Browsing Category

Blog

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

The CataLyst: Privilege and Diversity

Before I was an adult woman (and had to endure everything that comes with it) I was a girl growing up in a place where, as far as I could tell, the biggest injustice was not based on gender. I knew that I was treated differently by certain people, but it wasn’t because I was a girl. You see, in addition to being a woman, I’m also mixed-race (hello diversity!).

My mum moved to Sweden in the late 1970’s, and back then Sweden was (and comparatively still is today) a very homogeneous place. I was lucky enough to live in a city with a larger than average immigrant population, and in fact, many of my school friends were not Swedish by birth. However, even among the diverse groups of ethnicities in my school I was a minority, and the stereotypes that come with looking Chinese were constantly being pointed out to me.

What I’m trying to say is that whatever group we identify as belonging to, we carry with us some sort of privilege that other groups may not have. These privileges come in different forms and depend on where we are, where we come from and where we’re going. And it’s so important to be aware of them and recognise that we have them. The same way that men have a societal privilege over women, white women have a privilege over women of colour and other ethnic minorities. Having been brought up in the West gives you a certain privilege and what socioeconomic background you come from will also play a part.

I’m by no means trying to rank people on how bad off they are. I am, however, trying to highlight that in this fight for equality between the sexes, it’s easy to see things in just one dimension (men and women). It’s easy to forget that when encouraging girls in schools, their biggest struggles may not be based on their gender, but on their skin colour, religion, or sexual orientation. And asking of them to identify with one very specific type of woman might be harder than identifying with someone of a similar background.

This is why it’s so important, that even though we’re trying to promote women within STEM (and for me, women within wider society in general), we have to remember to diversify our group as much as possible. Being inclusive is the only way that we will truly succeed, and having a cross-section of women from all backgrounds represented, ensures that we can reach out to girls from all parts of society.

Easier said than done? Yes it is. For the same reason there are more men than women in STEM, there are more white women then ethnic minority women. And there are more women from higher socioeconomic backgrounds than from lower ones. But that’s all part of the reason that initiatives like this exist right? So although we should keep up the effort to get more women into STEM, we also need to look at what we can do to balance the makeup of our group. We should definitely keep encouraging girls and focusing on girls everywhere, but maybe put a little more focus on the girls who will have to fight the odds a bit more.

There is (maybe not) surprisingly little out there about intersectionality in STEM fields, but I’m hoping that talking about it will be a good start.

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Martina Simicic, Software engineer

Martina Simicic

Software engineer

Inspire



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always good at math but when choosing college I decided to go for Business Informatics. I finished it and still wanted to be a project manager. While writing my masters thesis on agile project management I got an internship as a Scrum coach.

Since I was extremely bored, after a week I joined a team of developers that was trying out a new thing called Ruby on Rails. I never went back to project management. From that time on I was learning as much as I could, every single day! I am now teaching others and I am loving it!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There were a few but if I have to name it, http://schoooools.com/ (it has been a while since anyone has worked on it). It was a social network for teachers, parents and students to connect, create content, share and learn from each other. It had some really nice features!

And the current project: https://www.kanker.nl/. It’s a place where people with cancer can find information, connect with each other, share stories and experiences.

Role models and heroes:
I have to be honest, I am not very good at those. It would be maybe someone from the field that I worked with and that I admire a lot but those are all small-big people.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I think working on something that people need and use can be very rewarding!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Are you doubting?

Favorite website or app:
http://stackoverflow.com/
http://www.quora.com/

Twitter: @pazinjanka

Site: martinasimicic.com

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Linda Ratliff, CNC Machinist

Linda Ratliff

CNC Machinist

Aventics


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It was inevitable really, given the sheer number of engineers in my family–my father, both grandfathers, brother, and a cousin all ended up in STEM fields. My brother had been through the machining program at our local vo-tech school, and it looked like so much much fun. My art degree wasn’t doing much for me career wise, so I took the plunge and went back to school for something more employable that I would still enjoy doing.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My coolest project was probably in school–we designed and machined turtles using some model stock donated by a local business. Drawing the 3D model and watching it come to life was super exciting, especially with all those curves.

At work I primarily make parts for the various pneumatic devices we make, and I must say, the sheer variety of products we make is astounding. I have made parts that go on fire trucks, railroad cars, medical devices, and more.

