Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Women Who Walk Through Time

"Women Who Walk Through Time" is a free 30-minute video presented by the University of Utah's Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Appropriate for all young people (~12-18 year olds), but is specifically designed to interest and encourage girls and young women in the earth sciences. The video portrays three women earth scientists who introduce young people to the fascinating field of earth science, demonstrate what they do as earth scientists, and advise young people on how to prepare for a career in science. The video is intended for use by anyone interested in encouraging women in science such as schools, clubs, organizations for girls and young women, and parents.
The featured geoscientists are University of Utah Geoscience Professor and Departmental Chair Marjorie Chan, Associate Professor Susan Halgedahl, and Dr. Paula Wilson, now an adjunct faculty member at Weber State University. Download your copy now.

For more information about the geosciences, check out the companion web site, now looking a bit dated but with lots of great links.

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The Leaky Pipeline

There have been a spate of articles recently about the women who leave academic science between graduate school and obtaining tenure.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education's ChronicleCareers, Robert Drago writes about "Harvard and the Academic Glass Ceiling", pointing out that while women may be "taking faculty positions in record numbers", most of the jobs are non-tenure track adjunct faculty positions.

Adjunct faculty members are mainly hired to teach numerous courses for a pittance. They have neither the time nor the resources needed for the sort of path-breaking research that led Faust to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and eventually to the Harvard presidency. Indeed, in seminars on balancing work and family life that I have given at dozens of major universities, including Harvard, I have never met a contingent faculty member who moved onto the tenure track, although I am certain a few must exist somewhere.

In part this is because of different expectations about the role of men and women will play outside the workplace.
As I argue in Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life (Dollars & Sense, 2007), norms surrounding our ideas about motherhood and ideal workers provide an explanation. The former leads us to expect women to bear and rear children, to take care of the ill, elderly, and those with disabilities, and to do so for low or no pay, and without public recognition.

In contrast, as Summers suggested, ideal workers exhibit extreme levels of commitment to career, and work long days, with late nights and weekends at the office, and with 24/7 availability. Ideal workers are lauded, promoted, and paid lavishly; the long hours that mothers pull are ignored, except for the occasional box of chocolates.

He suggests that a "half time tenure track", already adopted by some universities, might be part of the solution.

Kay Steiger is writing a three-part series on "How the tenure process discriminates against female professors" for Campus Progress.

Part 1: Madame President: Why the new female president at Harvard is an exception to the rule.
Though Faust’s promotion is certainly a watershed moment for women in academia, her success comes amid continued underrepresentation of women on university faculties, particularly in the hard sciences. It’s been 35 years since Congress passed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, including at private institutions. But although women now make up 56 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate population and are predicted to earn more than 60 percent of the university’s master’s degrees and nearly half of doctoral degrees by 2010, only 20 percent of full professors at Harvard are female, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors on gender indicators in higher education. In 2004, which was during Summers’ presidency, only four of the 32 faculty members offered tenure were female.

Part 2: Mommy Tracked points out that women not only have to work harder to balance family and work, but are often expected to do more than their male colleagues.
The AAUW report describes Margaretta Lovell’s struggle at University of California–Berkeley. Lovell protested that female faculty members are often asked to do a greater proportion of administrative and service work than their male co-workers. Before women achieve tenure, they often don’t want to complain or speak up about such tasks to avoid “rocking the boat,” which, the report says, makes advocacy even harder.
Part 3 should be coming to CampusProgress in April.

NatureJobs published an article, Leaks in the Pipeline, which asks "Why do women remain curiously absent from the ranks of academia?", with a focus on the geosciences.
In the field, 42% of BS/BA degree recipients, 45% of MS recipients and 39% of PhD recipients are women. But only 26% of assistant professors, 14% of tenured associate professors and 8% of full professors are women.

The biggest barrier lies in the structure of academia. Women may hesitate to apply for tenure-track jobs because they lack role models among the upper echelons. We conducted focus groups of active, employed geoscientists, including students, and found that nearly half of the women participants seriously considered leaving the geosciences at some point in their career, as opposed to only one-third of the men. The reasons for considering leaving are strikingly different between the two genders: the top two reasons for women were family issues (caring for children or elderly relatives) and problems with advisers (mostly a failure to communicate). By far and away, the main reason males considered leaving was an uncertain job market — a distant second was a tie between difficult classes and choosing the wrong sub-discipline. We think that 'problems with advisers' is a barrier that can be minimized by training junior (and willing senior) faculty members in mentorship.

