibility, I didn’t see any in the plant biology disciplines.
Transitioning from undergrad to graduate school, I made sure to ‘out’ myself in my personal statement; I figured that if I was going to go to someplace for graduate school and being gay was a problem, I might as well advertise it in my statement and help narrow down the list. Luckily, I did not encounter any problems, but I also made sure to ask the right questions during my interviews. I also investigated the LGBTQ+ scenes at all the schools I applied: did they have and LGBTQ+ resource center? LGBTQ+ programming? Was there a community outside of the university? These were all important themes to the places I applied, as well as their actual graduate program and research in the program.
During grad school I also had to develop a community around me while also juggling a new city, classes, and research. I sought out the LGBTQ+ graduate student group and was able to help other graduate students find a place where we could be.
So, for me, coming out as gay and being able to be in this field while also doing my research without worrying about what I study, these all go together. My ability to be out and proud has been what has also allowed me to find my place in science.
How has being LGBTQ+ changed the way you do science or your experiences in science?
Sterling Field is a PhD Candidate in Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.