Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour - Celebrating Women

May 6th, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Ada Lovelace, and the challenges and successes of women in science. On Ada Lovelace Day, I spoke with … from the Association for Women in Science about, yes, you guessed it… women in science.

It was a fabulous conversation, and I do believe that we did, indeed, celebrate the women in the field. And, really, I think that is the key to continued success these days. People are not responsive to whining about problems. People want to feel hopeful, to see positive role-models, be given next steps they can take themselves, and to know that their actions can make a difference.

If you are a female success in science or technology, get out there! Tell people about yourself, and don’t be afraid to do it. People want to know how you got to where you are.

Be a model for future generations of women in science by living successfully yourself.

Anyway, here is the show. Check it out:

Thoughts On Ada Lovelace Day

March 24th, 2010

Ada Lovelace was an intellectual woman in an age when women weren’t pushed to be intellectual. Her mother made sure she was trained in mathematics rather than literature so that she wouldn’t follow in her father’s (the poet Lord Byron’s) footsteps.

This training as well as her place in society put her in a position to meet and work with an academic named Charles Babbage who hired her to help on his “Analytical Engine.” Ada took the project and ran with it, elaborating on the idea in notes that contain the first computer algorithm. She is now considered the world’s first computer programmer.

There are many things that made the story of Ada Lovelace possible: her noble birth and marriage, her mother’s reactionary nature, her training, the people she met in life, etc. But, central to the story is the passion that Ada had for her academic endeavors.

Had she simply been a translator, that’s all she would have done for Charles Babbage… translated an article from Italian that he could then use in developing his ideas. Instead, she dug into the ideas and came up with ideas of her own. She wasn’t afraid to write those ideas down and share them.

And, now we celebrate her and what she helped make possible.

Women today have it fairly easy compared to the women of the past (I’m referring to women in first world nations here… I know there are many women around the world who still struggle). We can do what ever we set our minds to. We can take on the historically female held roles of mother, teacher, nurse, secretary, or we can be doctors, lawyers, astronauts… it’s up to us.

The doors are open like they never have been. All we have to do is walk through them.

By finding and following our passions, we create new opportunities for the women who will follow. We make it easier for them to do what they dream of doing.

I am lucky in that as a young scientist, I was able to find wonderful female mentors to learn from. I saw that it is possible to be a successful woman in science. I saw that it is possible to have a family at the same time. I saw that I could do it too if I wanted.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough female role models in the sciences. The number of women in academics is growing, but it is still not equal to the number of men. It’s not because women don’t like science, or aren’t studying science. The numbers just drop between graduate school and getting jobs.

That means that most women entering graduate school aren’t seeing other women in those positions of  responsibility.

And, if seeing is believing, then we still have work to do.

But, that will come with time, and in the meantime, I’d like to thank all the women, like Ada, who toiled in the science or technology that inspired their questions.

Thank you for creating a world where I can ask questions, too.

What’s Your Story?

September 4th, 2008

I’ve been invited by the Center for STEM Excellence at Scramento State University to give the Keynote talk at their Expanding Your Horizons conference this October. As a result, I’ve been thinking about all sorts of topics for my talk. Do I talk about science in general, specific areas of STEM, my personal experiences?

In my thinking and searching I came to realize that as the Keynote speaker it is my job not to inform, but to be inspirational and motivational… to get the girls at the conference fired up and excited about both the day ahead and their own futures. But, how to do that when I have my own struggles with inspiration and motivation on a daily basis?

I think I’ve come to an answer; lead by example. How do I get past those daily hurdles, and keep moving? How did I find a career that I love? How did you?

I want to hear the stories of real women from real women, especially if you are working in a STEM related career. I want to share our stories.

  • What do you do as a career?
  • How did you wind up in your career (did you choose it or did it choose you)?
  • Do you love what you do?
  • What do you love most about what you do?
  • How do you stay motivated (are your motivations internal or external)?
  • What is your measure of success?

I’ll take your answers as comments here, emails (kirsten at this week in science dot com), video comments on youtube or seesmic, however you see fit to send them.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to use these stories to motivate not only the girls at the conference, but everywhere, and of all ages.

Science Doesn’t Start Wars

August 25th, 2008

Nina Fedoroff is my new favorite scientist ever. This interview makes me happy.

Amazing Female Scientist

May 15th, 2008

I just read a profile of an amazing female scientist, named Susan Greenfield. She’s a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, and the director of the Royal Institution in London. She, being a woman and having reached such a place of distinction within academia, is a rarity in science.

According to statistics from the Association for Women in Science, in 2001 women made up 20.6 percent of those people employed in tenured academic positions for more than 10 years. Career longevity for women in the sciences appears to be something that’s lacking.

A more recent report suggests that the reason for the attrition rate (52% of women in sciences leave with the greatest rate being approximately 10 years into the career path, which coincides with the average woman’s thirties) may be due in part to hostile work environments that fail to take the female role as mother into account.

A brief look at Susan Greenfield’s life suggests that she continues to contend with the male dominated scientific environment, and may have made some compromises to her personal life in order to be so successful.

“It’s unfair. I publish three or four papers a year in peer-reviewed journals,” she says. She fits it all in by “not doing what other people do: gardening, watching television, sleeping in late. I wake up between four and five. If it’s a London day, I get the 6.30 train from central Oxford, where I live. I’ll have a working breakfast here with my second in command, then a day of meetings or interviews. In the evening, I may chair an event or go to a reception.”

On Oxford days she wears T-shirt and jeans, but is still in the lab by 7.30am, planning experiments, applying for grants, analysing and writing papers. She plays squash three times a week. With a trainer. “He pushes me to improve my skills.” At weekends? “I write, read, prepare talks.”

Her marriage to Oxford professor of physical chemistry Peter Atkins ended in 2005. Is all this activity a way to escape loneliness? “You can be lonely when you’re with someone,” she says quickly, “as much as when you’re by yourself.”

It is somewhat of a chicken and egg question, however. Is it only driven personalities, male or female, who are able to succeed so outstandingly? Or, is it the environment that engenders the sink-or-swim behaviors; people learning, and thus believing that if they do not work 16 hour days they’ll never get anywhere, and only those who do so being rewarded. It puts most women in a position of having to choose between family and career.

Usually, family will win.

Yet, I’m among a growing number of women who have put off starting a family in order to pursue my career. Is this a wise choice? I will certainly find out sometime down the road. It’s certainly both a blessing and a hazard to be a woman in this century.