The authors, Mary Anne Holmes of the University of Nebraska and Suzanne O'Connell of Wesleyan University, propose several solutions including paid family leave, active recruitment of women, and extension of the tenure process. They are working towards finding solutions.
To help explore some of these professional and structural impediments, we are convening a consortium of geoscientist academics in New England. This NSF-funded endeavour has three components: a week-long retreat to focus on writing in the absence of departmental and domestic distractions; skills workshops on topics such as strategic persuasion and negotiation; and workshops for departmental chairs to learn about unconscious bias and ways it can be overcome. With attention to these details, we hope that the science faculty will look more like the student body in 2027.
The 2005 Association for Women Geoscientists report, "Where are the Women Geoscience Professors?" has more detailed statistics.

ScienceWoman responds with Why We Leave, listing the many reasons why both men and women (especially women) might leave the tenure track. There is some excellent discussion in the comments as well.

Suzanne Franks (Zuska) has an excellent two-part post on "Life as a Leak" (Part 1, Part 2). She points out that people often assume the problem is with the woman who leaves, rather than the system itself.

Leaking has the whiff of failure about it, and even though the leaky pipeline represents a system that is not working, a system that is failing women, somehow the stigma of the failure attaches to the women who leak, not to the faulty science pipeline. No matter the reason for a leak, it's always the woman's fault. She left because she just couldn't make it. Absent some incredibly obvious and totally egregious, well-documented specific incident of bias and discrimination, if she had been able to succeed, she would have - but she didn't, so it's proof she just wasn't good enough. In some cases, an individual woman is so talented you can't ignore it, and she appears to have chosen the leaky path of her own free will. However, this just proves that she didn't have a strong enough desire and will to succeed in academia, and therefore she wasn't worthy of becoming a professor. She may have had the smarts, but she didn't have the devotion, so in that sense she just wasn't good enough.

Suzanne also points out that there are expanding career options for those with a science degree outside of academic research, and asks the question: are those who have strayed from the academic path still considered "scientists"? Very thought-provoking.

ETA: now Zuska has posted Life as a Leak, Part 3 .

Pat at FairerScience responds with What's a Leak?, noting that that leaving academic science because you found something else you'd rather do doesn't necessarily make you a leak.

I once had a fascinating discussion with microbiologist and former Radcliffe President Polly Bunting about this. She spoke of then famous people like McGeorge Bundy who had left science and went on to do other things. Her point was if you go on to have an interesting and successful career you are neither a failure nor a leak.

Female Science Professor posts on a couple reasons why women might be absent in the higher ranks of academia. She writes about "anti-mentors" who discourage young scientists, particularly young female scientists, from pursuing academic careers.
I hope that all the anecdotes and other reports about how women are treated unfairly do not discourage anyone who is passionate about science. It's still worth pursuing this career if you think that's what you want to do. It's worth pursuing it at a personal level, and it's worth it at a global level: the world will be a better place when there are more women scientists and science professors.
She also tells the depressing report from a really "old-fashioned" all-male job search committee in an unnamed European country.
- One committee member remarked that he was glad a particular female candidate included her photo on her CV because it was good to know that she is ugly, so he didn't have to have any qualms about disregarding her application.
It gets worse from there. She follows up with even more on the story.

The last is an article in the March 5 Boston Globe, "Barrier Breakers", about the Claflin Award. The $60,000 grant is given to women working at Massachusetts General Hospital who are trying to balance medical research and taking care of young children. The article points out that one of the difficulties that female scientists face is the need to generate career-establishing scientific data while raising a family.
A woman in her 30s is likeliest to bear children and also to be caught in the classic Catch-22 of academic medicine: She needs to win grant money to pursue research, but to do that, she must somehow build an impressive research record before she has won any money. All while she is still practicing medicine in the clinic.
The Claflin Award grant appears to make a difference in whether a female scientists with young families continue their research.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Barbara McClintock's Nobel Prize Banquet Speech

Hsien-Hsien Lee at the Genetics and Health blog has created a podcast of Barbara McClintock's Nobel Prize banquet speech. McClintock won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for her pioneering work on mobile genetic elements (also called "transposons" or "jumping genes"). Her findings were so outside mainstream of genetics that they were "greeted with silence and derision" when she first presented them in 1951.

