Tag Archives: women in STEM

Glaringly Awful Example of How Early the Gender Gap in STEM Starts

So apparently the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh is stuck in 1950.  An awesome facepalm moment was realized in the form of their recent STEM workshop offerings for kids in scouting.

Their workshop offerings to Boy Scouts: Chemistry, Cub Scout science, Webelos Scientist, Webelos Engineering, Engineering, Astronomy, Cub Scout Weather, Robotics. Their workshop offerings to Girl Scouts: Science With a Sparkle. Where they learn about the chemistry involved in – wait for it – cosmetics.  Yep, cool stuff and lots of options for the boys, makeup for the girls.  And no, the girls are not allowed to attend any of the workshops for boys.

Way to go, guys.  Carnegie Science Center’s excuse was that they didn’t get any signups from troops when they offered the same courses for girls and that they had to make the name of the class something that would appeal to girls.  Why on earth do science workshops need to be gender-segregated?  Um… how about a schedule of workshops simply for ‘scouts’, geniuses?   Then you could include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire kids, Navigators, SpiralScouts, Pathfinders, etc.

Read the Jezebel article here for more info.  Actual course descriptions below.

 

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This Year’s Flame Challenge Winners for “What is Color?”

I have really, really badly neglected the blog lately.  I am very sorry to anyone who actually looks forward to reading this on a regular basis for that neglect.  My lame excuse is some incredibly crappy personal stuff and much craziness at work… which all means I haven’t found much awesome stuff to share here lately, or had the energy to write about what I have found!

I hope you’ll bear with me and keep reading here, though, and I promise some good things are coming this week.  Those good things will be in the form of a new STEM female role model post, a book review, and today’s topic: the latest Flame Challenge winners.

If you missed my first post about Alan Alda’s flame challenge you can read it here, but in a nutshell he started this great annual competition a few years ago to explain a specific concept in terms an eleven-year-old can easily understand.

The entries in written and video categories are vetted by scientists and judged by actual 11-year-olds.  The challenges are questions that on the surface seem easy, and you think to yourself, “Oh, everyone knows what that is.”  But when you try to actually explain them using words in any kind of coherent manner, they are hard.

Previous years’ challenges included What is a flame?  What is color? and What is time?

This year, the question was What is Color?  The winners this year, both amazing women who work in STEM fields, are science communicator Melanie Golob for the written category, and physicist Dianna Cowern in the video category.  Here are the winning explanations:

Winning “What is a Color” entry by Melanie Golob

And now I’m totally hooked watching Dianna Cowern’s other awesome science videos.  You should check out the rest of her down-to-earth, quirky, and highly accurate science videos at her Physics Girl channel on YouTube.

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Lego Research Institute scientist set is now available

Yay, they are finally here!  The Lego set that has a female paleontologist, chemist, and astronomer is now on the Lego website.  I wrote about them a while back and I’m happy to say that less than two months later they are already on the market.

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More to follow when my set arrives.  It says age 10 and up, so apparently I will have to assist my kiddo with building these… oh, darn, I have to play with Legos!

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#DetCon1 Highlights so far

I really, really appreciate how supportive of the military Baen books is.  I know they have a program for sending boxes of books to deployed troops, but was very surprised when they kicked off their roadshow by asking anyone active duty to come up and grab a free book.  Then they invited reservists, veterans, schoolteachers, first responders, and librarians.  It gave me a warm fuzzy.  And of course I enjoyed getting to see all their new books, new covers, etc.  I wish Tor was here doing the same!

The “Designing Military Spacecraft” panel yesterday was simply awesome.  We had a highly capable moderator, a very interesting mix of panelist backgrounds, and an enthusiastic audience that gave us some great questions to work with.  Best panel I have been on, and I hope I can do as well with my two panels today: “Women in STEM” at 2:00 and “Military SF” at 7:00, just before the awards ceremony and masquerade, followed by ’80s dance with John Scalzi as DJ.  I can already tell this  evening will be epic.

The best panel I have been an audience member so far was yesterday’s “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction.”  The panel discussed the past and current limitations on gender roles, and ripped apart some of the most damaging tropes out there (rape as a plot device or character-defining feature, the one strong woman who stands out among a society of weak and suppressed women).  Jim Hines made me want to hug him for his righteous indignation and rage over how often and how horribly these tropes are used.

