Voices

We Were Nominated for the 2018 Sunshine Blogger Award!

We Were Nominated for the 2018 Sunshine Blogger Award!

 

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    Being relatively new to blogging still, I was a little confused when I got nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by our great friend Stephanie Halmholfer.  (Who we interviewed here, and her great blog is here.) 

 

    The Sunshine Blogger Award is a great community award that is given to those whom you personally feel bring great positivity to the community.  Stephanie was nominated by Alex Fitzpatrick, who also has an amazing blog herself.  After you’ve been nominated, you answer the questions given to you by the previous nominee, and then you create more questions for those whom you’ve decided to nominate!  It’s a great pay-it-forward method to bring attention to bloggers of all sorts.

 

 

So …now to the questions Stephanie asked me!

 

 

What inspired you to start your website?

 

    I was hired on as an unpaid intern to a site that will remain unnamed.  Eventually, they were kind enough to promote me and start to pay me for my posts to their blog, but it quickly became a hassle.  At the time, that site was my only form of income, I only got paid once a month, and I had to fight for my paycheck every single time.  

 

    Quickly afterward, the site was hacked on several occasions, and the creators of the site decided it wasn’t worth keeping on.  Everyone got let go.  After some other unfortunate details that involved some complete rude behavior from my former editor, my Father suggested starting my own site, and here we are today.  It was quite the rollercoaster to get here, and maybe someday I’ll go into more detail. 

 

How would you describe your website in an elevator pitch?

 

    FemSTEM.com is a news site-slash-blog that, though aimed at women and girls, is a fun place to read about science for all.  We regularly interview great female scientists from around the world, as well as try to stay on top of STEM news as much as we can. Right now — we is me — and I’m a one-woman operation, but in the future, we hope to grow enough to hire others.

 

What part of your website are you most proud of?

 

    The part of my site I’m the proudest of is the part of the site I didn’t even write.  I owe so much to Melissa C Marquez, who wrote the phenomenal #STEMSaturdays series (here).  It’s absolutely incredible, and worthy of a read right now!

 

Is there anything you would like to include more of on your website?

 

    More posts in general, ha! Balancing FemSTEM, my personal life, and my work life has been increasingly difficult these days, but I’m learning.  I’m trying desperately to get my groove back and get back to writing posts three times a week.

 

Is there anything new you would like to one day try with your website (e.g a new feature, add a podcast, etc.)?

 

    I’m working on so many things!  One is a Kids section that’s currently under construction, as well as a podcast!  I’ve actually recorded three episodes, but for one reason or another, things haven’t added up for me to actually get to posting them.  One day soon!

 

How do you promote your website?

 

    Twitter mostly! I’m trying to get into the Instagram realm, as well as move on top doing more science communication in real life!  In fact, I’m working on a project right now for #scicomm in real life, that you guys will hopefully hear about soon!

 

When working on a new post, what is your writing process like?

 

    The hardest part is finding the time and motivation.  Finding those two things at once is incredibly challenging.  It’s so often that I find some kind of motivation while I’m at my day job, and then finding I’m far too mentally exhausted to even try when I get home that day.  

 

    When I do get that perfect chemistry, research happens first if it’s a news article of some kind.  I find all the sources I can, link them in my reading list, and make an outline before I start writing the actual post.  Depending on how complicated the topic is, and how much I know about the topic to begin with, it can take me anywhere from an hour to a day to get the initial draft out.  Editing from there isn’t too hard.  

 

    If it’s an interview, I do all the research I can on the woman I’m interviewing.  If they have a website, it’s that much easier.  Then it takes me a good two to three hours to polish up the questions before I either send them via email to the interviewee, or I sit down with them via Skype or another IM chat.

 

    I really need quiet (or white noise) when I’m writing, otherwise I get horribly distracted.  I usually have a drink of some kind at my desk, and maybe a snack, so I don’t have to move for as long as humanly possible.  Once I’m in my mode, if I snap out of it at all, it’s very hard for me to come back to it.  

 

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Are there any forms of outreach that you’re interested in trying/doing more of, besides your website (e.g. presenting at Comic Cons, hosting a Youtube Show, etc.)?

 

    All I’m saying right now is the word ‘Trivia’.  :) 

 

What kinds of movies/books/music do you like (comics are included)?

 

    Oh, my goodness. I’m one of those people who loves almost everything?  Reading has been my passion for a long, long time.  I’m a big modern classics reader (i.e. books like the Great Gatsby and Animal Farm), as well as a big essays reader.  

    

    As far as movies, historical movies or period dramas (based on a real story or not) are my absolute favorite.  

 

    Music — I’m into Broadway music mostly.  Though, I’ll listen to nearly every genre.  

 

    And I adore comic books.  Well, that might be a slight exaggeration.  When I find a comic I like, I adore it.  I’m a big fan of DC (the Batman universe in particular. Barbara Gordon — aka Batgirl and Oracle — is a HUGE #STEM gal, especially in the 80s-90s era of comics), though they’ve failed me in a large way as of late.  

 

When you were a student (at any level), did you enjoy being in school?

 

    Yes, and no.  Like a lot of people, I struggled with math in a large way.  As the years went on, I found myself enjoying schooling less and less.  I got overly depressed in high school, and I let that and my math struggle get the best of me.  As a result, I finished high school a year late.

