FOJBI Friday: Meet Sophie Duncan, Sowing Seeds Of Social Justice In Science As a botany intern, Duncan collected seeds to help save and conserve native plants nationally. She also has a passion for social justice, and writes about sexism in plant science.

FOJBI Friday: Meet Sophie Duncan, Sowing Seeds Of Social Justice In Science

FOJBI Sophie Duncan Courtesy Sophie Duncan hide caption

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Courtesy Sophie Duncan

FOJBI Sophie Duncan

Courtesy Sophie Duncan

The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a community of people we think you should meet. FOJBI Friday introduces some of these cool communicators of science, in their own words. This week: Sophie Duncan.


I love plants! I'm a recent graduate from Brown University, where I majored in environmental sciences and classical studies, and went on to complete an internship in conservation and land management under the auspices of the Chicago Botanic Garden. As part of my internship I worked in Taos, New Mexico, where I collected more than half a million seeds for Seeds of Success, a national project of the Bureau of Land Management that aims to help conserve and restore healthy ecosystems throughout the U.S.

On the importance of listening

Any communication about science should be a two-way street that emphasizes dialogue and listening. Often I feel that "communication" is framed in terms of an individual or group broadcasting their work to the world in an engaging way (which is super important). But listening — to nonscientists as well as to scientists — is equally important. I'm also interested in helping people see the ways social justice and scientific research intersect. By talking about the histories of violence that have contributed to scientific progress, and connecting these histories to current injustices in the world, we can build a scientific community that combats oppression.

Current projects

Dynamic communication is an important tool in educating people, creating dialogue and — hopefully — spurring action. For example, botany played a key role in the expansion of empires, settler colonialism, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Through art, writing, and conversations, I am trying to challenge the standard narratives about the language and practice of botany. Recently I wrote a piece for the online blog Free Radicals that explores the ways gender, race, and sex have historically intersected in discussions of plant biology.

Future plans

In 2017 I plan to attend the University of British Columbia, to work toward a master's degree in biogeography. I also hope to continue to connect with other scientists and nonscientists to develop a practice of science that is actively anti-oppressive.