Role models and heroes:
My brother and my parents were really influential. While the guys are both engineers, my mom also worked as a lab tech before she had us kids, so I’ve always had role models right in front of me.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love how at the end of the day I have a physical result of my work, and that the parts I run could be instrumental in saving a life one day. Also, I really enjoy the bragging rights of having the knowledge to run extremely complicated machinery and make precision parts. I mean, most people don’t even know what a lathe or mill is, much less know how to run one. While my job doesn’t currently require programming, I have the knowledge to do so, and knowing that I have the ability, given time and equipment, to make ANYTHING is really awesome.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Haters gonna hate. Seriously, do what you want, be who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something because you’re a girl. If you want to be a scientist, be a scientist. If you want to be a machinist, be a machinist. You don’t have to give up who you are to pursue a STEM career.

Favorite website or app:
It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I do love Boggle the Owl (http://boggletheowl.tumblr.com/) and really have too much in common with the Bloggess (http://thebloggess.com/).

 

Blog

Six Developer Bootcamps Helping to Close Tech Gender Gap

It’s no secret that women are largely underrepresented in the software engineering field and the numbers don’t lie: women make up only around 20% of the computer programming world. In the US, plenty of organizations are attempting (and succeeding) in drumming up interest in STEM subjects among K-12 classes. Many of these, like Girls Who Code, are working hard to generate interest with specifically younger girls. But how can we encourage women to start mastering programming skills or even switch careers after they graduate from high school? Developer bootcamps are one of the most popular and disruptive trends in education today – let’s take a look at how these immersive bootcamps may fit into the puzzle and solve some of this gender disparity.

No Boys Allowed
Two coding bootcamps in the US exist exclusively for women: Ada Development Academy and Hackbright Academy. Their primary teaching languages, tuition costs and curriculum differ, but both share the same overarching goal: to train female software developers and close the existing gender gap.

Ada Development Academy
Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the world’s “first programmer,” so it’s only fitting that the Ada Development Academy take their name from the famed female mathematician. Ada is based in Seattle and offers a 24-week intensive curriculum, followed by an internship in the tech community. During this class time, students learn HTML/CSS, JavaScript and Ruby on Rails. Ada cites the wide gender gap in Washington state (85% of programmers in the state are male) as their impetus for training women to be software engineers, and perhaps the most enticing and unique feature at Ada is that tuition is free!

Hackbright Academy
Move a bit further down the West Coast to find Hackbright Academy, based in San Francisco. As a 12-week program, Hackbright is modeled after the more traditional coding bootcamp structure, but stands out with it’s commitment to boosting female engagement in tech and because they’ve chosen to teach Python as opposed to Ruby.

While some critics have commented that female-only schools don’t reflect the real world, Hackbright alum Siena Aguayo feels “that completely misses the point of all-female engineering schools in the first place. I feel like we’re really changing things- people are talking about the problem of women in tech a lot more. And that opens the door to talking about racial diversity and income disparity as well. (…) Hackbright graduated more female engineers than both Stanford and Berkeley combined this last year.”

Tuition at Hackbright Academy is $15,000, although students who accept jobs with companies in the Hackbright hiring network get a refund of $3k.

Scholarships
Not every school is exclusively female, but many bootcamps offer scholarships to women in order to boost applications and create more balanced cohorts.

1. Dev Bootcamp is one of the most established coding bootcamps in the US, and has led the charge in many ways in encouraging women to apply. Most recently, they partnered with Girl Develop It to offer $2500 scholarships to 10 women who are active members of GDI in New York. Dev Bootcamp also partners with the Levo Scholars program to give partial scholarships to women in their quest for gender parity.

2. Codeup is a 12-week school in San Antonio, Texas that teaches the LAMP stack along with JavaScript and jQuery. Each cohort, they offer 3 scholarships to women for 50% off tuition in order to level the playing field. Regular tuition is around $9,000

3. The Iron Yard awards two $1500 scholarships per class in order to lower the bar for women who want to break into programming. In addition, Iron Yard makes outreach into the local tech community a priority. Students are required to volunteer at the free kids’ programming camps.

4. Flatiron School in New York offers a scholarships for women who apply- while we aren’t able to pinpoint the exact amount, we’re more excited about the school’s most recent new hire: Sara Chipps is Flatiron School’s new CTO and will head up the newly founded Flatiron Labs, the school’s dev shop that will employ their graduates. Strategic hires like this show that the school is committed to bringing women on in senior positions.

How can you distinguish a bootcamp that’s trying to change the future of technology from one that’s stuck in the past? Look for schools that do outreach in younger communities and with underrepresented minorities. Visit the schools you apply to and meet with their founders or instructors to really understand their values. And once you’re enrolled, be sure to stay involved in your local tech community inspire the next generation of girls to be STEMinists!