The text of McClintock's speech is available at, as is her Nobel lecture.

Go have a listen!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nature Network Blogs

I wasn't aware until recently that the journal Nature had gone all internetty with the online Nature Network. There are a number of blogs, of course, including a number by women in the sciences. This seems like a pretty new venture (most of the blogs have fewer than ten posts), so I thought it would be nice to highlight a few of them:

  • Courtney Sill blogs about the final months of being a grad student at BU in The Home Stretch.
  • Anna Kushnir's Lab Life is about her personal experiences in the lab as a PhD student at Harvard Medical School.
  • Corie Lok is the editor of Nature Network's Boston branch, and her blog covers science from the Bostonian point of view.
  • Deanne Taylor blogs primarily about the biosciences and technology.
  • Jacqueline Floyd has two blogs: Element List covers science news and web sites and Seismogenesis (so new that there is only one post) discusses earthquakes and faulting.
  • Shelly Praveen's blog has only one post, but the topic - use of transgenic technology in agriculture - is an interesting one, so I'm going to be watching it.
There are a number of other blogs listed that have no posts as yet, and it will be interesting to see how this project goes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Melissa Franklin, Harvard Physicist

The Harvard Crimson reports on the frank remarks of high-energy physicist Melissa Franklin upon winning the Spark Award for Women In Science from the Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe. Franklin was the first tenured female professor in the Harvard physics department.

Franklin said women in science today are probably no longer experiencing many of the challenges she had faced.

“The fact that you can sit here and look at me like I’m insane is fantastic,” Franklin said.

But she said society is still pervaded by the notion that women are naturally unsuited to science.

“What hasn’t changed is the fact that many men think that women aren’t the smartest,” Franklin said. “It’s just a belief they hold without having thought about it much.”
Franklin's experience isn't from the distant past; she received her PhD in 1982. However, when Franklin arrived at the Harvard Physics department it was truly an "old boy's club".
[Harvard physics professor Howard] Georgi describes the physics department in the 1980s as a male club that was "something out of an old English novel." But while chair in the early 1990s, he made the issue of women a top priority, and junior professor Melissa Franklin became the first tenured woman in physics. Since then, two more women have joined the senior ranks. Did he meet resistance? "Resistance is the wrong word--it was more bemusement and lack of understanding," he says.

Despite the relatively progressive atmosphere among Harvard physicists, however, Franklin says "this is not the nicest place to be an old woman. People are still condescending. They can be pretty rude." She recalls, for example, being asked in a departmental meeting to speak more quietly. "It was as if I was being told to be somebody else," she says. How does she cope? "You move a little way out of the action; you do your own thing," she says. "And sometimes I go into my secretary's office and cry." (From "Tenured Women Battle to Make it Less Lonely at the Top", Science 286 (5443): 1272 - 1278 (1999), subscription required).

Franklin considers the cutthroat competitiveness in many science departments to be one of the factors that discourages women from pursuing a career in science.

"[It's] no longer people saying things like, 'You shouldn't be in physics.' It's more the feeling you get: Does this person think you're smart or not?" Franklin says. "Eventually you spend all your time thinking about that."

Franklin says the competitive atmosphere fostered in science departments by their mostly male faculty members exacerbates this lack of confidence in women. "The problem is that people don't know what it feels like to be a minority in a field and they can't really understand," Franklin says.

I'd like to think that the presence of pioneering women like Frankin in science and engineering departments can make a difference in that atmosphere.

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WWII-era Westinghouse Science Talent Search Winners

Modern Mechanix has posted an article from the December 1951 issue of Popular Science titled Wanted: Science Talent. It describes the development of the Westinghouse Talent Search (predecessor to the Intel Talent Search) from the Science Clubs for America, jointly sponsored by Westinghouse and the Science Service.

The article leads off with the first winner of the scholarship, Marina Prajmovsky, whose winning essay was on "osmosis in living tissues".

MARINA PRAJMOVSKY came to this country from Finland when she was four. Her father was a Russian-born machinist, her mother a seamstress. While in high school at Farmingdale, N. Y., in 1942 she entered the first Science Talent Search, a competition held by the Science Clubs of America. Out of some 15,000 entrants Marina tied for first place.

