You can find him on:
- Twitter @samlong713 and @genderinbiology
- Instagram @sammightybite and @genderinclusivebiology
- Facebook @genderinclusivebiology
- University of Toronto, Physiology, 2013
- University of Toronto, Master of Teaching, 2015
Current Job Title: High school science teacher and gender-inclusive curriculum developer
What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?
I grew up around science. My dad was a biochemist who immigrated from China to the United States to attend a Ph.D program, and that’s why I was born here as a Chinese-American. Though my dad passed away when I was young, my mom went on to become a cell biology researcher and I spent a lot of after-school time at her lab waiting for her to finish her work. I was on my tippy-toes as my mom showed me around her lab’s equipment and some of her experiments. I was fascinated with the claim that every living thing is made of tiny cells that we can’t even see. I thought, how can we be sure of this, and if it’s true, how did it get that way? Later my mom showed me a Sanger sequencing chart and she said that DNA gave the instructions for making all of life. That gave me hope that many profound phenomena were based on patterns that could be explained, even if I was too young to fully understand them at the time.
Biology stayed with me as my passion, and it’s what I teach today at the high school level. I give my students the experiences and the skills necessary to understand and interact with the living world through scientific evidence.
Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.
Ben Barres, a Stanford neuroscientist, became an influential mentor to me while I was in college. Barres was a transgender man, just like myself, and he was an outspoken advocate for supporting women and LGBTQ+ people in science and academia. Having transitioned during his career as a professor, he used his personal experiences to argue for the need for systemic change in the scientific community. After I saw a Youtube video of a lecture he had given on the topic, I reached out to him via email. He told me that no matter what kind of career I wanted, to consider coming out and being open about my trans identity. When Barres came out, his colleagues surprised him with the level of support they expressed, and he felt his career had thrived following his transition. I have had similar experiences as a teacher. By being out and by advocating for inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities in schools and even in the science curriculum, I am paying it forward to the youth that I teach.
Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?
I came out as transgender in high school, and when I started to transition, the peers and teachers at my school were largely not supportive. I was misgendered, gossipped about, and excluded from some school activities. I began to dread going to class, and because my family didn’t support my transition at the time, I feared this would be the end of my formal education. But my interest in science remained, and I wanted to learn more like my dad. So I kept focused on that goal. I kept my grades up, made some money at a restaurant job, and I was able to go to college and major in a science field.
Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.
I started as a teacher who was very competent in my content knowledge (biology) but struggled with classroom management and building relationships with students. Teaching is partly a performance, and the way we interact with our students is highly personal. It took me a few years to develop an interpersonal style and to become very comfortable working with the hundreds of young people who come through my classroom. Now, I love getting to know my students as well as diving into the content!
Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.
As a student, I remember all the times when my teacher or professor would talk about sex or reproduction, and I would say under my breath, “except me.” Men produce sperm, except me, since I’m trans. Heterozygous parents would have a 25% chance of a child with a recessive trait, except me, since I wouldn’t be passing my genes to my children. Sure, I was willing to be an unspoken exception to what I was being taught. But what about all the LGBTQ+ students who didn’t come from a long line of scientists? How could they learn to love a subject that alienated them and invalidated their identities?
As an out trans teacher, I have found many opportunities to integrate LGBTQ+ identities into my biology curriculum. In my class, we don’t learn the gross oversimplification that “XX chromosomes make a girl, XY chromosomes make a boy”. We learn about the difference between sex and gender, the fact that neither is a binary, and that both have complex physiological determinants. We carefully delineate the difference between the biological concept of family and the broader social concept of family. We discuss the implications of homosexuality on population fitness in evolution. I have found that students love to learn about these complexities and that they make our science curriculum more rigorous, interesting, and inclusive.
Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.
Consider science education. Educators are the ones who help young people become future scientists, especially the young people who don’t already have a family tradition of science. We need strong, diverse science educators!