Friday, June 29, 2007

Women in Science Friday Link Roundup

Articles and posts from the past week I didn't get around to blogging:

Harvard physicist Lisa Randall "enters the Seed Salon to discuss shape, magic tricks, and the definition of "see" with architect/designer" Chuck Hoberman.

Voice of America broadcast a program on the "Mercury 13." You can download the MP3 or read the transcript.

Afarensis links to a video interview with Dr. Louise Leakey on the Archaeology Channel about human evolution.

So Sioux Me explains how the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters is "a fantastic way to empower girls." Who says girls don't enjoy blowing stuff up? of Bombay, India writes about three young women "from very economically disadvantaged backgrounds" who are pursuing engineering degrees, supported by the L'Oréal India Scholarship for Young Women in Science.

These are all the first ever engineers in their respective families! And they hope others follow in their footsteps. As [Scholarship recipient] Devika wisely says, “I have learnt from my own life that you can make it even without the finances, provided you develop your talents and have a goal you are aspiring toward. Parents must support their girls to study further, and not worry about where the money will come from because where there is a will, there is a way.”
Voice of America profiles two of Burkina Faso's professional women: government mediator Amina Ouedraogo, and Alice Tiendrebeogo, a founder and vice president of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). They are exceptions in a country where only one quarter of the girls complete primary school, and 80% never learn to read.

[Tiendrebeogo] recounts an experience at a summer science camp for teenage girls, which featured evening talks with women with successful careers in science.

"At the beginning of the camp, we asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up, and all their ideas were of traditional female professions, like primary school teachers or typists," she recalled. "By the end of the camp, the girls were more forward-thinking, Tiendrebeogo says. They said they wanted to be engineers, university professors, doctors.

Cary Tennis tackles the issue of the "two body problem" at when a graduate student in analytical chemistry writes that his girlfriend is heading to Berkeley, while he is still finishing up grad school and just received an offer from a lab in Toronto. Tennis doesn't think it's so complicated:
Whose career has priority right now? I think hers does, since she has already accepted a position. Hers also does for her personally, since she is trying to reverse a gender-based legacy. That can be touchy for couples. Duh. Plus, this whole reversing a gender-based legacy thing is not foolproof: We find in reversing the mistakes of our parents that we make equal and opposite mistakes. But since she's made the first move, yours is, for now, the subordinate position. So deal with it.
The Boston Globe reports on the dilemma of Sophie Currier, who needs to pass National Board of Medical Examiners by August to start her medical residence. The problem? She is breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter, but is unable to get extra break time during the 9 hour exam to express milk, since that is not considered a disability covered by the American with Disabilities Act. She is also not allowed to use the breast pump inside the testing room, and the whole situation is complicated by the fact that Currier is already being allowed extra time to take the exam for a disability.

Tara Bishop writes about "Dr. Mom: The Truth about the Mommy Track" for MIT Alumni News.

I wasn't completely comfortable quitting my job, so I told people that I was "taking a break." In fact, I was embarrassed to be wasting an undergraduate degree from MIT in chemical engineering and a medical degree from Cornell. Before my son was born, I read the "Opt-Out Revolution" in the New York Times and saw a Sixty Minutes segment about highly educated and successful women who gave up their work to be home with their kids. At the time, I vowed never to sacrifice my career.

Five years later, I found myself doing exactly that. The first few weeks at home were a series of adjustments. I went to the playground and tried to become friends with other stay-at-home moms. I beamed as my son played his mini guitar better than all the other kids in his music class. I loved that I once again had time to read novels.

But I was also very, very bored.
Bishop ultimately decided she made the right choice. She is planning to go back to work when her sons are in preschool.

IT Pro reports on the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology seminar last week.
Dr Wendy Faulkner of the University of Edinburgh told attendees that women workers are turned away from the sector because of poor work-life balance and a male dominated culture. "The sector is more comfortable to men than women," she said.
The LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune takes a look at the some myths in the battle of the sexes, including "Women aren’t as good at science and math".
“(Women) don’t have good role models,” Sudhakaran said. “I see girls when I teach general education courses who are so talented, so smart, and I always ask them why they didn’t go for science and engineering because they’re so good at it. They say, �my parents told me that science is not for girls.’

Articles about summer science programs for girls:

NASA Ames Research Center in California is collaborating with the Girl Scouts of the San Francisco Bay Area for the "Launch into Technology Program." Fifty high school-aged Girl Scouts will have two week-long programs, one on robotics, and one on aeronautics. ABC7 News has a video segment on the program.

The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota has a program after which "seventh-grade girls from throughout Minnesota will have built and flown their own radio-controlled model airplanes." The airplanes are built completely from scratch, based on information the girls learn in classes on plastics, electricity, machining, computer-aided design, assembly, Web design, chemistry, physics, engineering and robotics. There are four one-week sessions of the STEPS program in July.

The Bridgwater (UK) Mercury writes about the WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) project at Robert Blake Science College that "gave girls from four Somerset schools the chance to release their inner Einsteins." The girls each constructed a "fully functioning perfume emitting, aromatherapy fan," which seem like a bizarre choice of engineering projects to me. Hopefully the girls enjoyed it.

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Lin Chase: Women in Technology from Pittsburgh to India

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviews Lin Chase, current director of research and development for technology at Accenture in Bangalore, India. Chase has a bachelor's degree in physics, and a PhD in computer science-robotics. After finishing her undergraduate degree the 1980s, she worked in Pittsburgh's fledgling high-tech industry, better known for steel production and heavy industry:

At the time, I felt like I was really on target with how these technologies could be used; and I was really, really good at building relationships in the companies.

But I didn't think I was being taken seriously in certain situations because of both being young and being female.

A lot of the industries we were looking at were capital intensive: automotive, rail transport and the military. ... And these, traditionally, are not great industries for young women to take on. So I just decided I was really interested in getting a Ph.D. and furthering that kind of intellectual experience. And I really wanted some time to get some gray hairs and be older.

She went on to get her Ph.D. from Carnegie-Mellon, and worked in the tech industry in Paris, London and Silicon Valley. Today, working in India, she says that "being a Westerner trumps being female," but she sees that the women who succeed in India are ones who "don't have personal full-time responsibilities at home."