The Search’s $2,400 scholarship got her started at Radcliffe. She graduated as the only summa cum laude in biology in the history of the college. In four years more she had a medical doctorate from Yale and now at 27 is doing research on eye diseases at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Along the way she did highly secret work for the Navy and carried out outstanding research on DDT.

Without the help and inspiration of the Talent Search, this brilliant immigrant girl might have been lost to the world of science.

According to a New York Times article on contest winners, Prajmovsky had a passion for science:

''In high school there was little room to work and only the crudest equipment, but here with the luxury of a lab of my own and almost anything I want to work with I feel my own limitations,'' she wrote from Harvard University, two years after she won. ''There just isn't any excuse for what I do wrong or leave undone. But as discouraging as this is now and then, it's such a wonderful feeling to begin to understand a little bit of something that seemed just about impenetrable only a little while ago.''

Prajmovsky married, becoming Dr. Marina Meyers, and continued her career as an ophthalmologist. She died in 1974.

The Popular Science article also points to a couple of other notable female contest participants:
Nancy Durant, a 15-year-old Negro girl from a Washington high school, handed in an essay proposing the use of sodium tungstate for fireproofing fabrics—a valuable new method.

Besides the remarkable Marina Prajinovsky, there is Carol Pike, who has become a chemical engineer and a founder of the world’s first Society of Woman Engineers.
I haven't found any additional information about what happened to either Durant or Pike*.

What is, I think, particularly noteworthy, is the point that the winners were typically middle class, and came from schools with "good school equipment and teachers of high skill". I believe that supportive and talented elementary and high school science teachers are essential for brining more girls (and boys) into science and engineering.

* The first president of the American Society of Women Engineers was Dr. Beatrice Hicks, who served from 1950-1952. Pike may have been the founder of one of the regional groups folded into the national organization.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mary Masterman: Intel Science Talent Search Winner

Mary Masterman, a senior at Westmoore High School in Oklahoma City, has won this year's Intel Science Talent Search for building her own spectrograph:

Mary machined her own parts, and aligned her own optics. Using lenses from a camera and a microscope as well as a laser for her light source, Mary was able to separate the individual photons scattered by the tested molecules, similar to the effects a prism has on light, and record their wavelengths.

She found she could attain fairly accurate wavelength measurements compared to published readings for household solvents and other objects despite using an inexpensive laser. The cost for building her spectrograph was only $300; quite an accomplishment compared to the $20,000 - $100,000 cost for commercial units.
Mary spoke to the New York Times about her project:

“The most challenging part was trying to get it to work,” said Mary, who said she hoped to attend Stanford or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I had to keep coming up with creative ways to adjust or change something,” she said. “It took three months to build and another three months before it actually functioned properly.”

Mary said she chose to build a spectrograph because of its many applications in forensics, medicine and artwork analysis.

Mary has been working on spectroscopy for several years. In 2003-2004 she and two friends - Sarah Howell and Mimi Nguyen - built (and used) an astronomical spectrograph which was presented at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in San Diego. In 2006 she was awarded the National Young Astronomer's Award. More recently she turned from the very large, to the very small, by building a Raman spectroscopy system, used by chemists to identify molecules. That work was also presented to the American Astronomical Society.

Masterman also has her own web site, MarySpectra, that has a nice introduction to spectroscopy, as well as information about her spectrography projects and enough information so that you can build your own spectrograph. She's asking for comments and/or constructive criticism in her guestbook, so stop by and leave her a message!

Six of this year's top ten Intel Science Talent Search contestants this year were girls:
  • First Place: Mary Masterman
  • Fourth Place: Catherine Schlingheyde, for research on microRNA repression
  • Fifth Place: Rebecca Kaufman, for observation of "effects of male hormones in a model of schizophrenia"
  • Seventh Place: Megan Blewett, for "analysis of a protein that may be implicated in multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis"
  • Ninth Place: Meredith MacGregor, for study of the "fluid dynamics of the "Brazil Nut Effect," in which shaken particles separate by size with the largest on top"
  • Tenth Place: Emma Call, for "fabrication of 3-D microcubes, which have potential use as novel drug-delivery devices."
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

post doc ergo propter doc: Scientiae - Second Carnival

Scientiae Carnival #2 is up at Post Doc Ergo Propter Doc. Go read it now!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is an Indian physicist who founded (and currently heads) the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is "an ecofeminist, prolific author (of books and over 300 scientific papers) and environmental activist." This week she spoke at the University of British Columbia on "Defending Food Freedom in a Period of Food Fascism."

