Our guest post by Prof. Siromi Samarasinghe is part of our Role Model series. Siromi describes how she overcame cultural, social and financial hurdles to pursue a research career in tea chemistry at a time when it was highly unusual for women in Sri Lanka to obtain higher education.
For my tenth birthday my father gave me The Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Scientific Knowledge. He was a medical practitioner and was always encouraging me to read and learn about science. I found that book utterly fascinating; it shaped my lifelong passion for learning. It was my very first step on the road that led, decades later, to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and my present position on the tutorial staff of the Department of Chemistry.
From that book I learned about the diversity of the plant and animal kingdoms, about rocks and minerals and the Solar System. Another book I loved to read was A Hundred Great Lives, about great scientists and their achievements. I imagined myself making great discoveries and dreamed of becoming a great scientist some day!
Last month we had our very first Hangout from our In The Spotlight series. This series will focus on individual interviews with women who are active in STEM fields. We will talk to them about their inspiration and motivation for embarking on their chosen career path. We kicked off this series by talking to Clarissa Silva, a behavioural psychologist.
We have a guest post from Dr Elena Giorgi as part of our Role Models series. Elena describes how she became a computational biologist, and how she successfully dealt with two common problems in science; constant geographical flux and the ‘two body problem’.
As the daughter of a developmental biologist, growing up, I shared the house with fruit flies, newts, stick insects, and toads. And, as paradoxical as it may sound, I wanted nothing to do with biology. I majored in theoretical mathematics and I went on to graduate school determined to study differential topology—one of the most abstract branches of math.
Math is pure and beautiful. It’s like a Michelangelo painting—perfect all around. You can’t be wrong when you follow the steps dictated by logic.
I was accepted into graduate school in the U.S., and my husband arranged to finish his Ph.D. dissertation off site so we could both go. We fit all our belongings into two suitcases (that’s all we had) and left.
We recently hosted another STEM Women Hangout discussing the issue of everyday sexism in academia. Our guests were Professor Rajini Rao (Johns Hopkins University, USA; content manager at stemwomen.net) and Dr. Tommy Leung (University of New England, Australia). Dr. Buddhini Samarasinghe and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos co-hosted the hangout.
This article was originally published on Medium, and is reposted here with permission from the author.
When I decided to learn to code, I knew I was entering a male-dominated field. But I considered that challenge far less worrisome than, say, taming the black magic of recursion.
Yes, there would be sexist, disrespectful jerks. Of course there would.
But I’ve dealt with jerks before: I’m no stranger to their stomping grounds, also known as “sidewalks” and “grocery stores” and “schools” and “offices” and “every last form of public transportation.” You can tell that completely avoiding jerks isn’t a big goal for me because I don’t live in a hermit cave that I singlehandedly scraped out of the side of a mountain with a spoon, unwilling to let an amorous construction crew ruin my no-hitter.
Plus, my company, which I am sure you could identify without much trouble and whom I certainly do not seek to represent here in any official capacity, is a pretty great place for women to work: an internal organization dedicated to the career development of women, generous maternity leave, flexible scheduling, and waaay fewer leering creeps than your average train car. Train cars are like Jerk Church, aren’t they.
Continuing our Role Models series, STEM Women team member and sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos shares how her primary school teachers and a series of children’s books inspired her scientific imagination. Reading stories of heroic women who used education and science to improve social justice helped Zuleyka see that girls, including those from minority groups who are denied rights, can and do make a positive impact on society.
The story of why I became interested in STEM starts when I migrated to Australia from Peru. I hadn’t yet turned eight and I didn’t speak any English. Thankfully, as luck would have it, we were enrolled into a highly progressive multicultural school in the inner city of Melbourne. My teachers, Mrs Rosa in Grade 3 and Miss Maria in Grade 4, worked hard to make non-English-speaking children like me feel included.
My teachers were amazing, celebrating every little task I mastered: from writing my first English sentence, to reading aloud to the class, to progressing through maths exercises. Our teachers took time to ensure that I did not get left behind. They also assigned us a tutor for extra English lessons for the first three months of school. They would look me in the eye and encourage me when I got the right answer, and I can remember once they stopped the class to announce that I has written a great short story. With small and large gestures, they imbued me with the courage and motivation to keep learning despite the language barrier. (more…)
As part of our Role Models series, our team are sharing their inspiration for becoming involved in STEM. In this post, STEM Women creator, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, shares the creative inspiration for following her passion in molecular biology. Buddhini’s tale shows the importance of popular culture in igniting the scientific spark amongst young people.
I was 13 years old when I first read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I hadn’t seen the movie, so I had no preconceptions what to expect with the book. But it was enough to hook me. It wasn’t the dinosaurs that fascinated me, but rather the description of DNA, the sequencing machines, the cloning…I was entranced. Looking back, it’s rather ironic considering Michael Crichton was notoriously anti-science, and his characters are often very critical of scientists. Yet, it was my gateway into molecular biology and I knew that this was what I wanted to do someday.
A few years later, I borrowed my mom’s copy of The Double Helix by James Watson. Although at the time I was unaware of the sad story of Rosalind Franklin, I was still fascinated by the narrative of what things were like at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, the birthplace of molecular biology. From then I ravenously consumed books about science, ranging from Richard Dawkins to Thomas Kuhn; Stephen Hawking to Simon Singh. (more…)
Our blog will be bringing you stories from women working in STEM as part of our “Role Models” series. We kick things off with our STEM Women team reflecting on how and why they became interested in STEM. First up is Liz Quilty, who shares her personal journey from being a single mother teaching herself to code to becoming a Linux professional.
This is a long story, it may take some time. I would suggest perhaps getting a cup of tea and getting comfortable.
Growing up, I was a tomboy and hung about with my brothers. Days were spent climbing trees, wrestling, and doing ‘boy’ stuff. My mother tried to make me more ‘girly’, but since most of her time was taken up with my disabled sister, I was rather wild. I never did particularly well in school, not learning to read until I was 8 years old, and having issues throughout school (later realizing I have some dyslexia).
In my early teens, we moved from one end of the country to the other, and I had to suddenly go to a girls only school. This was a bit of a culture shock, I had no real way of relating to girls so much. I kind of got along with some, but for the most part I was a loner. After getting fairly sick and taking 6 months off school when I was 16, I ended up dropping out of school. I met a guy not long after that, and left home.
For the next 7 to 8 years I had 4 kids, and changed partner a couple of times. By the time I was 25 I was a high school drop out, single mother of 4 with no real skills at all to speak of. I did not stay in contact with most of my family and was pretty much a train wreck waiting to happen. Living on government handouts life sucked, and I was fairly sick of it and wanting to turn things around. Having no skills at all really was the killer though – who would hire somebody with 4 kids who couldn’t even afford childcare to work? (more…)