There is a small handful of women I know [in India] at work in their 20s or early 30s who are very, very devoted to their work, and I'm very sorry to say most of them are divorced.

I make a big effort to bring women on to my team. I go to great lengths to make sure they understand, and everyone on my team understands, that anyone who has elder care or child care responsibilities at home gets special treatment in terms of hours they need to work, whether or not I can pay for their Internet access at home, and whether they can have a laptop to take home. I don't say specifically it's the women who get this. I say anyone with elder care or child care responsibilities. It's not really about being male or female. It's really about work-life balance.

Do tech companies here in the U.S. made the same kind of effort? I would hope so.

You can listen to audio excerpts of the Post-Gazette's conversation with Chase:
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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer Reading Suggestions from Science

Science asked contributors and scientists for their summer reading suggestions (subscription required). There were several about fictional - and non-fictional - women scientists. Descriptions are from

Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy recommends Allegra Goodman's Intuition, noting that several characters "are modeled closely enough on players in widely known cases to encourage identification."

[. . .] a struggling cancer lab at Boston's Philpott Institute becomes the stage for its researchers' personalities and passions, and for the slippery definitions of freedom and responsibility in grant-driven American science. When the once-discredited R-7 virus, the project of playboy postdoc Cliff, seems to reduce cancerous tumors in mice, lab director Sandy Glass insists on publishing the preliminary results immediately, against the advice of his more cautious codirector, Marion Mendelssohn. The research team sees a glorious future ahead, but Robin, Cliff's resentful ex-girlfriend and co-researcher, suspects that the findings are too good to be true and attempts to prove Cliff's results are in error. The resulting inquiry spins out of control. With subtle but uncanny effectiveness, Goodman illuminates the inner lives of each character, depicting events from one point of view until another section suddenly throws that perspective into doubt.
Science news editor Colin Norman recommends William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach.
Hope Clearwater lives alone in a beach house in an unnamed African country, trying to patch together her shattered life. An ecologist, she had come to Africa to participate in primate research and to heal the deep wounds of her marriage to a brilliant English mathematician; but she soon found herself plunged into another crisis, one that threatened not only her career but also her life. In a book packed with scientific and mathematical metaphors, Boyd explores how people create, defend, ignore, or subvert the belief systems that govern their lives. If on one level this is an intellectual thriller, on another it is very much an exciting and riveting adventure story, and on yet another a subtle examination of the power grid of personal relationships.
Vera Rubin, Senior Fellow in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C., recommends Kim Todd's Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis has long fascinated humankind, but few people more than Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), who spent her life illustrating this mysterious process in insects. Merian grew up in Germany, married, had two daughters, left her husband to join a Labadist (pietist) community in West Friesland, moved to Amsterdam and, at age 52, traveled to Surinam to search for insects. Beyond that, little is known about this remarkable woman except for a few letters and her beautiful engravings and watercolors, most of them published in her books on insect metamorphosis. Todd (Tinkering with Eden) fleshes out her biography with colorful descriptions of Merian's world and the people she knew, emphasizing that she was as exceptional in her art as in her life. Unlike other naturalists at the time, she depicted insects together with their host plants, an innovation that influenced many later 18th-century students of insect life. Merian fell out of favor in the 19th century, but today, when scientists have come to appreciate the importance of environment to insect development, her star is rising again. Todd's vivid account should do much to further the renewed interest in this unusual woman and her pioneering approach to insect illustration.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Medical Writing and the Pay Gap

Science Careers takes a look at medical writing as alternative career for people with science PhDs. It's a potentially interesting career for those who are interested in science and writing, but not interested in performing experiments or running a lab.

"Critical-thinking skills, project-management skills, independence, and the ability to clearly communicate complex topics are key assets for succeeding in this type of position as well as in research," she says. And all those skills are nurtured, if not always systematically and intentionally, by graduate science training. Companies often look for writers with an expertise in a particular medical area. So although an advanced degree in a relevant field isn't required for work as a medical writer, it's a distinct advantage.

Five scientists who took the writing path are profiled - all women, giving the impression that medical writing is dominated by women. Whether that's the case or not, as in many other fields the average pay is significantly higher for men: $94,000 vs. $83,000 a year. The article doesn't go into why that is the case, but I suspect it may be because women don't ask.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Chosing to major in science

Geeky Mom has an interesting series of posts about why ended up becoming a writer instead of a scientist, despite her early interest in science and math. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

It got me thinking about how a college freshman who is unsure of what she wants to major in probably has a much easier time dabbling in social science and humanities courses than in science. At least in my own undergraduate experience, the introductory courses that science majors were required to take were huge, so students received very little individual attention. On top of that, there were long laboratory sections at least once a week. It's very hard to imagine anyone taking introductory chemistry out of curiosity or for "fun". In contrast, even though I was a science major I took a bunch of humanities and social science courses (German, history, cultural anthropology, etc.) just because I found them interesting.

There were science classes for non-science majors, of course, but they were essentially watered-down versions of the real thing. You couldn't take the special "physics for poets" course and use it to fulfill the requirements of a physics major, but I took history classes along with the history majors. Is this a sign of a general deficiency in the teaching of science and math at American high schools? Is there something inherently more difficult about learning the sciences? Or is it unrealistic to think that college students should be capable of taking introductory classes in every department, be it English or Biology?


Monday, June 25, 2007

Denice Denton, One Year Later

One year ago last Saturday electrical engineer and chancellor of UC Santa Cruz Denice Denton committed suicide. Denton's friends and colleagues created a tribute web site where people can share stories about her life and legacy. As the site says:

Denice Denton had a bold, far-reaching vision for engineering education. Access, equity and excellence were the cornerstones of her work. She worked tirelessly for an engineering educational system that is truly accessible to everyone, that nurtures students' dreams, that enables students to fulfill those dreams upon graduation, and that encourages them to make substantial contributions to our global society. She sought to increase the number and diversity of voices working together to improve engineering education and the role of engineering in society. She promoted excellence in all aspects of engineering education -- from the actual content of the courses, to the way they were taught, to admissions policies, to research on learning, to essential support systems for students, faculty and staff.

