MPs ponder why there are so few women in academic science

The Report highlights the undoubted problem of short-term contracts which are the lot of most early-career researchers (and not just in the STEM subjects). Such contracts are particularly unattractive for those who may be considering starting a family or have a partner whose job is not portable. These factors tend to hit women harder than men.

[ via The Guardian ]

Algebra Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

Many community-college students never make it to graduation because they can’t pass developmental, or remedial, math. Two courses from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and its partners prove that a more engaging curriculum and teaching method can help students succeed.

[ via The Atlantic ]

Six steps to fairer funding for female scientists

Females who take time from their careers to give birth to and raise children do not lose their scientific abilities. To continually lose women after years of training is a waste of talent and the investment the government makes in young female scientists.

[ via The Conversation ]

The Need for Belonging in Math and Science

In an excellent paper from 2007, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen showed that in academic and professional settings, members of socially stigmatized groups were more uncertain of the quality of their social bonds and more sensitive to issues of social belonging. They called this “belonging uncertainty”, and they found it contributed to racial disparities in achievement.

[ via Scientific American ]

Truth Comes to Texas A&M in Play Exploring Gender, Academia

The autobiographical show is written and performed by self-described “recovering mathematician” Gioia De Cari, who channels more than 30 roles on stage to relate her experience as a mathematics graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

[ via Texas A&M University ]

STEMinist Profile: Julie Kientz, Assistant Professor – Univ. of Washington


Julie Kientz

Assistant Professor

University of Washington

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I had wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember, but while I was in high school and doing a job shadowing project, I fainted while watching a dog undergoing surgery! I realized I probably needed to find a new career path after that. I had been spending a lot of time online and chatting with people on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and was amazed by how useful the Internet was in connecting me to places and people beyond the small town where I grew up. One of my online friends encouraged me to try out programming, and so I did. It was really fun and I was hooked! After that, I decided to pursue computer science.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am definitely really proud of the Baby Steps project I’ve been working on since about 2007. The idea is to help parents of young children track developmental progress in their children from birth through age 5 to help detect things like autism or other developmental delays sooner. The idea is that the information will be stored in a centralized database, so we have been working on ideas to use technology to reach parents no matter how they use technology or what their access to it might be. We’ve been using a software application, a website, Twitter, text messaging, and more to try to reach as many parents as we can! It’s been really rewarding to work on a project that can have the potential to help many different families. Also, now that I have my own daughter, I am finding it fun and really useful to use to track her development.

Role models and heroes:
Growing up, I remember really loving to read about Sally Ride, the first female astronaut. It really made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to, and that there was no job that was beyond reach because of my gender. I’m also a big fan of female computer scientists Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and of Harvey Mudd’s current president, Maria Klawe.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love the feeling that I can create anything in the digital world and use those abilities to help others. Computer science is not just a bunch of math like a lot of people think, but it’s actually a creative process that requires a lot of different types of thinking. Also, the work I do in human-computer interaction involves both working with people to find out what they need and then developing prototypes of that technology and making those ideas come to life. This makes it both challenging and exciting.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Computers touch almost every aspect of our lives these days, and thus there are a number of opportunities to apply computer science to almost any thing that interests you, whether it’s healthcare, art, science, music, games, movies, or more. By combining your work with the things that interest you most, you can definitely enjoy it a lot more and feel good about it. Also, stick to it, even if it gets hard. There are a number of fun things you can do once you get really good at computing.

Favorite website or app:I really love my Fitbit, which I’ve been using for almost 3 years now. When you spend a lot of time with computers, it’s really easy to spend a lot of time not moving. My Fitbit keeps me accountable for making sure I get enough activity, and it also is fun to go back and look at the data and compete with friends for the highest number of steps.

Twitter: @juliekientz


‘Stemming the tide’ of women leaving chemistry

Recent studies have shown that there are still hurdles that women have to overcome, but successful departments have felt the benefit of mentoring and creating a supportive environment. More still needs to be done to help fix the leaky pipeline – and some of the problems, such as wider societal perceptions and expectations, are bigger than the departments they affect. However, by continual monitoring and increased awareness, the proportion of female senior scientists should improve.

