Women in STEM

A Thank You to Melissa C Marquez

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An Open Letter to Melissa C. Márquez,

 

It was February of last year when you approached me about writing #STEMSaturdays. Ever since then, I haven't been able to thank you enough.  I remember distinctly holding myself back from emailing you back right away -- my excitement easily gets the best of me and I didn't want to seem too eager.

 

At that point, my website had been around for a little over a month.  I had been let go from one writing job, was getting ready to quit another because of the bad working conditions, and found myself jobless and just trying to see if I could make my website go anywhere.  Part of me was excited, part of me was heartbroken.  I'm not convinced, at all, that I would have the traction that I have had on this website without your help.  You have helped this site gain thousands of views, you have started great conversations on Twitter, and you have supported me through this rollercoaster.

 

Honestly, the best part is that you and I will be continuing to work together throughout this year -- and hopefully continuing on to the future.

 
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You didn't have to contact me, or put all of the effort that you did into the articles you wrote for this site.  My goodness, you had (and still have) so much going on in your professional and personal life.  You had an amazing TEDX Talk to write, rehearse, and travel for.  That's a much bigger stage for you than anything I've been able to provide since this site, as of January 16th, will only be a year old.  An infant.  Yet, you still put a ton of effort into your writings for FemSTEM, and it shows.  I know everyone who reads your articles can agree with me there.  There's so much to them; so much wonderful advice and heartwarming notes of inspiration.  A great reminder that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.  A reminder that your obstacles are there, but you can overcome them, or at least work around them.  A great reminder than your mental health has to be a priority, and that we don't talk about that in academia as much as we ought to.

 

I've taken your advice for myself, particularly along the lines of networking.  It's helped me out tremendously.  I have business cards, and brochures, and I've been invited to events in order to network further.  Your advice, that you didn't write for me, but for the audience, has been invaluable.  I just hope others have taken steps towards your advice, as well.  In fact, I'm confident that they have.

 

You are, and always will be, a huge asset to me and to FemSTEM, as well as the female science community.  I plan to continue to support you, as you have done an amazing amount for me.  I will never be able to thank you enough.

 

I still want to try, though.

 

Thank you for being such a huge part of FemSTEM's identity.
Thank you so much for being so supportive.
Thank you for all the advice.
And thank you for everything else.

 

-- Mariah Loeber
Founder of FemSTEM.com
And always in debt to you.

 

VISIT MELISSA'S TWITTER HERE

 

Interview: Emily Beasley and the Behavioral Ecology of Gulls


 

When you think of scientists studying animals, the first think you think of might not be a seagull.  Especially since, as we mention later, gulls tend to get somewhat of a bad reputation.  You think of gulls and you think of annoying pests on the beach, trying to steal your french fries.  But this scientist doesn't see gulls as the average beach-goer might.

 

Meet Emily Beasley, a Behavioral Ecologist who is most interested in studying seagulls, and loves to do it.  We talked to her earlier this month, asking her about her job and how she entered the field in the first place, and what specifically she has learned in her study of seagulls.

 

 

Q:  First of all, to start things off, Emily, I want to say thank you for sitting down with me today and taking time out of your day to answer some of our questions! I know you've been extremely busy lately, so this means a lot! I’m sure our readers will enjoy this throughly.

 

A: It’s my pleasure!

 

Q:  I want to start off with a basic question about what you do.  So your field of study is Behavioral Ecology, which is the study of animal behavior as related to adaption, causation, and development, correct? 

 

A: Yes, that’s exactly right.  It also involves examining how environmental factors impact on changes in animal behavior.

 

Q:  Very cool.  This kind of science has always been right up my alley.  So I’m curious: How did you find yourself in this field of study and how long have you been researching animal behavior?

 

A: I’ve always loved animals and have had pets all my life.  I started riding horses when I was ten and eventually I got a job doing barn chores and teaching riding lessons.  But it really took shape for me when I was an undergraduate student.  I got the opportunity to work at a pet store that did a lot of animal adoptions, and we also hand-raised baby parrots.

 

For my undergraduate dissertation I did a research project on the impact of ecological validity in puzzle solving abilities of Congo African Parrots.  My supervisor at the time, Professor Maryanne Fisher, connected me with Professor Tom Dickens who runs a field trip to Lundy Island in the UK every year.  I did the field study and absolutely loved it.  I spent a lot of time with Dr. Rob Spencer  watching a gull colony on the island and I was hooked.

 

When it came time for me to apply to grad school, there was an opportunity to work with Tom and Rob again at Middlesex University in London.

 

Q: All of that sounds extremely fascinating and really, really fun.  Especially the opportunity to do the field study.  That must’ve been a fantastic trip — I can’t even imagine. What’s your favorite part about the process of studying animal behavior?  Do you have a favorite step, or something else about the research that you enjoy the most? 

 

A: It was wonderful.  I’ve been back to Lundy every year since that first trip and I still love it.