At the time of her death, she had been embroiled in controversy over University of California management compensation. A few weeks ago, San Francisco magazine took a more detailed look at the factors that may have lead to her death, including her lack of administrative experience, the compensation scandal, homophobia, and depression.

SciBloggers have posted their own recollections

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Video: So You Want to Be an Engineer

This week's video is a promotional video from Cisco that features a racially diverse group of female engineers, both at work and at play, apparently to demonstrate that you don't have to be a dorky white man with a pocket protector to be an engineer.

The video goes along pretty nicely until they make a big point of saying that engineering is "a great way to meet guys!" It reminds me of that 1949 "Girl Chemist" article that makes pains to point out that female chemists go on dates.

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The Importance of Parents in Encouraging Daughters in Math and Science

I've been in more (mostly online) conversations than I care to mention in which parents - both moms and dads - claim that girls "just don't like science." I know that's BS. I like science, even when I was a young lass. Sure some girls don't care for math and science, just like some boys don't care for math and science. My gut feeling has always been that parents who strongly believe that girls don't have those interests actually end up discouraging their own daughters in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Now there's actual data to back that up.

Science Daily reports on a study that University of Michigan psychologist Pamela Davis-Kean reported at a recent conference on "Educating a STEM Workforce." The data comes from a longitudinal study of 800 children, and many of their parents, from 1987 to 2000. They found that parents do indeed act on assumed gender stereotypes:

They found that parents provided more math-supportive environments for their sons than for their daughters, including buying more math and science toys for the boys. They also spent more time on math and science activities with their sons than with their daughters.
Those stereotypes can have long term consequences on later math achievement and career choices. In particular, fathers' attitudes had a strong influence on their daughters.

They found that girls' interest in math decreases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase, whereas boys' interest in math increases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase.

"Fathers' gender stereotypes are very important in supporting—or in undermining—daughters' choices to pursue training in math and science," Davis-Kean said.

All you dads out there should keep this in mind.

At least some of this research has been published by Davis-Kean and co-authors Janis Jacobs, Martha Bleeker, Jacquelynne Eccles and Oksana Malachuk in Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Psychological Approach.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Women in Science Friday Link Roundup

First off, Post Doc Carnival #5 is up at On Being a Scientist and a Woman.

On my other blog, I interview Canadian ecologist and science fiction writer Nina Munteanu about science, writing and science fiction.

Mindhacks takes a look at the neuropsychology research that Natalie Herschlag (aka Natalie Portman) published when she took a hiatus from acting to study psychology at Harvard.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair blog interviews Hadeel Masoudi of Amman, Jordan about her project on shark antibodies.

This week's "Citation Classic" at The Evilutionary Biologist is the so-called "Blender Experiment" of Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase that demonstrated that DNA (and not protein) is the genetic material.

Skepchick Rebecca has a report from her friend Evelyn who is on a research vessel on the Indian Ocean studying undersea volcanoes.

Zuska posts a report from this year's Women in Engineering Program Advocates Network (WEPAN) conference. She also links to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (behind a paywall unfortunately) about Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe, who commutes to work via skateboard.

Fortune & CNN Money columnist Anne Fisher responds in her "Ask Annie" column to a young women who asks whether women have a hard time getting promoted in IT. Annie suggests asking about and talking to women at job interviews, and seeking out a mentor.

The Austin American-Statesman writes about Project IT Girl, administered by Girlstart, a program for high school girls that "seeks to correct the low percentages of women in tech-related jobs."

Displaying a self-awareness impressive for her 15 years, Kelley Stidolph said, "I'm weird. I don't like dressing up or makeup or skirts or shopping."

What does she like? Math and science. This astonishes her classmates.

They are sometimes pressured — by teachers, by group projects — to accept her into their fold "even though I'm just so different and not at all like them," Stidolph says. "That pressure may cause them to exaggerate in their minds how different I am."

"I've always been good at math, and science has always just interested me," [Alexi] Ramsey said. "So many of my friends will complain about it, boys and girls. They say, 'Science sucks. When am I gonna use this?' I have to, like, cough and say, 'Uh, every day?' "

The father of one of the girls is a programmer at Symantec who claims to have met only two female engineers in his 20-year career. It sounds like he needs to step away from his computer more often. reports that there is a "Man drought hitting universities" in New Zealand. According to the article woman make up 59.3% of domestic graduates and 55.6% of international graduates. Only 33.2% of masters degrees and 42.4% of doctorates go to men.
Men still dominate in some subject areas with three times more than females in engineering, and maths and information science. However, there are significantly more women in biological sciences, commerce, health, humanities, social and behavioural science at bachelor orhonours degree level.
The Queensland (Australia) Business Review notes that nominations for the Smart Women- Smart State award for women in science, engineering or information technology close on June 29.
"Winning the Award was the highlight of my secondary schooling and clearly helped my application for a place in the competitive sphere of medicine at university," says 2006 Secondary School Students award winner, Zoe Brown.

2006 Research Scientist Award winner Professor Melissa Little agrees.

"Being a professional woman and a mother is a tough juggle but, when you get recognition for your efforts, it all seems worth it," Melissa says.
The Manila Bulletin Online reports on a speech by Dr. Amelia Ancog, "former Department of Science and Technology (DoST) undersecretary and now module director of the National Defense College of the Philippines" at the recent Gender Awareness Seminar for Women in Meteorology. Ancog noted the lack of female meteorologists at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and pointed out that the department used to be dominated by women, most of who either went abroad or were transfered to other departments.

An article in the ThomasNet Industrial Market Trends reports on the "mirage of professional gender equity." It focuses on the pay gap between women and men in technical careers in the United States and Canada.

The Marietta Times reports on the Women in Sciences camp at Marietta college for middle school girls who primarily come from West Virginia and Ohio.
“We’ve already learned about astronomy, microbiology, digital photography and fun with math,” said Rictoria Schaad, 13, an eighth-grader at Marietta Middle School, while working on a chromatography project, learning about chemical separation by solvents. “And it’s really fun to meet all the other girls.”
[. . .]
“I got to see all the constellations I’ve never seen before,” said Elly Nau, an eighth-grader at St. Mary’s School. “I’m excited about everything. Science is one of my favorite subjects. There are always so many fascinating things.”