 

    When I found subjects I loved (Earth science, psychology, and English class for the most part were my favorites in high school), I really loved them and flew through them with flying colors.  However, the subjects I struggled with, I let them defeat me, and it made me really dislike school.

 

    I totally regret that.

 

 

 

What is a field of study outside of your own that you’re interested in?

 

    Nearly everything.  Which sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true.  That’s what makes this blog so much fun to write.  I love so many aspects of STEM, and I want to learn about everything.  If anything, this blog has taught me so much.

 

 

My Nominations!

 

    Technically, the rules say you want to nominate 11 blogs, but so many blogs have already been nominated!  I’m going to try my best to nominate as many people as possible.

Melissa C Marquez — Her Personal Blog and podcast

Fins United Initiative’s Bite Blog — Which is also Melissa’s, but it’s entirely different! 

Moms Can: Code — Blog

Her STEM Story — One of our biggest supporters, and previous sponsor!

 

My Questions!

 

  • What got your interested in your current field of STEM?

  • What is your favorite thing about blogging?

  • What’s your favorite method of outreach? Is it your blog? Why or why not?

  • What is your educational visual program, whether it’s a TV program, or a YouTube program (i.e. SciShow), etc.?

  • Who is your current STEM inspiration? 

  • What’s your favorite snack to have at your desk when you’re blogging?

  • Do you have a day job?  If so, what is it?  Is it STEM related?

  • This might be kind of a vague question, but what would you say the biggest issue plaguing STEM right now is?

  • I’ve noticed retailers are starting to hop aboard what I’m going to call the ‘STEM bandwagon’.  This is probably a good thing, as kids who see toys meant to encourage them towards STEM will be drawn to STEM as a whole, but do you see this being a retail fad, or something that will last for years to come? 

  • What is the most common STEM misconception that you hear?  How do you combat it when you hear of it?

  • What’s your current project and what about it excites you the most?

 

    Dear Stephanie, thank you so very much for nominating me for this award.  It means the world!

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

INTERVIEW: Science Engagement Research Partner Tina Blackmore

INTERVIEW: Science Engagement Research Partner Tina Blackmore

 

A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Tina Blackmore, who works as a  Science Engagement Research Partner for MARS.


 

Q:  Hello, Tina!  First of all, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to answer some questions for our readers!

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My first question has to do with how you got to where you are today – the basics. I was told that you wanted to be a veterinarian as a teenager!  What sparked your love for animals and inspired you to try to get into veterinary work?

A: Although I only had pet hamsters as a small child, I used to have horse riding lessons, and with that also came frequent contact with all the dogs and cats that were residents at the riding school.

I have always loved solving problems and think that is why, in part, I enjoy science so much. Veterinary science seemed the obvious way to link the two by providing an ill animal treatment after diagnosing them. However, whilst my original desire was to pursue a career in veterinary science, I decided to re-think my career following a couple of weeks of work experience at different vet practices. So, I continued to follow my love of science through academia, which led me to research. When I was younger, it was never suggested that I could combine animals and science through research, yet it is due to this that I am in my current role. 

 

Q:  Now you work as a Science Engagement Research Partner.  What sparked the change in interests?

A: My PhD was about a common disease for ponies, which meant I met a lot of horse owners who were keen to find out more about the research project. This allowed me to explore the ways in which I could explain the ideas, aims and results of my work to non-specialist audiences, whilst maintaining scientific accuracy. As a result, I developed an interest in science communication and a passion for making science accessible to anyone who wants to know more. This then led to my current role as the Science Engagement Research Partner for WALTHAM, part of Mars Petcare. 

 

Q: What basic message do you hope that your particular brand of science communication gets across?  What strategies do you use to get your point across?

A: All of the science communication at Mars Petcare ladders up to demonstrate how we can deliver our vision: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS™. There are a number of ways in which we do this, but our activities and campaigns are underpinned by scientific studies. WALTHAM, as a Mars Petcare research centre, is the primary publisher of original peer-reviewed papers and therefore a significant contributor to science communications by Mars Petcare. The key findings of these studies are then amplified by the Global Science Communication team across numerous media outlets. 

 

Q:  Other than science communication, what does your job at MARS as a “Science Engagement Research Partner” for Pet Nutrition entail?

A:  Mars Petcare now has over 70,000 Associates (employees). Ensuring that everyone understands how the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and its science contributes to the ecosystem is essential. We do this by sharing the work we do with visitors to the pet centre on a guided tour, in addition to internal communications. This is supported by the Communications teams at WALTHAM.

 

 

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Q: What would you say is your favorite part of your job?  What is the most rewarding portion?

A: It’s really rewarding to be able to share the great science we do at the pet centre and how this extends to support all the areas under the Mars Petcare banner. I love being able to aid peoples understanding in an area that excites them. Comments like ‘wow, I never knew that’ epitomise that feeling. 

 

Q:  Do you have any advice for those getting into science communication? 

A: Speak to as many people as possible about an area of science that really excites you. Your passion will shine through, and being able to explain a topic that you know so well to those with limited knowledge in the area provides valuable learning experiences.