They also talked about who isn’t well-represented in the currently conservative mainstream market (strong men who don’t have to show that strength with violence, minorities and people of color, and LGBT characters, to name a few).   Overall a great panel and I walked away with some new book recommendations to check out and hopefully find something new and different.

Due to our kid-free status at this con, this is the first time I’ve been able to check out the late-night con party scene.  About what I expected, except I actually had fun.  Normally I’m way too antisocial and awkward for that and end up bored and/or terrified in a corner, but I am among my people here.  Meaning it doesn’t matter if I can’t dance and don’t fit the mainstream media’s definition of pretty.  Rather, I found people who appreciated my Uhura impression, walked around showing off their lovingly and carefully made costumes. and didn’t care what anyone thought of their dancing.

At the Helsinki in 2017 bid party I enjoyed their spread of Finnish food and beverages, spent a few minutes mesmerized by the club lights at the Barfleet party, and observed the fireworks after the Tigers came from the 69th floor Con Suite while pigging out on cheese and crackers.  Fireworks viewed from above are awfully cool.

Ok, enough writing, I am off to hunt down breakfast and more panels to attend.

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DetCon1 Here We Come!

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I now have my finalized – and therefore completely subject to change at some future date – itinerary for this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention NASFiC) – DetCon1 in Detroit, MI.  If you are going to be there, I hope to see you at one of these panels!

It’s going to be a very busy and very fun weekend.  I will also definitely be at the 80s dance, as I would not miss for all the world seeing John Scalzi as the DJ for that, and the masquerade (just as an audience member, as I have not remotely had time for cosplay this year).

What panel topics have caught your eye?  Do you have any suggestions for really badly done science/tech in movies or books that I can use in the Balonium! panel?

Teens Talk to… Scientists Duluth A Teen Fri 12:00 PM
Description Our panel of folks who work in the science fields (both hard and soft) talks about their work and answers questions about what they do and how they got there.
Designing Fictional Spacecraft Ambassador Salon 2 Literature Fri 4:00 PM
Description Our panel discusses aspects of designing non-existent spacecraft, such as applying current and historic shipbuilding and spacecraft-building practices to future designs, and keeping designs realistic. How do you make the ship suit its mission, and what considerations are there beyond engines and weapons?
Women in Science and STEM Mackinac West Science Sat 2:00 PM
Description Men still outnumber women in most STEM fields. What are the unique challenges for women in STEM fields, and how can they be addressed? What can be done to encourage more women to consider these fields and prepare for them?
Military SF Mackinac East Literature Sat 7:00 PM
Description Our panelists offer their opinions on the broad field of military SF. What themes and stories does military SF explore? Why do readers and creators like this subgenre? Who does it well, in terms of realism and good research?
Balonium!! Ambassador Salon 1 Media Sun 10:00 AM
Description Our panelist indulge their penchant for “oh, come ON!” in discussing the science, pseudo-science, and outright balonium in recent SF, whether in print, media, comics, or wherever!
Ask a Scientist Ambassador Salon 1 Science Sun 1:00 PM
Description Audience members ask questions they’d like scientists to answer. Carl Sagan once said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.

 

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Choose your words carefully. Act with awareness. Girls are listening and watching, and the message isn’t good.

Sexism can be very subtle.  I love this commercial because it shows just how that subtle sexism sinks into the subconscious of little girls.  For every generic and chipper, “You can do anything!” a little girl hears, she gets a thousand comments, social cues, and media images that tell her otherwise.  So watch your words and actions – we’re probably all guilty of at least a few of these:

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My DetCon1 Preliminary Schedule!

If you’ll be in the Detroit area in mid-July, consider stopping by the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC).  The NASFIC is a special con that’s only held in years that the WorldCon is outside North America.  This is mainly for those of us who can’t afford to go to the really cool WorldCon location (London this year) somewhere to go and still do all the wonderful things we usually do at a WorldCon, just a little closer to home.

I’ve just received my preliminary schedule for panels.  I’m really excited about the panels I’ve been selected for, although I’m a little disappointed that, once again, I haven’t managed to make it onto their military sci-fi panel or anything closely related to that topic.  If the military sci-fi panel is yet again comprised exclusively of a bunch of older white males who have never been in the military (and no, the guy who made it through two weeks of boot camp doesn’t count), I’m going to tear my hear out.  At least the last one I went to had some people who had actually been in the military!