The Arizona Daily Star writes about the IBM Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) Camp for middle school girls last week in Tuscon.
""I like technology," said Sara, who is in seventh grade. "It's interesting to see how complicated it is and how many things you can do with it."

Katie Dreeland, 18, was in the first group of students to attend the IBM camp.

"EXITE did change my life," she said. "It introduced me to the world of engineering."

The recent Cienega High School graduate, who attended the camp when she was a student at Old Vail Middle School, will enroll at Arizona State University in the fall and major in molecular biosciences and biotechnology.
The Hamilton Mountain (Ontario) News writes about the McMaster University "All Science Challenge" and "Let's Talk Science" program for local middle school students.

"We wanted to do something interactive to show kids that science is fun," said Diana Dregoesc, the McMaster coordinator for Let's Talk Science.

She is a graduate student in biology who helped organize the event along with 60 other undergraduate and graduate science students. "We also wanted to break the stereotypes that all scientists are grey-haired with a beard. They're men and women of all races. Science
is for everyone."

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CR4 WoW BLog: Greatest Women in Engineering and Science

The CR4 ("The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion") WoW blog has been running a weekly series on "The Greatest Women Engineers and Scientists." Profiled so far:

Scheduled for the upcoming weeks are Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkins, Lady Augusta Ada Brown, Florence Nightingale, Beatrix Potter, Emily Roebling, Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead and Sally Ride. The WoW blog has even more profiles of women in the sciences, the most recent being oceanographer Sylvia Earle.

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1923's Great Women in Science

In my recent surfing I came across César Sánchez's microbiology article finds in the Time Magazine archives. It turns out to be a fascinating window into 20th century American culture (and a great way to procrastinate - curse you César!).

Take this May 28, 1923 article about the "twelve greatest" women chosen by the League of Women Voters. Time profiles some of the lesser known winners, who turn out to be some of the pioneering women in science: Dr. Annie Jump Cannon, curator of the Harvard College Observatory; Anna Botsford Comstock, "professor of nature study at Cornell;" and Dr. Florence Rena Sabin, "professor of histology at Johns Hopkins Medical School." All three were very prominent in their fields and well-deserved recognition.

What is interesting is that the article criticizes the League of Women Voters' list for including too few female scientists.

Women have made their marks in all branches of science, and to limit their professions to anatomy or astronomy is arbitrary. There are 404 of them among the 9,500 names in American Men of Science. The League might well have mentioned, for instance, Margaret F. Washburn (president of the American Psychological Association, 1922), Lillien J. Martin, Mary W. Calkins, Ethel Puffer Howes, Christine Ladd-Franklin or Helen B. Woolley, psychologists; Florence Bascom, geologist; Alice C. Fletcher (who died last month) or Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologists; Cornelia Clapp, Katharine Foot or Mary J. Rathbun, zoologists; Lydia DeWitt or Louise Pearce, pathologists; Anna Johnson Pell or Charlotte Scott, mathematicians; Mary E. Pennington, chemist; Ellen Churchill Semple, geographer; S. Josephine Baker or Daisy Robinson, sanitarians, and several others. All of these women have national or international scientific reputations.

Here we are, almost 85 years later, and despite the fact that the percentage of female scientists has increased significantly there are still uninformed individuals who ask "where are the women scientists?" The answer is that the women are in their labs and in the field, working as they have for decades.
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Effect of Faculty Gender on Student Performance

Inside Higher Education takes a look at a recent study about the effect of efacutly gender on student success. The bottom line: there is little or no effect

The research also found no important influence from the so-called “role model effect,” which measures whether a same-sex instructor would motivate a student to take a subsequent course in his or her field.

“We were more surprised with these findings than we would have been if the results showed that gender had a large effect in the classroom,” Oreopoulos said. “There’s a lot of interest in these topics, but we just didn’t find much correlation.”

(via Chad Orzel)

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Stereotypes and Academic Performance in Mathematics

The National Academies recently posted an article about the effect of stereotypes on the performance of women in mathematics.

The study, a collaboration by researchers at the University of Chicago, University of Miami, and University of California, involved 200 women with strong math skills. The women were separated into two groups; one group was simply told that they were part of a study on math performance, while the second group was told they were part of a study to find out why men outperform women in math.

While the first group did well, even displaying an improvement in their math performance, the second group's performance went from 90 percent to 80 percent. This group also went on to perform poorly on an unrelated memory examination following the math test.

The National Academies has two related free reports :
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In and Out of Science

CAD at VWXYNot? has two great posts that talk about why she got into science and, after getting a PhD, why she got out of research. (Also see R. Ford Denison's response "Who should consider grad school in science?")

CAD didn't have a single reason: it was the long hours, it was the low pay, it was the lack of job security, it was because she enjoyed writing more than doing experiments. There was nothing in her post that I found particularly surprising, because those are all reasons that I dropped out of research a decade ago. And, like CAD, I still love science, and still think (I think) like a scientist. There is a heated discussion going on over on ScienceBlogs about scientist-journalist interactions (see Cotournix's roundup and Janet Stemwedel's subsequent post. It seems to me that more people with science backgrounds going into science communication (as CAD plans to) can only improve the situation. Does working as a science communicator rather than a experimentalist mean that one is no longer a scientist? I'd like to think not.

ETA: CAD would like everyone to know that the her research on endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) does not support creationism, despite the claims of Reasons to Believe.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Wizard

Last week Don Herbert, TV's Mr. Wizard, died of cancer, just short of his 90th birthday. The "Watch Mr. Wizard" kids' science show ran on American TV from 1951 to 1965. A revamped version of the show ran on Nickelodeon from 1983 to 1990. His show was unique in that it included girls along with the boys. In an interview with Wired last month, Herbert indicated that was one reason for the show's success.

WN: You began to include girls in your show quite early on. Female scientists are beginning to outnumber male scientists in some areas. Can you comment on what led you to be so far ahead of your time?

Herbert: Looking back it certainly was a major contributing factor to the show's longevity and success. The girls were terrific!

I actually have never seen Mr. Wizard. The original show was before my time and the Nickelodeon version didn't start airing until I was a senior in high school. From the outpouring of fond memories I've read online, he inspired many girls and boys to study science. What a wonderful legacy!