 

 
This article was not sponsored.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

INTERVIEW: Senior Technologist Ana Garcia-Marchan

INTERVIEW: Senior Technologist Ana Garcia-Marchan

 

A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Ana Garcia-Marchan, who works is a Senior Technologist for MARS.


Q :  Hello, Ana!  First of all, I want to thank you very much for taking time out of your day to answer some of my questions for my readers!

So, for my first question, I want to ask something basic:  What exactly is your job in STEM?  I was told that you were a Senior Technologist at MARS.  What does that entail exactly?

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A: Being a Quality & Food Safety (Q&FS) Senior Technologist really means being an advocate for quality of our Mars Food products, including Uncle Ben’s and Seeds of Change. I work with factory managers and maintenance teams to help lead multiple Quality Management Processes, including Mars’ Internal Audit and Q&FS Management Review. Through risk assessment, I help drive improvements in Mars’ current manufacturing processes and systems by collaborating with different departments and implementing creative solutions to issues. For example, if an incident occurs and a product is placed on hold, I will not only investigate the incident but develop corrective actions to ensure that this does not occur again. 

 

 I also participate in external audits and inspections from the Mississippi Department of Health.

 

Q:  I was also told that you, as a biochemistry major, believe that STEM plays a huge role in the food industry.  Would you elaborate on why you believe that STEM has such a large role in the industry?  Sometimes, I believe this aspect of STEM gets overlooked.

A: STEM is really about bringing together the principles of science, technology, engineering, and math to; innovate, work on complex and interesting projects, and achieve a common goal.

Having been a biochemistry major, I see similarities between the food industry and biochemistry because both are complex and diverse. Metabolic pathways (biochemistry) and the food industry have steps that convert substrates/raw ingredients into a finished product. Each step is critical, complex, and is the key to the next step. In biochemistry, specifically in a metabolic pathway, each reaction produces a product, and that product becomes the substrate for the next step. Similar to biochemistry, the food industry takes raw materials and converts them into a finished product with the goal of getting consumed. 

I love being able to apply my knowledge of biochemistry to the food industry and being a part of a team that brings products to life. 

 

Q: What would you say the main goal of your STEM field is?

A: The main goal of my STEM field is to apply the concept of biochemistry not just to the processes that occur within living organisms but relate the same processes within day to day activity. 

 

Q:  How did you begin to pursue this career? What made you interested in this line of work?

A: Growing up, seeing my mother’s ability to use raw ingredients to create a meal sparked my interest in STEM. Many can cook, but I was so impressed by the science behind the art of cooking and how my mother mastered both. Once I got to school, science courses really gave me that hands-on learning experience and reinforced my educational aspirations within STEM.

 

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Q:  What does a typical day in your job look like?  And what’s the most exciting part of your day — or something about your job that you enjoy the most?

A:  Freedom- let me explain… My job is not the same every day. Although I have responsibilities and deadlines, I love that each day is different. One day I may be pulling a cross-functional team and brainstorming solutions to a particular problem and another day I may be leading quality and food safety training. 

 

Q:  Do you work in a laboratory?  Or does your field of STEM require that your work in other places that may not be seen as common places that science is conducted?

A: My field of STEM requires me to work in a manufacturing plant which is not what you would expect. There seems to be a misunderstanding that if you have a STEM degree, specifically a science related degree, that you must work in a laboratory. 

 

Q:  If you had some advice for girls or other women looking to pursue your career, what would you say to them?

A:  I encourage young women to reach out to resources (teachers, those who work in STEM fields, community groups, friends, family, etc.) to learn more about the endless possibilities within STEM. Don’t be afraid to apply to competitive schools or seek out learning opportunities within STEM wherever you may be. Join a STEM related club or activity and get involved in whatever way you can. The creativity and innovation that stems from STEM-related fields is essential to creating impactful, positive and far-reaching change.

 

 
This article was not sponsored.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

Archival Opinion: YouTube’s Educational Program Crash Course is Incredibly Important in Our Media Age — And Here’s Why

Archival Opinion: YouTube’s Educational Program Crash Course is Incredibly Important in Our Media Age — And Here’s Why

 

Originally Written in 2016 and posted on LinkedIn.
Revisited in 2018 with updated information.

Not Sponsored by Crash Course or its parent company, Complexly. 

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Six years ago, YouTubers John and Hank Green came together with others to create innovation. A free, easily accessible, learning program. It taught you the basics of American History, World History, English Literature, and much more. This wasn’t the first time someone had made a channel or website that allowed free education. Khan Academy had been around since September of 2006, but at the time, they only taught math. John and Hank Green began to make what education was available online more accessible and more varied, proving that education can be completely free.

 

The business is mainly funded by voluntary donations. Through the service, Patreon, subscribers can give as much money as they want towards Crash Course, allowing the company to continue going. In late 2014, they also became partnered with PBS Digital Studios, allowing them a bigger budget, which then allowed for them to have more and more content as the years have gone on. As of the writing of this article, Crash Course has gathered over 5 million YouTube subscribers, and over 450 million views. They’ve also created Crash Course Kids, aimed at younger viewers.

 

As of 2018, Crash Course broke off from PBS Digital Studios and is not under the parent company Complexly, run by the Green Brothers themselves. 

