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Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. Last week, Professor Sara Rankin FRSB spoke at our Member Organisation Twilight Meeting about neuroinclusive careers in STEM.

Professor Sara Rankin is professor of leukocyte and stem cell biology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London. In addition to her research, she is the National Heart and Lung Institute's lead for both EDI and public engagement, and is the Institute lead for outreach.

Sara started off her talk with who coined the term neurodiversity. It was first documented by Judy Singer, Australian Sociologist, in her PhD thesis in 1998, noting: “Neurodiversity refers to the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within Earth's human population. It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs.”

Sara then spoke about the ‘umbrella term’ used to cover a range of frequently co-occurring conditions, which include: dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.

She notes that neurodiversity is now being recognised and valued in the STEM workplace with businesses actively recruiting neurodiverse individuals, but there is a leaky pipeline in STEM education for students with specific learning differences.

To tackle this issue, Sara comments that are lots of different initiatives to develop inclusive methodologies to make education more accessible for students with specific learning differences, such as Imperial College London’s Excellence Fund for Learning and Teaching Innovation and 2Empower.

Sara then finished her talk highlighting an event being hosted at Imperial College London on 22nd March 2023, titled: Celebrating Neurodiversity in STEM. The first part of this event will be Dr Helen Taylor and Qona Rankin in conversation with Dr Brock Eide about the re-issue of the book The Dyslexic Advantage. The second half will be panel debates with neurodiverse STEM professionals at different stages in their careers to showcase the valuable contributions neurodiverse scientists make to science and beyond.

Sara’s recent feature in The Biologist further considers some of the challenges faced by neurodiverse people considering STEM careers, and what more could be done to support and encourage them.