More: LA Times Obituary



SciTalks is a new web site that aggregates videos of science talks from YouTube, news sites, universities and other sources. They don't actually host the videos - they just link to them. According to the SciTalks blog the goal is to create a useful educational resource.

Scitalks is important and needed. In the general trend toward democratizing education, we hope that it can become an important tool for educators, home schoolers and those who are wanting to educate themselves.

In another context, science’s credibility is at the heart of a conflict where the opponent is well funded and well organized. We’re a society trained to sound-bites. Our critical thinking skills are eroding. Scientific thought is by its very nature complex and challenging to communicate to the general public. Most universities aren’t up to the task and the scientists themselves are involved in a system where the public is at the bottom of the list of the masters they must satisfy if they want to remain in research. They must publish or perish, and peer review is where they publish.

Yet there is no one else who can better convey the necessity, drama and passion of their work than the scientists themselves.

They are asking for submissions of video links, so if you or a scientist you know has been featured in a video that is available online, it's probably worth letting them know.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Worst Jobs in Science

Popular Science just published its annual list of the the 10 worst jobs in science. Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium made #10 on the list as a Whale-Feces Researcher.
The gravity research subjects used by NASA Johnson Space center researcher Liz Warren were #7. I'm not sure those aren't worse than #3: elephant vasectomist.
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Eddie Bernice Johnson on Improving Representation of Minorities in Women in STEM

Yesterday's issue of Louisiana Weekly ran a column by U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) about "Diversifying the nation's science and technology workforce." Johnson is a senior member of the House Committee on Science and Technology and one of the founders of the House Innovation and Diversity Caucus. She has been working to improve science and math education and encourage underrepresented minorities and women in science and technology fields.

Research shows that the pipeline to the STEM professions starts breaking down for minorities in the K-12 classroom. Research has shown that a well-trained teacher can make the difference between a student's success and failure in math and science.

Recognizing this, I co-sponsored legislation that seeks to create 10,000 new teachers able to touch 10 million young minds. This bill boosts incentives for college students to pursue math and science teaching degrees and later teach in underserved schools. Ultimately, it aims to increase the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in schools which suffer from a shortage of well-prepared teachers. It also authorizes $1.5 billion for federal scholarships and continuing education programs for current math and science teachers.

Furthermore, my [Congressional Black Caucus] colleagues and I championed legislation that increases the National Science Foundation's focus on diversity at the collegiate level. A bill recently passed by the House directs federal researchers to report on the participation of under-represented groups in science, math and technology fields. They must also offer an annual plan describing how federal funds will be used to encourage more women and minorities to pursue science careers.

The web site of the House Science Committee has a nice set of links to science resources for teachers and students, including kids' pages at NASA, NOAA, EPA and other agencies, "Ask-A-Biologist" and "Ask-A-Geologist" services, and much more.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Barriers for Women in Tech Communities

At DevChix, Gloria has a thought-provoking article about the barriers that women face in technology fields and the role of women-only and women-friendly groups can play in building community. She points out that interactions in women-friendly groups is different than in male-dominated spaces.

Destructive criticism is the best way to keep a site predominantly male. It implies that there is no concern about whether a person can learn from a response or not, or whether they would find offense. It is an outward display of ego, a territorial “pissing rite” in which most women do not and will not participate.

Of course many men are also put off by that kind of behavior and are often welcomed into women's groups, as long as they don't appear to be there for the "wrong reasons." The wrong reasons (discussed in more detail in the article) being thouse that conflict with the groups' primary function as a safe space for women to exchange ideas.

Awareness of and accountability for behavior in women’s groups means a lot more than just safety from sexual harassment, or discrimination. It means that if one is treated unfairly or harshly in any manner that a person finds offensive, the entire community will hear your claim. They will give you advice, opinions, and will collectively decide if action should be taken.

Gloria speaks from her own experience as a woman within the tech community.
I have experimented with this myself using a male pseudonym to post articles, and being told that the articles are informative, useful, great. Six months later I republish the exact same article, using a different title and a female pseudonym, and suddenly the article is horrible, technically incorrect, useless. It’s a fascinating study. I would love to see some prominent male techs publish under female pseudonyms, and watch the responses.
She concludes with a list of ways that communities and technology workplaces can be made more woman-friendly. Go read the entire article for all of her suggestions. Co-blogger Dianne follows up with a post that asks "Is there a hierarchy in online communities?" Don't skip the comments sections where there are some interesting discussions going on.

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Women in Science Friday Link Roundup - Monday Edition

Here are interesting links from last week that I didn't get around to blogging. And yes, it's a Monday edition because I was out of town on Friday with no computer or internet connection- blissful!

Scientist and science fiction writer Nina Munteanu writes about her hero, biologist Lynn Margulis. She also gave me a nice shout out. Thanks Nina!

Feministing points out that ex-Harvard president Larry Summers was profiled in the New York Times magazine. There is discussion in the comments about Summers' widely-criticized comments about women in the sciences.

Janet Stemwedel points out that not all great science posts are uplifting, and links to a few that could break your heart.

Flicka Mawa rounds up the recent blogosphere discussion of work/life balance in academia.

Sandra Kiume explains in the Inkling Magazine Book Club why Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain pisses her off: the crappy science.

Science writer David Bradley reprints a 2004 article (originally published in the now-defunct HMS Beagle) that takes a look at the glass ceiling for women in science careers in Europe.

Statistics from the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry reveal that the percentage of female graduates is higher in chemistry than in physics and mathematics but is lower than in biology. Non-science subjects, such as French and English, still beat the sciences by a wide margin. The female to male ratio of undergraduates in the biological sciences is roughly 50:50. The percentage of females achieving higher degrees in chemistry is smaller than at first degree but it is increasing. US government statistics reflect something similar for the sciences in general, showing that women are approaching half of science and engineering bachelor's degree recipients having been steadily increasing since the 1980s.

But degrees don't always facilitate career progression. We are still seeing a strong gender bias. The first full female chemistry professor in the UK, Judith Howard of Durham University, only took her chair in 1991. In chemistry, there were a mere 0.8% females. Extrapolations see no parity between male and female professors existing before the year 2120!
The Society for Women's Health Research writes about the lack of women receiving Presidential Medal of Honor awards. They have established the RAISE project to ensure that women are nominated for national awards in science, engineering, technology, mathematics and medicine.