 

The videos Crash Course provides are used in various schools around the world. They have also begun to create worksheets to go along with their curriculum, and those are slowly coming out to help schools teach along with their programming. Including the one show produced on Crash Course Kids, there have been twenty-one different seasons of Crash Course, all varying in topics.  

 

All of the aforementioned information explains just the beginnings of why Crash Course is so important in our day and age. It is using a medium of innovation, allowing free education to anyone who has access to the internet. With its colorful cast of hosts, it’s amazing graphics team, Thought Café, and its topics of huge interest, it makes learning fun, easy, and most importantly, available to nearly everyone. 

 

From public and private schools, to those who are homeschooled, to those who haven’t had a formal education in any form. Education, in many cases, can be very inaccessible. From public schools that are shutting down, to incredibly expensive colleges that put people into debt, to places in the developing world who don’t even have access to schools in some cases. Crash Course is doing what it can to provide for the needs of those who can have access to the internet. Of course, this doesn’t account for everyone, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

 

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So, if Crash Course has been going on for this long, why are we bringing it up now? The company was under a little bit of fire in 2016 (when this article was originally written). A course by the name Human Geography came out on the channel, and after two episodes were released, the season was promptly removed from YouTube. Why? Inaccuracy. Now — before you think I’m about to debunk everything written above, I’m not. In fact, this is another reason why Crash Course is so important in this digital age.  

 

In a small video released on October 31st, 2016, John Green addressed the controversy. He said that Crash Course was “hitting the pause button” on the Human Geography course in order to re-work it. Without hesitation, Green went on to explain how the company attempted to grow Crash Course’s video content, and curriculum, without raising their budget and without increasing their staff.  “That,”  John Green said, “was a mistake.”  

 

This lead to factual mistakes, poor editing, and rushed production. John Green also said that the tone of the episodes were “too strident”, or harsh. Green went on to mention some specific mistakes made in the episodes. This mistake resulted in a product that hadn’t been as good as Crash Course’s previous series. 

 

“Crash Course needs to have a point of view, but it also needs to be intellectually rigorous and to acknowledge the diversity of opinion and research within a field, and we didn’t do that.”  - John Green
 

John Green went further to explain how they would address the problem. They’d work with more experts on the courses, and spend more times on the scripts. He then acknowledged that this change would slow down their production — and then he said something I found key. “Ultimately, I think it will also improve our videos.” 

 

This is exactly why, in this world where education comes along with greed, Crash Course is so important. Green admits to the flaws within their system with no defense and no poor attitude. They brought down the videos and explained how they were going to fix the problems. They also say they’re going to take their time.  

 

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Assuming this rings true, and Green and the rest of the staff at Crash Course do just this, what we’re seeing is rare. An apology without an excuse, and without a political answer. If this is true, we’re seeing a company put their product before their profit, and more importantly, we’re seeing a company put education before profit. This is rare, which is sad and frankly sickening, but it seems to exist somewhere, at least. That somewhere is Crash Course.

 

I’ve been following Crash Course since day one. I have not watched all their series, but the ones I have, I have enjoyed thoroughly. I have gained much knowledge from their videos, and I am thankful for them, too. It’s more engaging than an expensive textbook, and it encourages me to learn more. I’m not learning to pass a test — I’m learning for the sake of learning.

 

One of the series I did not see was Crash Course Human Geography. However, I’m glad I’ve yet to view it. With Green and the Crash Course team re-working the series, I have faith that it will come back as factual and much better. It’s not a blind faith, either, from viewing their other series.  

 

Green also thanked everyone who gave him and the team constructive criticism.  “You make the channel better for us and for all those who watch it,” Green said. “Snarky or abusive comments that don’t come from a place of generosity are really hard to respond to with anything but defensiveness, but we’ve been really lucky at Crash Course that there are so many kind and careful critiques, and we’re very grateful for them.”

 

It’s also worth noting that John Green only blamed himself. He said that if we’re mad at anyone, we should be mad at him. He didn’t blame anyone else for his mistake, and made sure to note that the presenter of Human Geography was not blamed for his misstep.

 

You can check out Crash Course on their YouTube Channel, here.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

INTERVIEW: Cui Wang Ph.D: Microbiology Science Team For MARS

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A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Cui Wang, who works in the Global Food Safety Center for MARS in Beijing.

 


 

Q:  Hello, Cui!  Thank you so much for sitting down to answer some of these questions.  I know that our readers are going to find your job in STEM fascinating!  Food safety isn’t always something we talk about until there’s a dangerous bacterial breakout of some kind due to something wrong with our food.

So, to go along with that, my first question is: what sparked your interest in the science of food safety?

 

A:  In line with my original plan to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, I started out conducting research to support the production of vaccines from fermentation at the beginning of graduate school. However, my interests changed after several serious food safety incidents were reported just after I had my first baby.  

 

I suddenly realized the importance and value of food safety and decided to adjust my career path to help ensure and secure the safety of safe and healthy food. I really hope that I can leverage my expertise to help reduce the risk of food safety issues in the future and this is what I’m working on  together with my fellow Associates at the Mars Global Food Safety Center.

 

I love food and I’m passionate about this space, which definitely helps! Conducting this meaningful work is my passion so I am constantly encouraged to go further.

 

Q:  What steps were taken in order for you to reach your PhD in Applied and Environmental Microbiology?

