We spoke to Annika O’Brien as part of our ongoing In the Spotlight series. Annika is a roboticist with a background in computer science, software development and programming. Later, she acquired expertise in electronics and, more recently, she set up her own company. Annika has also been heavily involved in educational aspects of robotics, which she not only enjoys but also volunteers her time and resources. Watch the video or keep reading below for a summary!
By: Siromi Samarasinghe, PhD
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!
By: Michael Habib, PhD
We have a guest post from Dr. Michael Habib as part of our series on How Men Can Help. Michael is an Assistant Professor in Neurobiology at the University of Southern California where he teaches Clinical Human Anatomy and researches paleontology, biomechanics, robotics and comparative anatomy.
Sexism is rampant in many professions, and academia is no different. In the setting of universities, much of the ongoing sexism is not loud or obvious. Instead, there are persistent, subtle asymmetries in how men and women are treated on a daily basis. Academics, like myself, are often reticent to acknowledge and face the lingering sexism that exists in our workplaces, often under the illusion that our ivory tower is less susceptible. While it is true that some forms of harassment common in other work environments are rare in academics, plenty of problems remain. In many cases, problems arise because of a lack of perspective – comments that might seem perfectly innocent and complimentary to the speaker can have a negative impact in the wrong context. The negative repercussions are not limited to those on the receiving end of subtle sexism. In academia, those of us in the privileged classes can end up in trouble quite rapidly if we are too naive.
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.
By Elena Giorgi, PhD
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 post covers the scientific and legal definitions of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. We include an overview of the different ways in which sexism is described, such as hostile, benevolent, accidental or unintentional. These qualifiers of sexism can sometimes confuse people, as they invite people to see sexism as an individual or subjective idea. Sexism is neither – it is about how the collective interactions that happen at the everyday level are connected to institutional practices of harassment and discrimination. We provide examples of how sexist culture operates in at various levels of STEM, from undergraduate courses to gender inequality in pay, science publishing and recognition of women’s achievements. STEM Women seeks to move beyond superficial arguments about what sexism is and isn’t. The scientific evidence, some of which is included here, has established that inequality exists. We are looking for practical solutions to address inequality and lift the participation of women in STEM.
A few days ago, UC Davis Professor Jonathan Eisen raised a provocative question in his blog post, “Is Sexxing up your scientific journal okay? The Journal of Proteomics seems to think so.” He was referring to a graphical abstract published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Journal of Proteomics, depicting a woman holding up two coconuts against her presumably bare chest, linked to a paper titled “Harry Belafonte and the secret of the coconut milk proteome.”
The scientific community responded, and there are many excellent summaries of the events that took place. Scientists established the fact that this Journal has engaged in this sexist behaviour multiple times, leading entomologist Alex Wild to satirise the publication’s title as the Journal of Broteomics.
I thought boobs were supposed to be featured in abstracts in the Journal of Broteomics. http://t.co/DTZPbDIOiu pic.twitter.com/9GA1QoZhlE
— Alex Wild (@Myrmecos) March 21, 2014
This collective protest led to the graphical abstract eventually being removed. But this incident highlights a larger issue at hand. We want to take a broader perspective on the sexist culture within STEM, with a special focus on scientific publishing. This latest example from Journal of Proteomics raises two key issues: 1) Scientists do not have a clear understanding of what sexism is. As such, sexism is reduced to a subjective understanding, divorced from its legal definition and its accompanying institutional practice. 2) Science publishing needs to have in place better safeguards against sexism.
Last week we had our second STEM Women Hangout, from the series How Men Can Help.
Our guest was Dr Yonatan Zunger who spoke to us about how leaders can work to be more inclusive of women in their teams. Yonatan is the chief architect of social at Google, and he is in charge of everything ‘social’ at the company. He has an academic background, with a PhD in string theory from Stanford University. He was kind enough to join our discussion as himself, and not in an official capacity representing Google. This is a topic he is very clearly passionate about, as you can see from the video below.