News

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.

News

Nearly 40 percent of women leave engineering

“Over the course of 3 years, psychologists Nadya Fouad and Romila Singh of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, surveyed more than 5000 women with engineering degrees. About 11% of those women never took on an engineering job. Another 27% left the field after taking a job.”

[ via The Guardian ]

Blog

The CataLyst: National Women in Engineering Day Report

A couple of weeks back, on the 23rd June was the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) here in the UK. This is a day organised by the Women in Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate their 95th anniversary and to promote women in engineering.

WES was founded in 1919 after the First World War to deal with the issues concerning continuing employment of women engineers who had contributed to the war effort. It faced opposition from government, the industry and unions across the country. It’s aim was:

To promote the study and practice of engineering among women; and, secondly to enable technical women to meet and to facilitate the exchange of ideas respecting the interests, training and employment of technical women and the publication and communication of information on such subjects.

Several branches across the UK were active, and the first issue of “The Woman Engineer” was published in December 1919. It seemed they faced many struggles until the Second World War when all of the sudden women were needed again, but at the end of that war in 1945 many of the prominent women were expected to go back into the role of wife and mother.

Today, women in engineering still face similar obstacles that the women of previous generations did. Yes, we have manged to enter the workforce and legislation against sexual discrimination exists in many countries. But today discrimination is subtle and covert, and a lot of the time women are left questioning whether they interpreted a situation correctly or not.

As part of celebrating NWED my office held an open panel debate about Women in Engineering which was attended, through online help, by 15 offices across the country. The panel consisted of senior women and men within the company talking about what it was like 10 years ago, what changes there have been, and what challenges we still face today. It was a great discussion and many brilliant points were made.

One that I would like to touch on in particular is communication. With governments and many companies today continually improving policies and terms and conditions for workers, it’s important to keep yourself up to date with what rights you have. Examples were made where managers had denied staff certain privileges because they didn’t know the law or the company policy on the matter. In other cases employees hadn’t asked for what they were entitled as they weren’t aware that they had a right to it in the first place.

This can be anything from maternity (and paternity) leave, to flexible working hours or how to raise complains about sexual harassment and what support is offered at work. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that staff are aware of any changes in terms and entitlements, but as employees we can also be proactive in keeping up to date with new legislation as well as company policy changes.

Another thing about communication, and an issue with these kinds of events is that I personally feel like, a lot of the time we’re preaching to the choir. The people attending these events (mostly women) are already aware of the struggles and difficulties that we face. How can we make sure that we educate those who’s minds have not yet been opened to these issues? That’s one of the biggest struggles for me, as many of those in power are just the ones who could use some more insight.

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: 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

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: 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.