 

A: I took the opportunity to be a research assistant supporting projects in two national key labs while I was in university and this is where I discovered my interest in Applied and Environmental Biology (AEM) research. I began preparing applications for PhD programs in AEM, which meant taking the TOEFL, GRE tests and going through the interview process, etc. After successfully obtaining a place at Georgia State University, I spent the first two years attending training courses to learn new microbiological lab skills, and designing and writing the proposal for my PhD project based on my committees’ instructions and my interests.

 

At the same time, I was a teaching assistant supporting biology and microbiology courses for major and non-major college students. After passing the necessary exams, I became a senior PhD student and started my proposed project and also took part in other related projects. I trained several Masters and junior PhD students to become team members so that they could support different research projects in areas such as scale-up fermentation, molecular biology, protein purification, anti-fungal research and fruit ripening research. As part of this, I also communicated and collaborated with other senior PhD students, professors, and experts during seminars and conferences, and even through daily work. This helped to accelerate my development through brainstorming projects combined with coaching and mentoring. Of course, conducting experiments and spending a great deal of time in the lab were essential in demonstrating the hypothesis of my proposal. With solid data from these experiments, I passed my dissertation and finally received my PhD.

 

Q:  Can you briefly explain what a day at your job as a microbiology research scientist is like?

 

A:  At the Mars Global Food Safety Center, I conduct scientific research to generate insights and explore solutions for some of the biggest food safety challenges facing the industry today. For example, I am leading several research projects focused on controlling aflatoxins, one of the most potent, naturally occurring liver carcinogens that we know of today.

 

On our planet, 4.5 billion people consume food that contains aflatoxins every day. One of my projects aims to understand the correlation between the reuse of jute bags for ingredient storage (for example maize) and mycotoxin risk. 

 

I also aim to provide practical advice that could be easily adopted by farmers to help them reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination. To accomplish projects such as this, it is necessary to keep close communication with our global partners, whilst also being able to deliver our work in the lab. During the working day, I design technical plans to achieve the objectives of my projects, train the lab assistants and conduct experiments with them, analyze data, conduct trouble shooting and review the progress of projects. I also communicate food safety information with internal and external resources, and support other team members as a consultant.

 

 

Q:  Something I found interesting about your position is that I was told that it was non-competitive.  So, the information that you discover and research is shared across the world with different partners, so that we can all have access to this information on how to keep our food safer.  That’s a kind of science communication!  Do you find that this non-competitive atmosphere makes your position more enjoyable, and more engaging?  And do you ever learn anything from the partners you work with?

 

A: At the Mars Global Food Safety Center, being non-competitive means that we aim to share and communicate the results of our work in the public domain to help raise the bar for all. This creates a very positive environment for the food industry and the food supply chain, as well as for scientists to conduct their research. We believe that food safety is a basic human right, and we actively seek to work collaboratively with other entities to ensure safer food for all.

 

As a research scientist, in such an atmosphere, I have more space and resources to think, discover, and solve real problems and challenges in food safety. I can communicate and collaborate with other scientists or experts even from other companies or institutions, which makes my work more effective and engaging. In return, I experience great support and encouragement from my partners, and I believe that together we really can help provide more people with access to safe food.

 

Q:  I was told that you were also involved in other forms of science communication.  You work with the ‘China Children and Teenager’s Fund’, and help these kids learn more about food safety.  What does this job entail?  Do you find that your work in this position is fruitful in your area?  Why or why not?

 

A: As a mother of two young boys, I firmly believe that food safety education needs to start from an early age. This could provide life-long benefits to the next generation. I’m very glad that I was able to take part in this mission by providing consultation and expertise to the ‘China National Children’s Food Safety Guard Campaign’, organized by China Nutrition and Health Food Association (CHNFA) and China Children and Teenager Foundation (CCTF). The Mars Global Food Safety Center is a key sponsor and initiator of this collaboration. Through the project, we designed interactive learning toolkits, video and painting books with food safety information for the children. The materials have been rolled out to more than 8 provinces in China, covering tens of thousands of kids, which makes me feel very proud. 

 

Q:  What would you say the biggest challenge in your field is?  Anything in particular?

 

A:  Some of the biggest challenges in food safety come from the global nature of the food supply chain, which today creates many common touch points among industry, regulators, customers, and consumers. More than ever before, food and food ingredients are being shipped around the world.  A food safety issue or risk from one raw material, one company, or one region, can now quickly expand to be a global problem. For example, my research projects related to mycotoxin caused by the fungal contamination of grains such as corn, wheat, and rice, is a big concern for the supply chain globally. That’s why we are trying to work with our global partners in a more collaborative way than ever before. 

 

Q:  Do you have any advice for those looking into pursuing your field of STEM?

 

A:   Follow your real passion and get to know what your true area of interest is. Try to find a mentor or coach throughout your career and use him or her as a role model that can inspire and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.  And in your work life seek out sponsors, people that will look out for you, help plan your career path and work with you to help you realize your full potential. Lastly, do not forget to take a moment to enjoy your life and spend time with your family. 

 

  

*This post was not sponsored by Mars Inc.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



INTERVIEW: Valerie Maldonado Senior Engineer Process Developer for MARS

 
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A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Valerie Maldonado, Fruity Confections CBU Mars Wrigley Confectionery here in the US.