“Women scientists across the nation are doing tremendous work, but they often do not receive the recognition they deserve for their achievements,” Greenberger said. “Women often fail to nominate themselves and many never ask others to nominate them for awards, so we have established a program to aid the process.

“Given that so few women have received the National Medal of Science, I hope the White House, the National Science Foundation and the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation, all of which play a role in promoting medal, will strengthen their targeted outreach and promotions to ensure that qualified women are nominated and recognized.”

The Washington Post writes about a report from the Business-Higher Education Forum on the lack of math and science teachers in the U.S. The report calls for higher pay, better mentoring, and a reduced teaching load the first year to better retain young science teachers. According to the report, one of the reasons for the science teacher shortage is that "Women no longer provide the captive teacher labor pool that they were prior to 1980."

Kansas State University runs a mathematics and science summer program for middle school girls called "MASTER IT!" According to the director, "This wonderful program allows these
girls to have fun with math and science doing hands-on workshops with
women professionals and university math and science faculty."

The Miami Herald reports on
the IBM-sponsored summer camp for girls at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science called GREAT (Girls Really Excelling at Technology).

''I like how women can be so smart,'' [13-year-old Isha Chambers] said. "Women can do things
just as well as men can, if not better.''

Lynda Hise, 12, agreed.

''I get so mad when people say things are only for boys to do,'' she

Lynda said she doesn't know if she wants to pursue a career in science,
but she is always eager to learn something new, like how to build a

Finally, Andrew Wheeler links to a discussion on "Sexism and Science Fiction" on the Asmiov's discussion boards. It definitely reinforces the idea that science fiction is for boys, or, as Andrew puts it "you might want to reset your watch to 1885 before reading."

Next edition: on Friday, for real!

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Felice Frankel, science photographer

Last week the New York Times had an interesting article about science photographer Felice Frankel.

For Ms. Frankel, 62, this work is a return to a major interest of her youth, when she studied science and aspired to a career as a chemist. Born Felice Oringel in Brooklyn, she attended Midwood High School and Brooklyn College, where she majored in biology. After graduation, she worked in a cancer research lab at Columbia. “Science has always been in my soul,” she said.

But life intervened. She married Kenneth Frankel. He was sent to Vietnam. When he returned, they moved to western Massachusetts, where he worked as a chest surgeon and they raised two sons.

But when Dr. Frankel returned from Vietnam, he brought a gift. “It was a very good camera,” Ms. Frankel said. “And that’s not trivial, that it was good.”

She started taking photographs. “Probably I was good,” she said, but because the camera was good, too.

It turned out that Frankel has a keen eye for the creation of images that both please the eye and convey the science.

Frankel is currently a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard, where she heads the Envisioning Science program and is also an appointed M.I.T. research scientist, where she works with scientists and engineers to photograph their experiments.

More about Frankel:
On the Surface of Things by Felice Frankel Envisioning Science by Felice Frankel

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Discover on Movie Scientists

In February (yes, I'm behind in my reading, why do you ask?) Discover Magazine listed "20 Things You Didn't Know about Movie Scientists". Not surprisingly, the few female movie scientists are often as much for eye candy as to drive the plot, the notable exception being Dr. Zira.

  • 11. According to a 2005 study, less than 20 percent of scientists portrayed on screen from 1929 to 2003 were women. The research also revealed that almost all of the women were young, thin, and beautiful, although some did wear glasses.
  • 12. In 1944 Greer Garson became the first and last woman to be nominated for an Oscar for a portrayal of a scientist. Her Madame Curie was young, thin, and beautiful, but did not wear glasses. The real Marie Curie did.
  • 13. You've come a long way, monkey? One notable female movie scientist does not fit the stereotype: Zira, the simian psychiatrist from Planet of the Apes, was muscular and hairy. As we learn in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), the third installment of the series, Dr. Zira vivisected and experimented on human captives, who in the movie year of 3955 are considered animals and thus expendable in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Video: Lisa Randall on Charlie Rose

Today's video shows Harvard physicist Lisa Randall talking to Charlie Rose about "the origins of theories in theoretical physics.

Randall is one of the top theoretical physicists in the world. As profiled in Edge:

She was the 1st tenured woman in physics at Princeton; the 1st tenured woman theorist in science at Harvard and at MIT. She's the most cited theoretical physicist in the world in the last five years as of last autumn — a total of about 10,000 citations. In this regard, she is most known for two papers: "A Large mass Hierarchy From a Small Extra Dimension" (2500 citations); and and "An Alternative to Compactification" (about 2500 citations). Both concern "Warped Geometry/Spacetime" and show that infinite extra dimension and weakness of gravity can be explained with an extra dimension.
More links:
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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Scientiae Carnival @ the FairerScience Weblog

Rosa at the FairerScience Weblog has posted the latest scientiae carnival with the theme of "Transitions". As usual, lots of interesting reading.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Glamour magazine's Top Ten College Women of 2007

Using a Google News feed, I find all kinds of articles in publications I would never pick up myself. Like Glamour. Apparently they aren't only about just fashion and beauty, at least in one issue a year. In the May issue Glamour named its top 10 college women. All of the winners are extremely accomplished. And some are even science and engineering.

Hilary Martens
is a joint physics and music major at the University of Montana.

HER GOAL: To be a physics professor and a lead researcher on a future space mission.
Martens was on the team of scientists at NASA last summer that discovered what may be an atmosphere around one of Saturn's moons. See her interview in the University of Montana Vision for more about her physics research.

Melis Anahtar majors in mechanical and biomedical engineering at MIT.
She developed a blood-testing device that could give doctors quick, crucial information about how the body is reacting to a burn, and last summer identified a genetic basis for a rare form of albinism through her internship at the National Institutes of Health.
Anahtar has a blog on the MIT admissions web site, where she talks about her experience "Behind the scenes of Glamour."