The whole reason I got involved in panels at cons in the first place was after two straight years of a certain unnamed local con having a “Women Warriors” panel made up of old white men who had never been in the military, and a “Military Sci Fi” panel also made up of old white men who had never been in the military.  I figured the best way to try to get the panel representation to mirror real life a little better was to throw my name in the hat.  I hasn’t really worked yet, but I’ll keep trying.  And trying.

But for now, I am on some very awesome-sounding panels, with some amazing-sounding people who I look forward to meeting and panel-ing with (and please note these schedules are pretty much guaranteed to change in the next few weeks).  Also, I am very open to reader suggestions for the Balonium panel!

Fri 4:00:00 PM Mackinac East – Designing Fictional Spacecraft
If your story or artwork includes spacecraft, it’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Our panelists discuss aspects of designing non-existent spacecraft, such as
applying current and historic shipbuilding and spacecraft-building practices
to future designs, keeping designs realistic, making the ship suit its mission,
and considerations beyond engines and weapons.

Sat 2:00:00 PM Mackinac West – Women in Science and STEM

What are the unique challenges for women in STEM fields, how can they be
addressed, how can we get more women interested in these fields, what can
you do to prepare

Sun 10:00:00 AM Ambassador Salon 2 – Balonium!!
Our panelist indulge their penchant for “Oh, come ON!” in discussing the
science, pseudo-science, and outright balonium in recent SF, whether in
print, media, comics, or wherever!

Sun 1:00:00 PM Ambassador Salon 2 – Ask a Scientist
Audience members ask questions they’d like scientists to answer. Carl
Sagan once said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased
questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

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STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Flossie Wong-Staal

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month!  If you’re not sure what that is, the official site is here.  May is almost over, but I’m squeezing this post in just in time!

Today’s STEM role model is a woman who has made tremendous strides in the fight against AIDS.  She was the first to clone the HIV virus and map its genes, and she helped to make the initial connection between HIV and AIDS.

Yee-ching Wong was born in China in 1947, but her family fled to Hong Kong in 1952 to escape Communism.   Following a basic science-track education taught by British nuns in Hong Kong, where she chose her English name Flossie, she began her higher education at UCLA in 1965.  She chose to follow on with graduate work in molecular biology.

In 1971 she married Steven Staal, and in 1972 she earned her PhD and was named the Woman Graduate of the Year at UCLA.  In 1973 her husband, a medical doctor, began working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, so Flossie joined him there and got a job at Robert Gallo’s lab in the National Cancer Institute at NIH.

The research Robert Gallo was conducting in that lab focused on viruses that caused cancer in animals, and how those viruses affected cells.  Their work on oncogenes in animals led Flossie to be the first to find oncogenes in humans.  Flossie quickly rose to a leadership position in the lab and flourished, enjoying the research that frequently led to new and exciting discoveries.

In 1983, the NCI lab and the Pasteur Institute in Paris separately isolated and identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  In 1984, Flossie Wong-Staal became the first to clone and map the genes of HIV.  This was key in allowing for development of HIV blood tests.  In 1985, she was divorced but kept her hyphenated name.

In 1990, she accepted a position at UC San Diego to head their new center for AIDS research.  There she pursued multiple avenues to try to combat HIV and AIDS, attempting to find treatments, vaccines, and cures by various methods.  The most promising of these so far is a ribozyme treatment that keeps the virus from reproducing.

A widely respected researcher, Wong-Staal’s publications were once found to be the most-cited by a female researcher in the 1980s.  She was named the top woman researcher of the 1980s by the Institute for Scientific Information, and in 2002 she was named one of the top 50 female scientists by Discover Magazine.

In 2002 she left UCSD to become vice president and Chief Science Officer (CSO) for genomics at Immusol, now renamed to iTherX.  She continues to work to defeat deadly viruses,  and is particularly focused on pursuing treatments for Hepatitis C.

If you’d like to know more about this talented and dedicated researched, check out the links in the resources section below.

