Lego’s new female scientists set already has an awesome new Twitter tribute


From Lego Academics: “Dr Brown’s conference papers always go WAY over time…and she just READS them. Wake up moderator!” Used with permission from Donna Yates.

Just days after the release of Lego’s much-anticipated “Research Institute” set of female scientists, the inevitable has happened: meet @LegoAcademics, a Twitter account that uses the posed legos to reenact daily life in academia.

Its creator, Donna Yates, is an archaeologist who studies the looting and trafficking of goods from archaeological sites for the Trafficking Culture Project at the University of Glasgow. Her cool-sounding job is “bursts of Indiana Jones… embedded within a lot of normal academic stuff,” as she told the Post in an email from Glasgow. Also, it’s the job she’s wanted since she was a toddler.

Yates drew on the her own real life work experiences —  including the perilous Friday hangover leading into a weekend of work — to craft scenes using the new STEM legos. She believes this authenticity has helped the account catch on – it’s attracted more than 10,000 followers since Yates’s first tweet on Friday. Her most popular scene so far? Three academics frustrated over spending so much of their time on paperwork, rather than on their actual research; it’s been retweeted more than 1,000 times. She explained:

“This scene was ripped from real life: the Lego set was delivered to my office right when my office mate (another female academic) and I were filling out our performance evaluations: a slow, frustrating task which was keeping us from what we really love, namely our research. I think that scene struck a chord with other academics because it was brutally realistic. We’ve all been there, and been there more often than we want.”

Her second most popular image? Her take on “Publish or Perish,” which involves a giant lego dinosaur terrorizing the academics in a re-enactment of one of the most high-pressure aspects of the job. That, too, struck a chord. Plus, it has a dinosaur.

Yates, an American based in Scotland, said she bought the new Lego set in a fit of “nerdish glee” as soon as they were available earlier this month. That nerdiness is fed by two streams: her career as a woman in science, and her childhood love of Legos. But Yates, like many young girls who weren’t really into the “princess” thing, had trouble finding toys marketed to her gender that she could relate to as a kid. Legos, for a certain generation of those kids, was a wonderful, open toy with endless possibilities: “I was the sort of kid who begged and begged for a telescope and constructed extensive models of the Pyramids at Giza out of Lego,” Yates said. She echoed the complaints of many women over what Lego has done more recently to target girls (until, that is, the company approved the three newly-released female scientist toys). In 2011, for instance, the company released “LEGO Friends,” which, among other things, featured female figurines going to the mall and baking.

“I was sad to see that their “girls” line had lost most of the creativity and fun, essentially becoming toys that little me might have played with but would never have related to. It sort of felt like losing a beloved childhood memory,” Yates said of Lego’s more recent attempts to market their toys to girls. The new set, she added, has “made some amends” on that front. “Beyond being a positive image of successful women in science, they are toys that little me would have related to.” 

Her photos use the real figurines from the set, with some supplemental accessories and faces to increase the diversity of expression and look of the scientists. “I got a few extra heads (I wanted some with no makeup), a few extra bodies (I wanted some without the pinched in waist), and some more hair (I wanted some short hair and grey hair),” she said, adding, “a bit more variety for the academic women rather than just the long hair/make-up scene.” Aside from Yates’s wish that the set provide a bit more in the way of diversity of appearance, she said there’s only one other thing she’d change about the set, which features an astronomer, paleontologist and chemist: “Archaeologist instead of Paleontologist!”

Yates said that she doesn’t have any greater plans for the images yet. She just moved on to a more professional camera setup after starting with her camera phone. Lego hasn’t contacted her about the project. She added that “@LegoAcademics (and I) all have leftover student debt they would love to pay down, so if anyone at Big CoffeeTableBook wants to get in touch about funding the Academics’ research …..”

The account’s fans will be happy to know that Yates has been pretty busy with the lego set over the past few days. “I’ve at least got a few weeks more of the queued up and ready to go,” she said, adding, “I’ll probably keep at this as long as it’s funny.”

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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