Perhaps little truer to Glamour's interests, a second MIT undergrad, environmental engineering major Alia Whitney-Johnson, is noted for launching a program teaching Sri Lankan girls to make and sell jewelry.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


My list of sidebar links has grown so large I decided I needed to change my template into a three column format. I'm still fiddling with it, so if you are here and are seeing formatting weirdness, that's probably why.

Special thanks to Hackosphere for explaining how to convert the blogger template from 2 columns to 3 columns. Hackosphere's Ramani only asks for a link to his new venture in return, so here it is:

ETA: I think it's set. Now all I need to do is create a snazzy header . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Elizabeth Sulzman, Rest in Peace

ScienceWoman reflects on the sad news of the death of Dr. Elizabeth Sulzman, an apparent suicide (Go read the post and comments. I'll wait.). Sulzman was an Associate Professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University. Her faculty web page is now a tribute to her.

"Elizabeth brought soil science to life for her students," said Russ Karow, head of OSU Crop and Soil Sciences Department. "Her collegiality, dynamic personality, and infectious enthusiasm for active learning and scientific inquiry were her hallmarks."

From a childhood of tumbling rocks in the basement and dreaming of becoming "Jaquette Cousteau," Sulzman had always been in love with the outdoors. She worked for a time with the Peace Corps in the Central African Republic, helping villagers build a dam.

"It was quite a challenge," Sulzman recalled. "I had no knowledge of the local trade language and the people I worked with had little knowledge of engineering or hydrology." Yet, by the end of her stay, Sulzman and the villagers had completed 80 ponds to provide a source of protein for the people in the area.
And her science:
Elizabeth is described by those who worked with her as "possessing an astonishing level of curiosity", a "hands-on person", and "one who has leaned the fundamentals of 19th Century Soil Science and can apply it with biogeochemistry, isotope chemistry, and atmospheric sciences to solve the problems of the 20th Century."
What a sad loss for her family, her students, and science.

More: KGW News report

Edited to Add: Last Sunday (June 17) The Oregonian ran a long article about Sulzman's life and death.

I've noticed the arrival of lot of visitors searching for information on Elizabeth Sulzman. Please feel free to leave a comment if you knew Elizabeth (or even if you didn't)!


Blogging Duke Biosci Undergrads

A group of 31 Duke University sophomores are working in the lab for the first time, and blogging about their experiences. The students are part of the Howard Hughes Research Fellows Program, and they are finding that working in a lab isn't always what they expected.

As you might expect, some of the participants have dived right into blogging, with interesting posts and photos of their experiences so far, while others, not so much. I think it's a great way for the students to practice communicating about their research and for other students interested in pursuing a career in science to get a glimpse of what it's really like to work in a lab.

You can read an overview of their blog entries, or read the individual blogs over the course of their eight week program. The young women in the program include:

  • Alaina Pleatman
  • Catherine Hartman
  • Jacquelyn Sink
    With no significant research experience under my belt, the complexity of lab life came as quite a surprise. I realized just how much I didn’t know about the basic techniques of science - how complicated dilutions, elecrophoresis, and even growing yeast plates could be if you have never been forced to perform it yourself before. I had to recall all of the things I learned in high school but thought I would never use. I guess it was good to realize that those things you learned oh-so-long-ago will definitely come in handy later in life!
  • Jessica Shuen
  • Julie Sogani
    So instead on Thursday I watched Liz (a fifth year graduate student) perform the final step-”detection”- of a Western Blot, i.e. incubation with a primary and secondary antibody and developing pictures of the gel. Unfortunately the results weren’t as good as Liz hoped. If I had worked nearly five days preparing and conducting such an experiment only to get so-so results I would expect to surely feel disappointed. Yet Liz didn’t appear to be too disappointed. As I have learned in the lab this past week, one shouldn’t expect to get great results his or her very first try (or even the third or fourth tries!) It takes time (and much tweaking) to get results that can even considered for publication.
  • Julie Stevenson
  • Kristin Knause
  • Lulit Price
  • Monica Hamilton
    This first week has been dedicated to simply handling the mice so that when we pick them up and place them in a maze, they don’t go berzerk from the anxiety of being touched by those darn nitrile gloves. You might imagine that the mice are cute. Well, they are at first, but after the hundredth time that your hands are used as a bathroom, the cuteness starts to wear off.
  • Priyanka Amin
    I’ve used the sectioning machine, which is -22 degree Celsius and therefore, as you can easily imagine, very, verrry cold. Cleaning it is probably my least favorite activity since the blade is very cold and my glove became mildly stuck to it. But what is research without a few sacrifices? The people in my lab are amusing, friendly, and helpful. I was glad to learn they all enjoy free things (like food) as much as I do, and I enjoyed some breakfast and ice cream in a day thanks to a vendor fair.
  • Racquel Quarless
    One great thing about my lab is how laidback it is. I enjoy working with my boss Melissa B. and I like how she treats me as if I was an equal and not a mere intern. I have learned /refreshed my knowledge of how to make media(I worked in a lab last summer also), plated cells, and counted them using a hemacytometer… Another great thing about my lab is how many women there are. Of the six of us in the lab, two are men, and four are women(including myself and a Pratt Fellow). It is really inspring to see how successful these women are and their dedication to their work.
  • Rebecca Liu
  • Samantha Pearlman

    I mentioned before that I had (still have?) a pretty skewed idea of what “lab life” is like…but today, I realized something monumental: scientists don’t work all the time, 24/7. There IS such a thing as “down time” (thank god!). No one is expected to survive 7 straight hours of micropipetting (unless you have ridiculous forearm muscles).