Inkling Magazine had a chance to ask Shiva some questions during her visit about her background in quantum physics and her work defending the rights of small farmers. She believe that women bring a unique perspective to science.

I think there are two definitely unique abilities that women bring to science.

First, because they have not been groomed into a clubby behavior, they’re always outsiders no matter how good they are and this means they have not numbed their thinking.

Whenever there’s a clubbiness there are tacit norms, dos and don’ts, that get shaped. Women coming from a freer mind can ask basic questions. That’s why so much interesting stuff is coming out of women’s participation in science.

Second, epistemically we haven’t had centuries of training in reductionism. Even when we are trained in a particular discipline we bring other disciplines to bear. That multidimensionality also enriches science.

Read the whole interview.

UBC geneticist David Ng also had a chance to talk with Shiva (the Inkling interview was in his office), and he posts about their discussion on the World's Fair blog.
We had a lot of opportunity to talk. I was most interested in her views on genetic engineering from a purely scientific tool point of view - whether she objected in principle to the science itself, away from the context of her strong criticisms of the economic parameters in which many GE technologies operate.

Basically, she said that ideally no, she didn't have a problem with the science itself. She is not criticizing science, itself. That as a tool, of course, it can have merit (she was trained as a quantum physicist). But by the same token, at this point in time, the technology especially in the realm of food, doesn't really have the luxury of being viewed without that societal (and in this case, strongly economical) context. This was heartening to hear, and I think a well recieved point (which speaking with Ben earlier, he can concur). It points to the danger of bundling criticisms and firing at individual targets, when often it's the big picture that needs looking at.

Dr. Shiva also had some pointed words on biofuels: a hot topic in this day and age of climate change and alternate sources of energy. She brought up an very interesting facet to this story, that to be honest, I didn't even think of. That is, in the current global system, humanity already seems to have a serious problem with food equity and food security: it therefore stands to reason that this system will only be further strained if what might be viable agricultural land is instead slated for use for biofuel production. I haven't done the homework myself on this point (perhaps others can comment), but that does sound like a pretty rational concern.
Read the whole post.

More about Vandana Shiva:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mildred Dresselhaus

The Boston Globe recently profiled MIT engineering and physics professor Mildred Dresselhaus:

Dresselhaus, who in 1968 became the first female tenured professor in the engineering department at MIT, has dedicated her life to understanding the fundamental physical elements of carbon fibers and, more recently, carbon nanotubes and other nanostructures.

But just as important has been the obstacles she overcame as a woman in a field -- once and still -- dominated by men. For these contributions, Dresselhaus was honored late last month in Paris, where she was one of five women to receive L'Oreal-UNESCO's 2007 Women in Science Award. Colleagues say it was about time.
Attending college in the late 1940s, Dresselhaus assumed her career choices would be teacher, secretary, or nurse. Fortunately, one of her professors, the future Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn Yalow, encouraged her to become a scientist.
Yalow suggested that Dresselhaus go to graduate school. Dresselhaus listened, becoming a Fulbright Fellow in 1951 and going on to earn a master's in physics from Radcliffe College in 1953 and a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago in 1958.
Being a woman - and a mother - at the male-dominated Lincoln Lab was difficult. Dresselhaus was harassed for arriving late or leaving early on account of her children. Most of her female colleagues eventually left, but Dresselhaus stuck it out, becoming one of the very few female professors at MIT at a time when the MIT student body was only 2% female.

Like so many other pioneering women scientists, she not only performed her own research but also took time to mentor both young women and men in the sciences.
In 1973 Dresselhaus received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to work on attracting women to male-dominated fields like physics. She went out of her way to mentor students, especially female students, although not exclusively. Marc Kastner , the current head of MIT's physics department, said Dresselhaus was one of his earliest mentors when he came to MIT as a young professor 34 years ago.

Eklund had similar memories. "The fact that she was a woman was just totally irrelevant," he said. "Maybe there was a glass ceiling for a lot of women. But there wasn't for Millie. She just had a way of doing business that transcended gender."
Dresselhaus has also served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), president of the American Physical Society, treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences, and director of the Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Science under Clinton.