I really enjoy collecting data.  Being in the field is my favorite place to be, whether it’s in a city looking at urban wildlife or on a remote island watching seabirds.  A lot of work foes into developing and piloting a project before you can go out and collect data, so it’s really rewarding when you see all of your efforts come together.  It’s also a chance to observe the animals in their natural environment and see how they interact with each other and the environment.  You can learn a lot by just attentively watching your study species.

 

Q: Oh, I bet.  As kids, when you’re watching animals in your own backyard you can learn a lot, so I can’t even imagine how much you’d be able to learn on a trip like that!  Judging by your twitter, your favorite animal to study are birds.  And it would appear that you have a project going on right now to study gulls in urban areas!  What specifically are you hoping to learn with this project?

 

A:  Yes, they definetely are my favorite!

I actually just finished my Master of Science by Research degree from Middlesex.  I was studying a population of Lesser Black-backed gulls and Herring gulls in Bath, England.  I was interested in gull-human interactions, and gull populations dynamics across the breeding season.

I collected data for 5 months over the 2017 breeding season.  What I found was that the population of foraging gulls in the city fluctuated throughout the breeding season.

The phases in the breeding season were divided by major events that generally happen around the same time every year.  The phases are:

 

1 — Settling; when the adult gulls return to the breeding sites.

2 — Laying; when the females lay their eggs.

3 — Incubation; incubation of the eggs, which is shared by both parents in my study species.

4 — Rearing; once the chicks have hatched and the parents start to provision them.  And finally:

5 — Fledging; when the chicks leave the next and learn to forage on their own.

 

There tended to be more gulls in town during the rearing and fledging phases.  This was likely because there was pressure on the adult gulls to provision their growing chicks with more food.

 

The key findings with regards to gull nuisance behavior were that there was no gull aggression towards humans at all during the course of the breeding season. Gull nuisance occurred more frequently near the end of the breeding season, when the chicks were beginning to fledge, but even then I didn’t observe much nuisance behavior.

 

Gulls get a bit of a bad reputation, but they’re actually very intelligent, long-lived birds.  Also, all species of breeding gulls in the UK are considered birds of conservation, concern, and the Herring gull is red listed (globally threatened) due to severe declines in their national breeding populations, so it’s really important that people work together to help these gulls instead of vilify them.

 

Q:  Okay — so this project had already taken place then.  All of that is really incredible, actually.  And I agree with you; there are a lot of animals we tend to vilify solely because of ignorance.  But when you think about animals who have a bad rap, you tend to think of animals like sharks, or predator-creatures, and there tend to be more people on the side of trying to get them to have a better reputation than on an animal like the gull.  So I think this is really important research you did, and I need to admit it wasn’t even something I had thought about on my own.  I’d love to hear more about this at another time!  Are you planning on publishing this research?

 

And then, if you were to give advice to someone looking to enter the same field of research as you, what do you think you would tell them?

 

A:  I totally agree with you!  Thank you — there are a lot of great gull and seabird researchers in the UK trying to spread knowledge and I want to contribute as much as I can.  I would like to get it published.  I think it’s important to share what we’re doing as researchers with the rest of the academic community and with the non-academic community, too.

 

I’d say take opportunities as they come and always be open to new experiences.  Try to put yourself in situations where you are building skills that you would like to have, but also meeting people who are interested and already working in a field you want to enter.  You never know who you’re going to meet while you’re at a conference or volunteering.  Put yourself out there, do what you love, and share your passion with others.

 

Q:  I think that’s good advice!  Thank you so, so much for joining me again, Emily.  Really.  It’s been a really interesting chat, and I had a really nice time!

 

A:  I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.  Thank you for your interest!

 
 

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.

Osteoarchaeologist Stephanie Jan Hamholfer Talks Her Career and How She Got Here

 

There’s a lot of ways that we can learn about our past and, in turn, our future.  One of those ways is by studying bones — our bones.  Or — rather — the bones of the deceased.

 

Meet Stephanie Jan Hamholfer. She is an Osteoarchaeologist based out of Canada.  She has an Associate of Arts degree in Criminology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Alberta.  Currently, she is gaining her Masters at the University of Toronto.

 

Stephanie also has her own blog where you can read about her life and her studies here

 

Recently, I caught up with Stephanie and asked her some questions about her career in osteoarchaeology, and how she got there.

 

Q: I want to start off by telling you again how much I appreciate you getting in touch with us and your willingness to sit down and chat with me!  Thank you very much!  I really think our readers will get a lot out of learning about what it is you do! 

So your current focus is on human osteoarchaeology, or biological anthropology.  That seems to be kind of a unique field of study.  Would you like to briefly explain what that is for anyone who may not know?

 

A:  Sure!  Osteoarchaeology/Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites.  Basically we're archaeologists with specialized skills and knowledge in excavating and interpreting human skeletons.  I use a book analogy.  Our skeletons are like books written in a language osteoarchaeologists are trained to read.  So we can study skeletal remains and find out about things like height, illness, trauma, occupations, diets, places we've lived, etc.