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the technology Codeup teaches. It includes the LAMP stack, not Rails. 

Author
Liz Eggleston is a LivingSocial alum and co-founder of Course Report, the online resource for potential students considering a coding bootcamp. Catch up with Liz on Twitter @coursereport and on the Course Report Blog.

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Kelsie Coe, Medical Student

Kelsie Coe

Medical Student

University of Missouri School of Medicine



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It all really started with an interest in animals as a kid and few great science teachers. I found that my science classes were where I could learn all the “fun facts” about the world. I was always that kid that wanted tried to impress people with funny trivia tidbits (side note: I love Jeopardy!), and science classes always rewarded me for my curiosity.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Last summer I had the opportunity to be one of four Kappa Delta Orthopaedic Research Interns. We worked with amazing research scientists for six weeks, developed our own projects, presented our work, and had the opportunity to tour several health care facilities around the Memphis, TN area. Before the internship, I really hadn’t given much thought to orthopaedics, but the opportunity really opened my eyes to a historically male-dominated field. I really feel like it was a true STEMinist experience and showed me that we can totally recruit women into these fields if they just have the opportunity to see the value in the work they can do!

Role models and heroes:
Rosalind Franklin (I totally talked about her in my medical school interview!) and Amy Poehler.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Working in STEM means I can never be complacent with what I know and how I think, and I love that it forces me to be a lifetime learner. I also love that I have the chance to contribute to making it a more inclusive industry!

Advice for future STEMinists?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had amazing mentors and supporters throughout my education. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire, and don’t forget to pay it forward and mentor others that could use your advice or encouragement!

Favorite website or app:
I’ve been fangirling pretty hard over STEMinist lately, but as a medical student, my most visited website right now is probably my school’s library’s 🙂

Twitter: @k_coe

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Erica Moulton, Marine Technology/Owner

2511_72895716935_3055627_n

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

Blog

The CataLyst: Guest Post from the Stemettes

For this post I thought it would be fun to lift an organisation that does wonderful work here in the UK; the Stemettes! Rather than writing about it myself, here’s a guest post from Jacquelyn, Managing Stemette, who wants to share with us what the Stemettes are all about. Enjoy!

I’m an Arts student (History and Spanish, Durham, specifically), yet somehow – after two years too many working as a management consultant for two and a half years – I’ve ended up supporting one of the biggest “Girls into STEM” organisations in the UK. It’s funny that I should feel myself worthy to help girls on their path to a career in STEM when all I have is an in-depth knowledge of 20th Century Russian society and an ability to talk all sorts of things in Spanish to all sorts of people. But here I am co-running a fast growth start-up STEM social enterprise – and I reckon I am just as qualified as anyone else. Because at the Stemettes, passion is what matters.

The Stemettes was launched in February 2013 by Anne-Marie Imafidon (youngest girl in the UK to get an A Level aged 11 and Masters from Oxford at 20, both in Computer Science). She attended a keynote at the Grace Hopper Celebration in the States where she found out the number of women working in technology, wasn’t just declining – it was in freefall. After some research in the UK (specifically the Kings College London ASPIRES Report) she realised the situation was the same, if not worse, over here.

Having leafed her way through reams and reams of reports and documenting the problem, Anne-Marie felt it was about time that someone a) proposed solutions, and b) actually set to carrying out those activities which made up the solution. It doesn’t seem like rocket science…not to us or to you, but it may as well have been – there were so few organisations or women tackling this problem with action it seemed bizarre. There was practically no one.

The Stemettes aims to inspire girls to pursue a career in STEM through meeting amazing women already working in STEM via a series of panels, hackathons and exhibitions. And this year we are starting a mentoring and webinar programme also. We work with schools and corporations such as Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Accenture (see our website for more sponsors). We aim to break the social norm by showing girls they are just as welcome in STEM as they are in any other sector in industry. We get them coding, building, designing, creating, thinking and exploring. Through one “hot,” hands-on interaction with the Stemettes, we have seen the stats that prove girls are more positive about pursuing a career in STEM.

Results aside (we can show you rows and rows, cells and cells of feedback data as evidence), we know that part of what makes the Stemettes so successful is it is FUN. We do not try and convey a political message – the girls realise there is a problem but this isn’t why they should go into it; they realise they can work in STEM because they can and it is a good career, not simply in the name of equality.

There is no political message in a complete novice coding up a website or creating a mobile app in a day from scratch – not one that I can see anyway. Stemette Supporters, Big Stemettes and Little Stemettes alike enjoy themselves at our events, and our Twitter feed is awash with 140 characters of testimonies from all types: children and adults, men, women and girls.