[ via Chemistry World ]

Liverpool’s new Life Sciences University Technical College proves magnet for female students

…after it was confirmed around three-quarters of applicants are female, delighted campaigners said it was an important victory in the fight for more women to break into the traditionally male-dominated science sector.

[ via Liverpool Echo News ]

STEMinist Profile: Raquel H. Ribeiro, Postdoctoral researcher in theoretical cosmology


Raquel H. Ribeiro

Postdoctoral researcher in theoretical cosmology. University of Cambridge, MAS, PhD.

Case Western Reserve University, USA

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Ever since I can remember I have been been asking questions. Why, why, and why… I would spend hours and hours looking at the night sky when I was a kid, bewildered by that huge amount of space out there. That fascination with the universe soon came across Carl Sagan’s TV series “Cosmos”. My career path was sealed.

From then on, I wanted to study as much maths and physics as I could. I wanted to know how it all worked: how stars were born, why were they irradiating, why were they twinkling in the sky. But most of all how did it all come from. Somehow the ability of asking questions was always there with me, and it fueled my desire to understand more. It wouldn’t matter much which subject we were talking about: biology or chemistry, maths, or any other. But it was with physics mostly that I felt at home.

It never mattered to me if people were not expecting me to pursue a career in physics. All I wanted was to understand. And now that I’m a real cosmologist focusing on the early universe, all I can say is that I still like to ask questions. That is my way of life.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I would lie if I said I had a favourite project. A project in physics usually arises when someone asks a question about a specific phenomenon we don’t quite understand. If we end up with a neat answer, we write a paper about it as a means to tell our story to other people.

But if I have to pick up one which makes the whole perspective about cosmology as dramatic as it can be, I will pick up my most recent one. By looking at clusters of galaxies and studying its statistics, one might be able to trace some features back into the primordial ages, when the universe was born. In some way, studying clusters is our back door to the early universe.

That means a whole 13.8 billion years of winding the tape backwards in time. It’s the best time machine one can hope for, and the good thing about it is that it is already there, offered by the universe, and we don’t need to build it. Simple and beautiful.

Role models and heroes:
This is a hard one and I’m not sure I have a good answer for it. What I can say is that I did admire Carl Sagan. His own fascination by the cosmos was certainly contagious. He had a very peculiar way of talking about it, as if every step was filled with that passion for discovery. Also, you could see how much imagination and creativity plays such an important role in a physicist’s life.

By drawing comparisons between completely different events in science, sometimes we are able to learn a lot from one phenomenon, which might enable us to learn more from another. For example, there are mathematical techniques which you can use in a variety of phenomena, in different branches of physics. What Carl Sagan fought me was to keep an open eye for these similarities, as they can help us when we less expected them to.

Also, I hope I have inherited the passion for my job from my Mother. She did set an incredible example to me as far as her dedication towards work goes. I know that is already half-way to fulfilment.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
The ability to keep asking questions as if you were still a child is definitely one of the best things of being a scientist. It’s your work, so it’s the perfect argument to keep wanting to learn more. But really, most of all, it does not feel like work. How can work be so much fun…? When you find yourself in the middle of a breakthrough the rush of adrenaline through your body tells you that is why you asked the question in the first place. Then you jump and ask another one. And you keep going…!

A very nice advantage of our work is that we do get the chance to travel around the world and learn from the best in our field. Scientists are very spread out across the globe, and from time to time they organise conferences from very afar places such as California, USA and Seoul, South Korea, where everyone gets together. We might all come from completely different backgrounds, but in the end we are still trying to understand how the universe works.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Above all, trust in yourself. You don’t need to be super smart to be a scientist. All you need is to let that need to ask questions empower you, and all of the sudden you will find yourself with a career in science. Then be stubborn. Being a stubborn scientist is good.

Favorite website or app:
I am an avid reader of Maria Popova’s website called ‘brain pickings’. It’s a nice mixture of science and culture ingredients, which lets you wander through very different themes. But be warned: very soon you will be completely addicted like me…!

Twitter: @RaquelHRibeiro


The Prescription for a Family-Friendly Profession

At nearly every stage of an academic career, on the other hand, professors who are mothers find themselves disadvantaged compared to their male and childless female colleagues, including faculty fathers. Scientists are penalized most of all.

[Via Science Careers ]