  • Sara Leiman
    [. . . ] knowing that I have produced consistent and expected results in the trial runs I have done this week has increased my excitement for the research I will begin on Monday.
  • Sarah Nam
  • Sarah Steele
    While I really like the lab because it’s interesting working with mutated worms and determining their genetic activity/makeup, etc., I love the lab because of my co-workers, who are amazingly hilarious and intelligent…it’s kind of like having my own version of NBC’s The Office, except that Alejandro is a great boss, unlike like Michael in the show.
  • Tessa Carducci
  • Trisha Saha
    I’m glad I finally found an area of research I’m really interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I do like finding out about new genes and obscure proteins but sometimes it’s refreshing to just look at the BIG picture, as well. What I love most is that my project encompasses many of my interests such as epidemiology, pediatric cardiology, environmental science, and cell biology.
  • Vanessa Kennedy
  • Vishnupriya Khatri
    Every lab has some sort of routine maintenance thing that is not fun, but just has to be done. For our lab, it is transferring those hundreds of vials of Drosophila into other hundreds of vials of fresh food. In my first week, I might have transferred about 500 vials (not bragging or anything). It took some time to get used to; especially since the first one was a fiasco. Have you ever seen a picture of a cute kid releasing a jar of butterflies, with a serene expression of his face? Mine still frame of my first vial would be me staring in terror at the fruit flies escaping to freedom (some bumping in my face, some meeting the wrath of my deadly hands). Don’t worry, the situation was under control in a few seconds—I stuffed cotton down the vial.
  • Wendy Liu
  • Yishan Cheng
    And we all thought we were home free after work. But instead of making this useless occupied webspace that I’d dread writing in, I want to approach it with a purpose in mind: a real account of all the activities occuring behind that incomprehensible science paper of which you only read the conclusion. Specifically, I hope (once Duke gets this science blog thing going) high school and other college students thinking about going in science/research will find my ramblings useful.
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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday Video: Camille Parmesan

Camille Parmesan, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology at University of Texas at Austin, explains in this video "Why I Became a Biologist." Her current research focuses on the effect of climate change on wildlife.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Link Roundup

Various women in science articles from the past week:

Stanford News reports that "eight leading experts in science, gender studies and policy formation will be in residence at the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Studies during the 2007-08 academic year to collaborate on advancing the national agenda on women in science, engineering and technology." The fellows are: Cynthia M. Friend (Harvard Chemistry Dept), Sabine C. Girod (Stanford Department of Surgery), Myra M. Hart (Harvard Business School), Nancy Hopkins (MIT Biology Department), Michell Murphy (University of Toronto History Department), Kavita Philip (U.C. Irvine Women's Studies Department), Sue V. Rosser (Dean of Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech), and Sheri D. Sheppard (Stanford Mechanical Engineering and Center for Design Research). Each of the fellows has a long list of accomplishments and affiliations. Read the whole press release for details.

Zuska writes about the recent Nature Physics editorial about the American Physical Society Gender Equity Workshop.

Sheril R. Kirshenbaum guest blogs on the Intersection about why she is a marine biologist.

According to, Wesleyan College president Ruth Knox has vowed that the school will not become coeducational.

Despite perceptions that men and women are educated equally, research shows a bias against girls in middle and high school when it comes to being skilled in some areas, like science or math. That bias can carry over in a coed collegiate setting, said Vivia Fowler, director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Columbia College, a women's college in South Carolina. Fowler starts at Wesleyan as dean and vice president for academic affairs in July. At a women's college, women are empowered to find their voice and become leaders, she said.

Improbable Research reports that Dr. Yvette Hancock, a research associate in the Laboratory of Physics and the Helsinki University of Technology, has recently published a new book in her series of children's books (featuring Ellie the Electron) on quantum physics.

Jim Horning writes about a paper by Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier titled "Assassing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels." Silent IRC bots with feminine screen names received an average of 100 malicious private messages a day, while those with male screen names received an average of 3.7 malicious messages. Jim asks, "If this hostility is anywhere near the typical Internet experience, is it any wonder that computing and IT are increasingly losing the women?"

Susan Heathfield ( Huamn Resources) writes about a Women in Technology luncheon she attended at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

BoingBoing writes about the death of Pamela Low. Low had a degree in microbiology from the University of New Hampshire, but her claim to fame is her work as the flavorist who created Cap'n Crunch.

Florida Today reports on the annual Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network (WEPAN) conference at Walt Disney World Resort's Coronado Springs Resort.

What does [executive director Diane] Matt believe is the best way to attract the young girls to a field that includes people ranging from designers of roads to creators of microchips?

"It's important to reveal that everything you touch and everything that is part of your life has been engineered -- even the simple, day-to-day things," Matt said. "One of the things that's been discovered is kids really don't know what an engineer is, but you can say an engineer is someone who solves problems to make the world a better place for people.

Six MIT seniors are the first group of women to graduate after having participated in the MIT Women's Technology Program (WTP). WTP allows female students to "explore engineering through hands-on classes, labs, and team-based projects" between their junior and senior year of high school.

The Daily Utah Chronicle reports on the University of Utah's summer ACCESS program for incoming female freshman in mathematics, science and engineering.
ACCESS gives women the opportunity to do field and lab work in the areas of sciences and math. The program will also provide young women access to college professors, faculty and peers in their fields of interest. Participants get the advantage of being placed in a research program of their choice at the U during their freshman year.
According to, Raytheon has donated $75,000 to Penn State to sponsor the Women in the Sciences & Engineering (WISE) Camp program. This is a one week science and engineering program for high school girls.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Science Heroism in the Comics

Over at Girls Read Comics (And They're Pissed), there is a guest column by Terry D. Johnson, a lecturer of bioengineering at U.C. Berkeley, that takes a look at how scientists are portrayed in the comics. Despite the huge number of mad scientists out for world domination, there are actually a number of comic book scientists that are portrayed as heroes, from Tom Swift to Iron Man. What's missing? The female science heroes, of course.

Oracle is a peerless programmer, though I see her as more of a mastermind than a science hero. The Authority's Engineer is also a possibility, but she was technically given her trademark technology by the previous (male) Engineer. Top Ten's Toybox uses her father's inventions - I don't know about Irma Geddon, and frankly, I'm afraid to ask. Agatha Heterodyne...and already I've drifted far from the mainstream. There are few women in the science hero biz, and even fewer who would have their name on the patents for their gear.

Why the disparity?

I would suggest several reasons. Sexism is the easiest to identify. Gender stereotypes adversely affect real female scientists during their schooling and well into their careers; it is reasonable to assume that those stereotypes act similarly to reduce the role of fictional females in science heroism.
Johnson speculates that comic book creators are realizing that they will indeed be criticized for sexism, so their response is to make female characters who are tough and kick butt. As Johnson points out, though, "It's a mistake to think you can earn credit to exploit certain stereotypes by contravening others."

There's currently a discussion about the post in the forums.

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