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Executive Summary

The ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network convened scholars from multiple disciplines for a 2-day workshop to prioritize under-studied research questions within the general theme of Problematic Jargon in STEM. The Research Advisory Board of the ARC Network, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative at the Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN), identified this theme as a primary area in need of further research exploration in academic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workplaces.

This theme was selected because language and terminology are integral parts of STEM culture and often reflect larger social structures and power dynamics. The language, rhetoric, metaphors, and key terminology within STEM fields shape accessibility and inclusion in those fields as well as research approaches and solutions.

Members of the workshop planning committee nominated scholars working in this area who represent a diverse array of disciplines, research specialties, institution types, career stages, and social demographic backgrounds. Twenty-six scholars convened in April 2022 and participated in a series of facilitator-led discussions designed to culminate in a research agenda of under- studied questions that will advance the understanding of language used by scientists, engineers, and practitioners that is non-inclusive.

By the end of our time together, the group prioritized these research and intervention topics:

  • Understanding the social implications of language use on inclusion and marginalization in STEM
  • Metahistorical compilation of previous name changes across disciplines
  • Persuasion strategies for convincing scientists to change their usage
  • Antiracism and anti-oppression curricular development
  • Role of professional societies to effect culture change

These priority topics emerged from extensive discussion among workshop participants and are elaborated in the full report. In addition, other identified areas where research is needed include:

  • How do we broaden the discussion to engage researchers and practitioners across disciplines?
  • How can we move past language itself to study underlying cultural assumptions?

We encourage researchers to pursue these topics and explore the questions described within this report, which will be aided by collaboration across disciplines, including social sciences, humanities, and practitioners of STEM disciplines. We also invite researchers and practitioners to intervene in all problematic terminology, not just that discussed in this report. To that end, we are crowdsourcing a list of suggested inclusive terminology to replace problematic language.

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