Saturday, January 20, 2007

Inkling Portraits: Ursula Franklin

Inkling is a new science e-zine edited by science writers Anne Casselman and Anna Gosline. The current issue has an interview with Ursula Franklin, the first female professor in Canada.

Ursula Franklin, 85, received her PhD in experimental physics from the Technical University in Berlin in 1948. In the decades that followed she became a renowned metallurgist, a pioneer of the physics of archaeological materials, an activist, an author, a philosopher, and Canada’s very first female University Professor, at the University of Toronto. Here she dishes about sexism in academia, interdisciplinary research, and being a radical.
She discusses her own experiences as a pioneering woman in science. Franklin points out that women have been at the forefront interdisciplinary studies.
Women are not only the pioneers in that area, but very often the ones who created that area. Much of it has come out of a time where women in their own professions were marginalized. The whole notion of taking knowledge or a colleague from another discipline to do something neither could do alone has been very much pioneered by women.
She helped work for acceptance of women in the sciences:
Q: Can you recall a moment when you realized things were changing for women in science?

When I was teaching at the faculty of engineering [at the University of Toronto] there were a set of excuses that engineering firms would offer for why they wouldn’t take female students on. One was that there were no women’s washrooms, another was that the safety boots or hats wouldn’t fit, or the foreman on the floor didn’t like girls.

One year we collected all the excuses and made up clipboards for the girls to take into interviews. It frazzled the interviewers to no end that when an excuse was offered, the women students would just tick it off. The girls would say, “And you have no problems with the foreman?” That beginning of strength among women collectively, and making the companies look pretty ridiculous, was the turning point.
As I read this, it first made me laugh, then made me say a quick "thank you" to women like Franklin who opened the way for women in science and engineering.

Tags: , ,