 


 

Q: Valerie, first of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions I had for you regarding your STEM job at MARS.


My first question, since your job focuses on the development of new candy, such as Starburst, I have to ask: What does candy have to do with STEM?

 

A: Making chocolate, candy, gum and mints is no different than cooking. Our role in Research & Development (R&D) is to ensure that we deliver high-quality products to millions of consumers all over the world. We have to apply science and engineering to guarantee that every product someone buys and tastes has the same great quality.

 

Q: What was it that first got you interested in STEM? And when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in STEM?

 

A: When I was in the third grade, we had the opportunity to visit a gum and candy factory in my hometown of Caracas, Venezuela as part of a school trip. I was so excited about the opportunity that I made my mom volunteer as a chaperone so that she could come with me too. I still remember the smell of bubblegum when we drove near the factory. That’s when I started becoming interested in how candies are made. My curiosity, along with an interest in math and chemistry, inspired me to pursue my degree in Chemical Engineering.

 
 

 

Q: What steps did you have to take in order to reach your goals in STEM?

 

A: During my undergraduate program in college, I had to work hard to get
through some of my classes as engineering coursework can be quite demanding. Many people are intimidated by the STEM fields because they believe you have to be extremely smart to get through school. Trust me, you will meet very smart people who are scientists and engineers, but the reality is that for the rest of us it takes more discipline and hard work than anything else.


Once I started my career, I was usually the only woman engineer in my teams. I had to learn to be confident and to stand up for what I believe in. Being the only woman in the room can be very intimidating, especially when you first start out in the field – not only are you the only woman, but you’re usually the youngest person. Learning to be persistent has been the key for me in driving my career forward.

 

Q: What exactly does being an “engineering consultant” mean? And in your current position as a “Senior Engineer Process Developer”, can you summarize what you do on a day-to- day basis?

 

A: When I was an engineer consultant, I worked with a team of engineers from all fields (electrical, civil, mechanical and chemical) and construction managers to execute projects at different factories. I had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of industries as the company operated in many fields: my first project was an oil spill cleanup and from there I worked on projects in soap, ice cream and engine oil manufacturing. It was a great place to learn and use the technical skills I had gained from my engineering education.

In my current role as Senior Engineer, Process Development, I’m either in the office, factories, or our pilot plant in Chicago. While I am in the office, I am typically collaborating with different team members working on our future innovations. I have projects that are four years out, but I’m also working on initiatives that are currently getting close to launch.


I travel to our factories across the globe to test new processes and formulas as we work through product and process development. I enjoy going to our factories and working with our teams at the sites to bring the formulations we have tested at a small scale in our Chicago pilot plant to life at scale.

 

Q: What kind of technology and equipment goes into candy making?

 

A: There is a lot of technology that goes into making our products in a consistent manner for millions of consumers all over the world. For making fruity products such as Starburst and Skittles, technology helps us make the toffee base, remove moisture and shape the products into their final form. I have always been impressed by the packaging machines we use for wrapping gum, which can wrap thousands of pieces of gum in one minute and move at such highly efficient speed.

 

Q: When I was told about you, I was told that you’re “an advocate for
emphasizing that you don’t have to be a ‘certain way’ to work in a STEM field”. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

 

A: There are stereotypes that are attached to the people who pursue careers in the STEM field. Being interested in science hasn’t always been the “cool” thing to do. My sophomore year of college, I met a friend in one of my chemical engineering core classes who later told me he thought I was lost when I entered the classroom the first day. He had firm reasons to think so: women were the minority in engineering classrooms at that time and I am Latina. Throughout my career I’ve been asked if I’m in marketing or sales and people are usually surprised when I say I am an engineer. I strongly believe that regardless of the field you go into, you can be yourself and we should all embrace what is unique about us regardless of stereotypes.

 

Q: If you were to give advice to someone who wanted to work in this field, or a similar one, what would you tell them?

 

A: Studying STEM provides you with a very solid foundation for the rest of your life. I have many friends that have studied engineering who now work in other fields such as sales, marketing, supply chain, etc. and are thankful that
engineering prepared them with the problem solving and analytical skills that
allows them to excel in their careers. STEM fields set you up with a great deal of job possibilities—options that enable you to lead a great life with financial
independence.

  

*This post was not sponsored by Mars Inc.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



STEM GEMS: A Review of a Book about Women in STEM

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    When kids think of the modern scientist — who do they think of?  Usually, Bill Nye the Science Guy will come to mind (and why not? His catchy theme song has infected the minds of all American kids since 1993).  That …may be it.  Some kids may know of Stephen Hawking, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Michio Kaku.  

 

    The pattern?  All of these modern day scientists have one thing in common: they are all men.

 

    Stephanie Espy set out to change that.

 

 
 

    Stephanie Espy is a Chemical Engineer and author who decided to shine a light on 44 of today’s modern women scientists.  “I have always been passionate about STEM,”  She writes on her website about why she wrote the book to begin with.  “and I’m equally passionate about getting more girls and young women excited about STEM too. I wrote this book with a mission: to help girls and young women to see their future selves as scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, and to show them the many diverse options that exist in STEM.”

 

    With this book, she reached her goal and did it spectacularly.

