Jillian Myers

Jillian Myers, a committed and driven scientist and Research Lab Specialist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, dedicates her professional pursuits to promoting EEB’s Biodiversity Lab Partnership and working with students. Her efforts focus on identifying and addressing the barriers that hinder individuals from accessing and engaging with scientific concepts. 

Myers, along with Kira Berman and Jade Marks of the University of Michigan Natural History Museum (UMMNH), have developed an initiative called the Biodiversity Lab Partnership (BLP). The program is specifically designed to provide graduate students with extensive training and opportunities to interact with the public. 

This initiative trains graduate student researchers in science communication while promoting diversity and equity in STEM fields. The program is hosted in a laboratory that allows visitors at the UMMNH to interact with the researchers through a glass window and microphone. Often times visitors can watch science happening right before their eyes and they are invited to have a dialogue with the BLP students about their work. 

The program is proud to offer a stipend to students to reduce financial barriers that may hinder participation. Inspired by former lab interactions, Myers had big ideas! “When I started this position in late 2020, I knew I wanted to revitalize the lab culture around public interactions. The Biodiversity Lab interface is a very special thing and a great concept. Still, there were, and continue to be, some pretty substantial hurdles to address for it to be used effectively,” said Myers. 

BLP aims to educate the next generation of scientists on the best ways to connect with the public and to create engaging shared experiences for scientists and museum visitors. 

“Some of these [barrriers] are logistical; the busiest times for the museum are weekends, when there is little/no activity in the lab. Often, scientists really need to focus on their work and can’t afford the distraction of onlookers,” said Myers.

“Other challenges are cultural; we needed to reframe how we experience being observed from a nuisance to a means of inspiring the next generation and demystifying science generally. I thought a formalized program that included training and paid weekend experience could help.” 

The overarching goal of BLP is to create a level playing field for all individuals to participate in science communication training and to promote diversity within the field. Through a range of initiatives such as “Lab Chats,” hands-on demonstrations, and a full docket of projects being planned, BLP has successfully engaged with the community and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both students and visitors. 

“‘Lab Chats’ are hosted from inside the Biodiversity Lab, facilitated by a two-way audio system. This way, our scientists can move around the lab and show various equipment or specimens or demonstrate methods,” said Myers. “Sometimes BLPers choose to step out from behind the glass and interact with the public in front of the lab. Our training curriculum includes the development of hands-on demonstrations about the scientist’s own research, so coming out from behind the glass is important for these demos.” However, despite the remarkable success of BLP, the program requires funding to continue its valuable work. 

Myers urges faculty members to incorporate BLP into their grant proposals and hopes that donors will lend their support. BLP is a significant step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive society where individuals from all backgrounds can benefit from engaging with science and scientists. Museum visitors appreciate speaking with scientists from backgrounds similar to their own, and frequently BLP participants are thanked for being role models.

Myers is committed to ensuring that this important work continues for many years to come. The program was awarded the EEB JEDI Award in Spring of 2023 for the teams incredible work! The EEB JEDI Award was started during the 2020-21 academic year and has been supported by funding from the EEB department and the Rackham Allies program. It recognizes either individuals or projects that have made significant contributions to Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the winner was chosen by the 22/23 EEB JEDI committee (Tom Duda, Melissa Duhaime, Susanna Gutierrez, Justin Hopper, Jo Kurdziel, Dan Rabosky,  John Vandermeer, and Grace Zhang). 

Help us keep BLP alive by contributing to the EEB Biodiversity Lab Partnership (339375) fund and be sure to visit us the next time you are at the Museum of Natural History!