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Is Sailing for the STEMinist?

Editor’s note: Nicole Trennholm is a scientist on the Ocean Research Project and is currently aboard the Japan-bound Sakura. She is periodically sending updates from sea:

“Hey lady, wake up! It’s noon and the sun is strong and winds are still squirrelly…it is time for your watch!” the Skipper shouts with a goofy grin while poking you.

The time has come to be diligent, your conscience confirms. The boat is yours: take charge, it’s time to let the other guy get some rest. You notice your muscles have cramped as you pull yourself upright and out of your bunk. You think back to your previous watch, and how sleepy you were when looking out for squally powerful and wind stealing rain clouds. You still have anxiety for having had to call out the sleeping Skipper from his bunk to help you get back on course after an accidental jibe – where the boom accidentally swings violently to the other side as the wind gusts from the opposite direction – and a second time to lend a hand in reducing sail as the wind picked up when a suspect dark cloud passed closer than expected.

Yet it is these experiences that develop the able sailor. A little after sunrise you plotted the daily 24-hour position on the passage chart. You are traveling west onboard the sailing research yacht Sakura bound for Japan and have cruised into the Eastern Hemisphere. You are well into the Pacific Ocean, looking out for dangers to navigation and assessing the risk of vessels on a collision course, easy to manage on a day like this and considering a ship has not been spotted in well over a week.

It’s hour one of four; your ship’s log is your companion and official record so you routinely mark it up to watch for red flags such as: quick changes in barometric pressure, unexpected developments in the weather and sea state, erratic navigation details and peculiarities in the state of the ship’s systems. Staying sheltered, cool and hydrated is critical so you keep inside the cabin, out of the sun. You are able to fill any downtime with easily interrupted activities like reading, all while keeping an eye on the ship’s ability to steer its designated course. You are busy surviving. Your focus and commitment for those four hours is to safely run the ship, guard the lives on it and be prepared to brief the relief watch person on the current conditions.

I am currently aboard the Sakura bound for Japan. I am a scientist on the Ocean Research Project (ORP) team and am aspiring to become an able sailor. I utilize and practice STEM tools not only as a sailor but also to plan and conduct the ORP’s continent-to-continent Plastic Pollution Survey, the impetus for our passage which began April 25 out of San Francisco. We are collecting plastic pollution samples all the way across and both in and outside of gyre systems (large areas of circulatory current where plastic assembles) to better understand its ocean-wide effect on the marine environment.

Would you voluntarily enter into this trying environment, challenging your STEM skill set while developing another in sailing, a skill set our modern first world culture does not stress as part of your development? Sailing teaches the endurance and patience necessary to develop your survival sense by providing an ever-changing classroom and demanding an adaptive, solution-minded pupil. Sailing requires survival sense, a vanishing primal human capacity and a combination of mental, emotional and physical strength.

To negotiate your obstacles while navigating, handle a catastrophic event onboard or even continuously maintain satisfactory conditions of your shipmates and ship systems requires great discipline and composure. To experience an eventless watch is unlikely and to uphold order indefinitely aboard a sailing passage is an ongoing battle but through the accretion of experiences you will undoubtedly develop your survival sense. You already have the tools STEM disciplines have equipped you with which may prove to be your greatest assets when aspiring to become an able sailor.

Blog

The CataLyst – Can you name a female scientist?

My guess is that most people know who Marie Curie was (the first woman to win a Nobel Price), and that’s probably where the list ends for many of us. Can you name a male scientist? How about 5, or 10? Yeah, not that difficult, is it? A European wide study found that although most of us could name one, a quarter couldn’t name a single female scientist, dead or alive. So the odds of people knowing more than one are slim.

They’ve uncovered some of our planet’s and the universe’s mysteries and their discoveries have helped to shape the world we live in, yet there’s still an out-dated idea that women haven’t made a difference to society. I’m pretty sure that this can be blamed on our ignorance about female scientists through history, and the fact than in many cases these women have effectively been written out of history books to the befit of their male counterparts.

Science journalist Priya Shetty said: “Women’s contributions have always been overlooked whether in politics, literature or science.” She added that without efforts to promote them, female scientists would sink into obscurity. “They’re not part and parcel of the education system. We’re not giving youngsters role models. Some of these women have had fantastic lives – why does nobody know about them?”

The Guardian had a piece a couple of months back about a similar issue after the Royal Society had been urging people to highlight the achievements of women in science by adding to their Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is one of the most used sources of information today. It’s free and open, and anyone can add and edit articles. Yet the Wikipedia pages of many prominent women both in science and other fields show little more than a couple of short paragraphs of information.