More about Mildred Dresselhaus:
(via the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, photo from the LANL Daily News Bulletin)

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blogging Against Sexism and More

Once again, some posts on women in science and engineering from around the blogosphere:

There have been several interesting posts on an increasingly common problem: finding science positions for both members of a couple. This discussion was a few weeks ago, but I neglected to blog about it then.

  • The starting point is an article in Nature, Scientists in love: When two worlds collide (subscription required), by Jennifer Ouellette (of Cocktail Party Physics). This is a problem that disproportionately affects female scientists.
    Besides being a minority in their field, female physicists struggle with the two-body problem more often than their male counterparts. A 1998 survey by the American Physical Society found that although only about 6% of its members are women, 43% of these are married to other physicists. In contrast, only 6% of married male physicists have a physicist spouse. Other studies have found that almost twice as many women chemists are married to or partnered with another chemist as compared to their male colleagues, and 80% of women mathematicians are married to other scientists.
  • Retrospectacle comments, with quotes from the original article.
  • Female Science Professor describes her own experience as one half of an academic couple.
Female Science Professor reviews the movie "The Gender Chip"
An aspect of the movie that rang very true was the clear depiction of the dedication and energy of the women, even while plagued with some doubts about what their futures will be like. Such doubts are normal for most undergraduates, but for these and many women, the doubts focus on whether their careers will stop completely when they have kids, perhaps just a few years after they get started with the careers they have worked so hard to achieve

She's Such a Geek writes about a recent article in the New York times about women and the food science-derived field molecular gastronomy .

Physicist Robert Knop writes about the Myth of Meritocracy
There is one simple truth, one simple fact, denied by many, but out there and obvious for many to find. Many, perhaps even most, women in physics experience questions and assaults on their character, on their self esteem, and on their worthiness simply because they are women. Going through grad school and academia, all of us in physics experience a lot of these assaults for a wide variety of reasons. The point is, though, that many or most (or all?) women experience additional challenges that men do not. You could argue, I suppose, that these challenges are insignificant in the face of the assault upon one's sense of well-being represented by (for instance) Jackson's E&M book, but I think you'd be wrong. Talk to some women. Some will tell you that, yeah, they get the assumption they're dumb from other physicists because they're women, but they also get it because they're astronomers. Most women, though, will have hair-raising stories. Either stories of unwanted attention that go beyond the "nerd looking too much," or stories of receiving blatantly differential treatment which is openly as a result of their gender.
Zuska's Joy of Science course continues:
Inkling Magazine reveals the winner of the "She's Such a Geek" photo contest: Mount Hood Community College life sciences instructor Valory Thatcher. See her photo and read her interview at She's Such a Geek.

Around the blogs, International Women's Day (March 8th) is being celebrated as "Blog Against Sexism" Day. Rosa at Fairer Science participates with Blog against sexism (in science) day.
So, my Blog Against Sexism Day challenge to you is this: Whatever research you read today, examine it carefully. Be especially wary of research whose conclusions uncomplicatedly support gender stereotypes or involve overbroad generalizations.

And then do it again tomorrow.
In another Blog Against Sexism Day science-related post Sandra at OmniBrain blogs about Louann Brizendine's Becky Award for "the single most ridiculous or misleading bit of linguistic nonsense that somebody manages to put over in the media" and, as a bonus, links to a free MP3 of Freezepop's "science genius girl".


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ruth Patrick, "den mother of ecology"

The Philadelphia Enquirer recently profiled 99-year-old Ruth Patrick, the so-called "den mother of ecology". Patrick has worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia since 1933.

Decades ago, long before pollution became a public concern, Patrick discovered that diatoms are prime indicators of water quality because the cells' silica walls so readily absorb pollutants.

"You see," she says, "diatoms are like detectives."

She also devised a model - known as the Patrick Principle - for gauging the health of a body of water by evaluating all the life in it, from diatoms to insects to fish.

If this sounds familiar, it is because Patrick pioneered an ecosystem approach that now is common knowledge.

Patrick began working for the Academy as an unpaid assistant curator of microscopy.

No other women were at the academy. Patrick wore pants to blend in, and she was once chastised for wearing lipstick.

"But I was determined," she says. "I was going to get my Ph.D. and I was going to write my thesis on diatoms."

More than ten years after her arrival, in 1945, she was finally put on the payroll. Two years later, she founded a new department that is now called the "Patrick Center for Environmental Research". In addition to her field work and research, she also taught generations of students, and used her knowledge to influence environmental policy.