 

    Out of graciousness, I was sent a copy of this book.  Because my life was so hectic, it took me a while to actually get around to reading it, but when I did — I had a hard time putting it down when real life called me to get some work done.  

 

    My first thought was: “Why is this not in every school library?”  

 

 

    These short biographies of these women in STEM give a fun look to their lives, their positions, and their passions.  However, not only did Espy provide 44 role models in STEM from all sorts of walks of life — she does something else for the readers, too. Past all of the bios is advice that Espy has written specifically for the girls who pick up this book.  Advice towards who to get started in STEM, and how to keep up with your goals in these fields.  Taking the stories from the 44 gems, and creating practical guidance from them.

 

    This books is excellently written on top of it all.  It kept my attention, and it taught me about these women effectively.  It’s bound to keep the attention of children in class, and it really should be required reading, or at least suggested reading for science classes.  It would also be an excellent choice for a book report.  

 

    I keep mentioning children reading this, but really, it’s fantastic for all ages.  The writing doesn’t talk down to the reader in the least, and everyone can learn something from it.  My guess is that most people who pick up this book haven’t heard of all of these women — if they’ve heard of any of them to begin with.

 

    Consider supporting Stephanie Espy in her efforts buy purchasing her book here.  You won’t be sorry you did it.  

 

*Mariah was given a copy of this book to read and review for free. This post is otherwise non-sponosered.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



Opinion: What We Can Take Away From the Instagram OP-ED

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Disclaimer: In the interest of not being hypocritical, FemSTEM will NOT link the article in question (though the title will be mentioned), nor mention the author by name.  That information has gone around enough within the science community, and we do not want to unintentionally promote attacking the article and, more importantly, the author in question.

 

A lot of anger, confusion, and debate was stirred up in the science community on March 15th, 2018 when Science Magazine published an article entitled: “Why I Don’t use Instagram for Science Outreach”.  While the title sounded as though it would be a thoughtful opinion piece on why Instagram may not be the best avenue for science communication, the article instead read as a bitter attack peace for many.

 

It’s easy to see why this article was read that way.  The article compared women and suggested that one method of science communication was more valuable to another’s.  It also had bitter sentences throughout the paragraphs.  

 

The author even admits to her bitterness in the article by saying: “Instead of cheering on Instagram’s dynamic and vibrant #scicomm women, I felt an increasing bitterness with each post I came across […] I realized that I am not bitter toward the authors of these posts […]  I am annoyed that the majority of the posts seem to celebrate a very narrow representation of femininity, my real bitterness comes from the systemic challenges that these posts are working to address …”

 

As of March 17th, both the author and Science Magazine came out with statements apologizing for the article, though the article can still be readily found.  

 

With that said, there are things we can learn from the article and the surrounding controversy; it just might not be what the article initially intended.

 

 

Don’t Pit Women Against One Another

 

 

As mentioned previously, the article directly compared two women.  It compared popular online science communicator Samantha Yammine to an unnamed professor the author knew in person.  

 

“I liken the many hours that Science Sam spends on her Instagram content to the volunteer work a female professor in my department put into organizing a summer program to introduce teens from underrepresented communities to biomedical engineering.” — Direct Quote from Article

 

As far as any reader can tell, these women have similar mindsets and goals — they just go about their science outreach in different ways.  Even if this was not the case — there is nothing healthy about comparing two people and their achievements.  

 

 
 

Dr. Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, said in an article for Psychology Today: “If we use others as a benchmark to evaluate ourselves, that creeping twinge of jealousy may undermine our ability to truly cherish the good things that come to others.”  

 

Carr then goes on to remind her readers: “Over time, things may even out, and a friend’s success may enable him or her to support and make opportunities for others (including you).”

 

We want to remember that, instead of bringing someone else down, we want to raise one another up.  In the long run, that will provide better, more positive, and longer lasting effects in the community.  We want to remember, too, that this is all of our community.  Tearing someone down, intentionally or not, disrupts the system of the entire collective.  This was clear in the reaction to the Instagram op-ed on Twitter.  It created anger.

 

It is important to note, though, that out of that anger did come some good.  Many fellow scientists and science communicators came to Yammine’s defense and support in the wake of the article. 

 

 

It’s Okay To Have an Opinion, but How You Present it is Extremely Important

 

It is, by no means, a bad thing to have a negative opinion on Instagram or social media in general.  It can be argued (and has been) that social media can be bad for the general state of human health.  Of course, however, everyone reacts to social media differently, and everyone interacts with social media differently.  

 

There is no fault with the author for not thinking that social media is not an effective or good way to go about science communication.  The fault lies with how it was presented.

 

Samantha Yammine was used as an example of science communication through social media from the very first sentence of the Science article.  Afterwards, Yammine was mentioned by her social media persona three more times in the short, 600-word article.  The entire time, Yammine seemed to be presented in a negative light.  

 

Because this article portrayed a negative opinion of a harmless activity, the usage of one example, and outright naming that example, read as an attack.  If the article was otherwise well-written and thought out, it was overcast by what came across as an attack.  

 

On another note, the article never had evidence that backed any of the author’s claims.  There are no links to studies or sources, and there was no research conducted to see if the act of science communication on Instagram could produce positive effects on the public.  It came across as completely baseless, and as a result, purely pessimistic and assaulting to those who enjoy and find good results from their social media usage. 