We know the Stemettes can succeed, and our ultimate goal is to up the number of women working in STEM from 13% (2013) to 30%. That’s a realistic goal we reckon, especially as not only are more organisations coming on the scene that are fighting the same fight as us, but because the Stemettes are scaling up – and fast! In our first year we worked with 700 girls through 9 different events, mainly in London.

This year we hope to work with at least 1000 girls and run 18 events, half of which will take place outside London. Our success and the results and feedback we receive baffles us on a daily basis – Anne-Marie always says “no one is more surprised by this than I am,” and I believe her. She started the Stemettes project as a New Year’s resolution for 2013 as a side project to her full time job in technology at a global investment bank. But as long as that wave of opportunity and good fortune is still there, we’re going to continue riding it.

For more information, please visit our website Stemettes.org and sign up to our mailing list. You can also tweet us @Stemettes or email us at [email protected].

Please do check our event page as we run new events every month.

Jacquelyn & Anne-Marie
Managing & Head Stemette

Blog

The CataLyst: The Stereotype Threat

At certain points in my life when I meet new people, the question of what I do for a living eventually surfaces. “So what do you work with?” they ask, to which I reply – trying to sound as neutral and normal as I possibly can – “I’m a chemical engineer.” Most of the time I’m met by silence, followed  by a facial expression that’s trying to not look surprised, and then a casual “Oh really, I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

I catch myself wanting to start a discussion at that point, asking people why they “wouldn’t have guessed that.” But then I remember why.

It’s the fact that things like this existed until very recently:

277

And these kinds of stereotypes and generalisations are made every day, in a non-satirical way:

how_it_works

Sheryl Sandberg, the founder of Lean In, explains Stereotype Threat with these words:

Stereotype threat means that the more we’re aware of a stereotype, the more we act in accordance with it,” Sandberg explains. “So, stereotypically we believe girls are not good at math. Therefore, girls don’t do well at math, and it self-perpetuates. If you ask a girl right before she takes a math test to check off ‘M’ or ‘F’ for male or female, she does worse on that test. The reason there aren’t more women in computer science is there aren’t enough women in computer science.

The truth is these stereotypes are ingrained everywhere, and everyone carries these biases around. When the founder of the popular Facebook site “I F***ing Love Science” revealed her gender (although she’d never actively tried to hide it), fans of the page were stunned. In an interview she said: 

“Commenters said they were very sort of surprised they had the same bias within themselves. They were saying ‘[I] didn’t realize that I had this, but I obviously do. I never dreamed that I was sexist in any way, I never dreamed that I had this bias, but it’s there. I thought you were a guy.”

And it’s not surprising really, when these stereotypes get perpetuated and replicated everywhere we look. Despite the fact that there are more female STEM-literate roles in films and on TV (like Natalie Portman’s physicist in Thor, and Sandra Bullock’s doctor/astronaut in Gravity), many shows play on the old biases. CBS’ The Big Bang Theory has typecast female scientists into the “weirdo” role and the only other female character is the normal non-scientist. I personally find the show funny and entertaining because I can see its satirical side, being “behind the scenes” myself, so to speak. But for people who are not in STEM, this might be interpreted as a true representation of what STEM communities are like.

A study conducted by Sapna Cheryan from the University of Washington found that students who did not do computer science believed computer scientists to be intelligent but with poor social skills. They were also perceived as liking science fiction and spending hours playing video games. Some participants even went so far as to describe computer scientists as thin, pale (from being inside all the time), and having poor hygiene.

Participants were also asked to read articles claiming that computer scientist no longer fit those stereotypes, and another which claimed they do. The articles were identical with the exception of their opposing claims. While men were unaffected, women who read the article with non-stereotypical images were significantly more interested in majoring in computer science than women who read the article with gendered stereotypes.

The problem with these stereotypes have been outlined in several research papers, and even to those of us who study and work within STEM, these biases come so naturally. I frequently catch myself defaulting to male language (he, him, his) when speaking about work, research or people I don’t know. It’s a constant battle to undo years of being exposed to these stereotypes, and even though I know that we can’t all fit in to these narrow templates, it’s difficult to break away from an old habit.

One small change that might have a big impact is our spoken language . If you don’t know the gender, don’t assume it’s a man and maybe use “they” instead? These conscious choices that we make will eventually lead to a bigger change, and a different perception.

If you have any good examples of communities, websites or people who break these stereotypes, or just tips and tricks on how to stop enforcing stereotypes, please share them here. I’m sure we would all benefit from some new shades of STEM.