Dame Athene Donald, fellow of the Royal Society, said “Many female scientists are either not there at all on Wikipedia or just [have] stubs. It’s not just the historical characters, it’s the current ones, and these very eminent women just somehow get overlooked.” And so, on March 4th this year, ahead of International Women’s Day, the Royal Society, working with the Royal Academy of Engineering, hosted an “edit-athon” to boost the presence of female scientists.

I think this is a great initiative, as every day we hear about the lack of role models for girls and how the STEM industry are losing its female workforce at various points in their careers. Wikipedia is a great arena to put focus on inspirational female role models as it’s almost always going to come top of Google search results. There is also hope that as the number of female Wikipedia editors increase, the focus will be shifted more onto women.

If you want to brush up on your knowledge of female scientists then read about these 6 women who were snubbed due to sexism, or why not learn about these 10 ground breaking women scientists written off by history. And in the interest of diversity, and my last post, the Royal Society has highlighted Inspiring Scientists: Diversity in British Science. Enjoy!

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Erica Moulton, Marine Technology/Owner

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Erica Moulton

Marine Technology/Owner

PVC ROV


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think I knew when I was 4 that I wanted to work in the science field. Of course I was enamored by Jacques Cousteau, but I was also inspired by the physics of what Evel Knievel was doing on a motorcycle and the adventures of Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom. Whatever I could watch on evening television would inspire me to explore and build outside everyday. I built rockets with my friends, explored the mangrove estuary around my home, didn’t come home until the street lights came on – I think being a kid in the “free to be a kid outside” 1970’s is overall what inspired me to keep going in the STEM field. I try to inspire the same wanderlust in my own children through travel and exploration.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Coolest? That would easily go to an experiment fondly called Fish In Space. Three colleagues and I applied to have an aquaculture experiment on-board Space Shuttle Mission STS -95 (when John Glenn returned to space). It was accepted – and we learned a bit about the potential to grow Tilapia on future space missions. Second coolest? Building my first simple ROV and underwater camera system. Why? It was proof of my mastery of simple electrical skills – a mastery that has continued for over 10 years allowing me to teach hundreds of others basic electrical and waterproofing skills – enabling them to work, create and explore the underwater world.

Role models and heroes:
My role models and heroes? I don’t have specific people or characters in this category. Well not famous ones – I see the women I know personally – they understand that it takes a village – it’s those who are married, or single mom or maybe have a partner, have families, work in STEM, have balance, who say no to some things – who contribute to the world and to each other – those are my role models.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love working in STEM for a lot of reasons, but my favorite one? I love working in STEM because it allows me the opportunity to engage other people in STEM activities. I love to break down barriers to participation, teaching in ways that people like to learn and demonstrating that we use many facets of STEM on a daily basis without even realizing it!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Support other women! Be a sponsor, be a mentor – not a covert competitor.

Favorite website or app:
FabFems role models

Twitter: @ROV_Erica

Site: pvcrov.wix.com/pvcrov

News

Stop female scientists being written out of Wikipedia history

“Many female scientists are either not there at all on Wikipedia or just [have] stubs,” said Dame Athene Donald, fellow of the Royal Society and professor of experimental physics at Cambridge University. “It’s not just the historical characters, it’s the current ones, and these very eminent women just somehow get overlooked.”

[ via The Guardian ]

News

Women can help bridge the ‘valley of death’ in science innovation

If women’s participation is a demonstrated element for business success and innovation is the essential ingredient for businesses to flourish, then why have we not embraced the opportunity to boost the role of women in science and business? Perhaps if we did we would witness greater translation of research to industry and our economic success would grow even more.

[ via Phys.org ]

News

We Need More Women in Aerospace

Industry’s involvement can easily be done through mentoring future leaders recognizing that their contribution is instrumental in the outcome in terms of increasing the number of women who will be involved in this industry. One particular great example is Women In Aerospace Canada, an organization dedicated to expanding women’s opportunities for leadership and professional development as well as increasing their visibility in the aerospace community is creating opportunities for both women and men to realize the possibilities in this industry.

[ via The Huffington Post ]

News

Shohini Ghose, Physics Feminista

Ghose argues that sexism hurts both women and science. Excluding half the potential workforce also excludes any insights they might have contributed. And without women to guide scientific inquiry and product development, their unique needs tend to be overlooked. Above all, women deserve the same access to high-paying STEM jobs and positive work environments as men.

[ via Ozy ]

News

Do You Want Your Daughter to Excel at Math and Science? Get a Little Help From GEMS

The clubs are run by volunteers and paid teachers who want to help girls become interested or stay interested in STEM fields as education or careers. Estimated at having over 8,000 members over its 20-year history, there are GEMS clubs in every state and some international clubs. The organization is expanding age groups, adding more girls, adding more countries, all while continuing the experience for its many members.

[ via Geek Dad ]