 

The world needs differing opinions, but those opinions must have structure and foundations, and they must be presented in a professional way.

 

 

We Can Learn From Our Faulty Judgment and From Other’s Errors

 

The reality is that a reputable online magazine should never have posted this piece.  The reality is that this op-ed never should have been penned the way it was.  To call it a ‘mistake’ may be being generous, as the article had been thought out by the author, and then read and edited several times by the employees of Science Magazine.

 

However,  with every negative experience can come a lesson.  That doesn’t make this okay — none of it was.  With that said, us — as the readers, the reviewers, and the critics — can use this to help ourselves become more aware of our own actions.  To use this as an example of what NOT to do.  To look at this and examine ourselves, our own motives, and use this to teach us how to lift someone up rather than to take them down.

 

Hopefully, Science Magazine will do as they say and will “examine [their] editorial process for these pieces moving forward” in a thoughtful and profound way.  We cannot count on that, however.  The only thing we can count on is how we react to situations like this, and how we move past this.

 

Samantha Yammine, who says she will be writing and submitting her rebuttal to an unknown magazine, has taken the entire situation in stride.  

 

 
 

 

Let’s all look at this as an opportunity to learn, and let the science community as a whole become stronger as a result.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 

A Science Communication Consultation and Training Company Is On the Rise — and Needs Your Support

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Science Communication is something that is a hot topic these days.  The communication to the public about science is extremely important, because everyone is effected by science in their daily lives.  Proper science communication can change how the public looks at the world, how the world governments decide to act on certain issues, and can help in bettering the wellbeing of humans, animals, and plant life.

 

 

However, science communication is not the easiest thing in the world.  Not by a long shot.  There’s miscommunication, the boasting of bad studies, and some scientists don’t know how to go about science communication to the public at all.  While all scientists are definetely not required to communicate their science to the public, a lot of them want to learn.

 

 

That’s where SCIENCE ART FUSION comes in. 

 

 

Science Art Fusion is a ‘science communication consultation company that aims to bridge the gap between science and the creative and performing arts’, says Founder RK Pendergrass.

 

 

Earlier in March, she began a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise money so that Pendergrass can create online courses “that goes into the nitty-gritty of narrative structure and what makes some stories so universally appealing, and helps science communicators figure out the best ways to apply these narrative skills to their outreach efforts”

 

 

Pendergrass herself is a professional performer and creative writer with over ten years of experience in these fields.  She says that she wanted to help share her knowledge with the science community “after seeing the importance of narrative being brought up time and again at science conferences and in discussions about science communication”.  

 

 

Pendergrass truly believes that there’s value in this knowledge for the science community, and believes that this type of art can be very helpful in getting this very important communication across.

 

 

In the two weeks that SCIENCE ART FUSION’S campaign has been online, Pendergrass has thus earned over $1,500 towards her 20K goal.  As she notes, starting a company is incredibly expensive.  Between the LLC cost, the cost of equipment, the cost of a website, and more.  Her hope is to raise $3,500 a month in order to support the website and herself up until August.    She wants to help hire and support other science communicators as well in the future to help continue to “bridge the gap” between the communications and their respective audiences.

 

 

Interested in helping out?  You can check out the GoFundMe here, or email RK Pendergrass at prelaunch@scienceartfuision.com for more information!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

Never Have Trouble Finding Places for Science on Your Vacation Again: Sci Sites!

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In January 2018, Dr. Lakshini Mendis launched a website for the purpose of inviting science to come along on your vacation.  While just about every large city in the United States, as well as across the world, typically has a science-related museum, or other science related activities to do while you’re visiting, sometimes they can be hard to find.

 

 

Dr. Lakshini Mendis is a trained neuroscientist, and now is a full-time science writer and editor herself.  After she gained her PhD, she traveled abroad a lot.  While she was abroad, she wanted to find these “STEM-related places” that she knew absolutely existed.  Finding them, though, was an entire adventure on its own.

 

 

Dr. Mendis found it to be a little frustrating and not very convenient that there wasn’t a place on the internet where you could go to see every science activity or public area in the location you were visiting.  Of course, you could Google things all day long, but the convenience just was not there. She wanted a “one-stop STEM related travel site”.  

 

 

VISIT THE SITE

 

 
 
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Sci-Sites.com is exactly that.  By noting where she has been on her science filled trips, and asking others where they have been, Dr. Mendis has created an easily-accessible space to fit her goal.  This site includes guest posts about these places, so that you’re not going in blind — as well as suggests science related spaces for every continent. No matter where you’re going on vacation, Dr. Mendis is making it so you have no excuse to not add science into the mixture.

 

 

Another wonderful thing about Dr. Mendis’ site is that it aids in visibility for not only STEM, and STEM-related public spaces, but also for the scientists and employees involved.  By allowing guest posts, scientists who have worked for specific museums and other STEM-related places can bring awareness to those said areas, as well as to the work that they do for that specific place. 

 

It’s another way, that’s totally different and completely unique to the current world of Science Communication, to get the science communication ball rolling.  It’s a great way to get the entire family involved with STEM and the people directly involved in STEM fields in a fun and relatable way.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.