In 1975, Patrick became the first woman and the first environmentalist appointed to DuPont's board of directors.

"Just a charming, remarkable person," says former CEO Edgar S. Woolard Jr., who began an environmental push at DuPont in 1989, partly due to her influence. "When she spoke up in the boardroom, whether it was on the environment or business, everyone listened. She just had that kind of stature."

Patrick finally stopped doing field work a few years ago, but she still pursues her research on diatoms at the Academy.

Read the whole article for more about Patrick and the Patrick Principle (via the Knight Science Journalism tracker).

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Elva O'Sullivan: from chemist to educator

Hsien Hsien Lei has posted an interview on her Genetics and Health blog with Dr. Elva O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan is a chemist who left a job in industry to create the Science With Me! site for kids. When asked about how scientists might similarly "escape" the ivory tower, O'Sullivan responded that you should follow what you love:

A child will always ask why? The big why, in this case - is why are you doing what you do? If a scientist can answer that question (and the answer is not, ‘to keep my job’) - then chances are, they are happy and have already escaped. If the answer is just for the money then think about what attracted you to science in the first place, go back to basics and see if you can build your career around your passion.
Good advice, but often easier said than done.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Scientiae: Women in STEM Carnival #1

The very first Scientiae blog carnival is up at Rants of a Feminist Engineer. There's lots of great stuff, including posts about Turing Award winner Frances Allen, deaf astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, medical scientist Alice Hamilton, an interview with Jane (of See Jane Compute), and many personal experiences from women in scientific or technical fields.

Go read the whole carnival!

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Frances Allen - First Woman to Win the Turing Award

I thought I'd posted this last week, but somehow it ended up as a draft. I must be slipping in my old age.

The Turing Award is one of the most prestigious prizes in computer science. This week, Frances E. Allen became the first women to win the award since its establishment by the Association for Computing Machinery 40 years ago.

Frances E. Allen, 75, was honored for her work at IBM Corp. on techniques for optimizing the performance of compilers, the programs that translate one computer language into another. This process is required to turn programming code into the binary zeros and ones actually read by a computer's colossal array of minuscule switches.

Allen joined IBM in 1957 after completing a master's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan. At the time, IBM recruited women by circulating a brochure on campuses that was titled "My Fair Ladies."
Allen's work not only advanced computer science, but aided the Allies during WWII.
"Fran Allen's work has led to remarkable advances in compiler design and machine architecture that are at the foundation of modern high-performance computing," said Ruzena Bajcsy, Chair of ACM's Turing Award Committee, and professor of Electrical and Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. "Her contributions have spanned most of the history of computer science, and have made possible computing techniques that we rely on today in business and technology. It is interesting to note Allen's role in highly secret intelligence work on security codes for the organization now known as the National Security Agency, since it was Alan Turing, the namesake of this prestigious award, who devised techniques to help break the German codes during World War II," said Bajcsy, who is Emeritus Director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at Berkeley.
Not only has she done outstanding work as a computer scientist, but she has spent time mentoring some of the young women (and men) who came after her at IBM.
Allen prides herself on her involvement with IBM's mentor program, as she considers it an essential part of her daily routine. She recalls that in 1957 -- when she first joined IBM Research -- the idea of mentoring was not widespread outside the executive track. However, through formal and informal mentoring, Allen began seeking out new employees to guide them along their own personal paths to success. IBM was so overcome with Allen's commitment to mentoring that they established an award in her name, as an effort to promote the careers of technical men and women in IBM who have demonstrated "exemplary commitment to mentoring of technical women." In 2000, Allen, herself, was the first recipient of the "Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award". It has since been awarded to three of IBM's top mentors, including this year's recipients, June Andersen and Karin Duermeyer.

Encouraging her protégés to set realistic goals, Allen says, "I try to make them aware that moving ahead may not get them where they want to be." She further explains, "Many women enter the industry hoping to climb the corporate ladder rather quickly, but if and when they get there, they realize it is not what they had hoped for."

Allen recalls instances when she could not offer the encouragement protégés came seeking. In the hope to not discourage them, but rather guide them, she nonchalantly responds, "Now, why do you want to do that?" After repeated encounters like this, her protégés soon came to realize that this response was Allen's kind-hearted disapproval.
The Turing Award will be presented to Allen in June.

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