Resources:

http://www.usasciencefestival.org/schoolprograms/2014-role-models-in-science-engineering/371-flossie.html

http://alumni.ucla.edu/share/alumni-stories/stories/flossie-wong-staal.aspx

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/flossie-wong-staal-wmi/

http://www.biography-center.com/biographies/10406-Wong_Staal_Flossie.html

http://www.library.ca.gov/calhist/calendar10-5.html

http://www2.edc.org/womensequity/women/wong.htm

http://www.scientistafoundation.com/34/post/2013/08/meet-flossie-wong-staal-pioneer-in-hiv-research.html

http://www.fofweb.com/History/MainPrintPage.asp?iPin=AHBio0017&DataType=AmericanHistory&WinType=Free

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STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

First off, please don’t ask me to attempt to pronounce this one.  But don’t let my complete lack of French ability keep you from reading about this Nobel Prize-winning virologist!

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a native of Paris, earned her PhD at the University of Paris in 1974.  Beginning in her early childhood days, she always displayed a passion for science.  It was both her favorite and best subject in school.  This, combined with her love of research discovered as an undergraduate, drove her to a scientific research career that has been primarily with the Pasteur Institute (yes, that Pasteur, the guy who gave us long-lasting dairy foods) but also included the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute in the U.S.

In the late 1970s she joined Luc Montagnier’s group at the Pasteur Institute to work on retroviruses.  In 1982, a virologist at a hospital in Paris asked their group to look into the possibility of a retrovirus being the problem causing an epidemic disease that was on the rise and beginning to make headlines: the disease that would eventually be named AIDS.

1983 was the first year she worked full time on AIDS research.  That was the year her group was able to isolate, describe, and even photograph the HIV virus.  She was first author on the paper that reported the discovery of the virus behind the AIDS epidemic.  In 1992 she moved up to head of the Biology of Retroviruses unit at the Pasteur Institute.

A great lover of nature, she ventured from the laboratory whenever possible.  She frequently traveled to the places where AIDS was widespread or having the most devastating effects, including the Central African Republic and Vietnam.  She visited patients dying of the disease in hospitals from Paris to San Francisco.  She did not let the disease remain just a thing to be studied in a laboratory, but saw its very real and devastating impacts in person.  It is very unusual for disease researchers to actually interact with patients.

In 2008 she and Luc Montagnier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that initial discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  The discovery and isolation of the virus was a tremendous first step in the ongoing fight against AIDS, and she is currently still working to achieve both things that could defeat AIDS: a vaccine, and a functional cure.  She wouldn’t be satisfied with that, though – she also insists on continuing searching for a total cure once those first two are achieved.

She was often discouraged on her path to her chosen career by men who thought such scientific research was not the place for a woman.  Thirty years later, the world is incredibly fortunate that such a driven person followed her passion and is still, in her late 60s, working to combat one of the most frightening and devastating diseases of our lifetimes.

Resources:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2008/barre-sinoussi-slides.pdf

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2008/barre-sinoussi-bio.html

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/15/francoise-barre-sinoussi-cure-aids-hiv

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/3467c5ca-bcf6-11e2-b344-00144feab7de.html#axzz2z6p5L824

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1473980/Francoise-Barre-Sinoussi

http://www.nndb.com/people/529/000176998/

http://www.amfar.org/pushing-for-better-coordination-on-cure-research/

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So what exactly are the numbers for women in STEM?

I’ve always known that women were outnumbered in STEM fields in this country, but hadn’t really checked on what the stats are.  I know that in my particular job, which is a very tiny sub-field, we’re at about 9% and, thankfully, climbing (it was 7% just a few years ago).  So I found this info from the National Girls Collaborative Project very interesting.  It’s from June 2013 but probably pretty close to today’s numbers.

A couple other interesting stats, first from an ESA blog post from 2011 title STEM: where are the women?

Stats from the Economics & Statistics Administration from 2009

And this more recent one showing breakdown by generation, Economic Briefing April 24, 2012: STEM Across the “Gen(d)erations.”  The overall percentage of college graduates and of women in STEM fields is increasing.

ESA stats from 2010

The ESA stats go on to show that the bulk of women in STEM fields are in life sciences and physical sciences, and the tiniest portion in math.

The one that makes me really angry is the one showing the wage gap for women in STEM fields.  Even in specialized fields requiring degrees, and fields supposedly governed by things like logic and performance, this gap is maddeningly huge:

And finally there’s this graphic, which shows the fields where we have not made much progress in the last several decades, and in many cases have regressed, such as in computer sciences.

What do you think is holding women back from entering and competing in so many of these fields?  Why do so many more women go into life sciences fields (biology, medicine, etc.) than the computer sciences and engineering?

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