 

Q: That’s neat! I think people can be generally unaware of just how much you can learn from studying human bones. Everything you mentioned there is really a lot of information!

So I’d like to ask what made you interested in human osteoarchaeology in the first place?  Was it a particular teacher you had, or something you stumbled across that peaked your interest?

 

A:  I definitely stumbled into it, hahaha!  I was actually studying criminology at university and I had to fill some electives.  I had always been a bit curious about archaeology, so I signed up for that.  During the same semester there was a forensic anthropology course being offered.  I had never heard of forensic anthropology before but the course description sounded interesting so I went for it.  And I fell in love!  I finished up with criminology and decided to start over pursuing osteoarchaeology.

 

It was a combination of course content and a fantastic archaeology professor which definitely cemented my interest.

 

Once I realized I loved forensic anthropology and archaeology I wondered if there was a way for me to combine the two.  I had the opportunity to write a paper about the Franklin Expedition and that was when I realized that osteoarchaeology was a real career I could pursue!

 
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Q: Isn’t that funny how those things work, and how you think you’re going one way until you completely fall in love with something else? That’s a cool story, and it’s great that you had an excellent professor on top of it. That always helps.

But your twitter bio and your blog even proudly state that you’re “shark obsessed”! Is there a particular reason you decided to go into criminology and later anthropology instead of maybe studying to become a marine biologist?

 

A: To be honest I wasn't really sure of where to find shark-related marine biology programs that weren't in Florida or Australia (which I wouldn't be able to afford to attend).  I'm a first-generation university student so a lot of my university-related time has been spent simply trying to understand how the system(s) work!  By the time I had sorted things out archaeology had definitely become a more attainable goal that I was passionate about.  So now I happily advocate for shark research and shark conservation from the sidelines.  Though I definitely would love the opportunity to head out on a research vessel one day…

 

I follow a lot of shark research groups and scientists on social media and that's a way for me to feel like I'm still part of the community.

 

Q: That’s nice, and it’s also a good example to show that we can be interested in several different kinds of scientific studies. We don’t have to just stick to just one.  Hopefully you will get an opportunity to be on a research vessel! I’d imagine that’s incredibly cool!

So, I had a question about when you decided you wanted to pursue this route, but you kind of already answered that with your story about how you stumbled across osteoarchaeology in the first place! So how about I ask you about how you were featured in Science Magazine!

That’s awesome that you were featured, by the way. Congratulations!

So you were asked to advocate for your field in six words or less by Science Magazine.  You said: “The past shows us the future”.  I think that’s a great answer.  Would you like to elaborate on your thought process a bit for our readers?

 

A:  Thanks!  Science was a happy surprise, I didn't realize they had featured my response until my husband's lab colleague texted him, who texted me, hahaha!

Our society today is built on decisions made and actions taken in the past.  Archaeologists are kind of like human time-machines - we have a unique ability to "go back in time" and see the outcomes of decisions and actions, and in many cases we can also work out what the influences may have been.  We can look at the many different situations faced by people in the past, see how they reacted to them (or sometimes how they developed them), and see what worked and what didn't work.  Our society today faces many similar situations.  So if we can see what worked/didn't work in the past, we might be able to develop strategies to mitigate the present (situations like disease en/epidemics, climate change, food production, etc.).

 

 
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Q: I think we can all agree on that. And I think it’s too often that we don’t take what we’ve learned about the past and apply it to our future. What you do is very important to our society today, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I truly appreciate the research that you do!

So what would you say to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in osteoarchaeology like you have?  Do you have any particular advice?

 

A:  I would tell them to look for any opportunity they can get for hands on experience!  Try to find a university with osteology courses and be sure to take as many of those courses as you can.  And look for any volunteer experience you can get, don't be afraid to send out emails to profs to ask if they might have any projects for volunteers!

 

Everyone’s path is different so what worked for one person may not work for the next. So I would also say to develop a plan that works best for you, in your situation, and don't be afraid to pursue it!

 

Q:  I think that is some very good advice!

Thanks so much for sitting down with me today and taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I’m sure our readers will really enjoy this, and it means a lot to me. It was such an honor and so interesting to talk with you about this for a little while.

 

A:  Thank you very much for the chance to talk!  I enjoyed it very much and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to help spread the word about this awesome field!

 

 
 

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.

How Important is the EPA? From an Actual Living Scientist.

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FemSTEM does not have a political affiliation.
This was published originally in 2017

 

The political climate has taken science down deep with it.  Though some people do not think the two should be mixed, people could argue that it absolutely has to be mixed.  With the EPA, the governmental agency that was installed in the 1970s, being at risk of a budget cut, or to even be dismantled completely, people are more and more concerned.

 

President Donald Trump has shown himself not exactly be a huge fan of the sciences.  Though he has talked about refocusing the EPA to improve air quality, he has also come out on more than one occasion as a climate change denier (without actually labeling himself as such), which worries many.  Scott Pruitt, the current head of the EPA, has also done the same.  With all this in mind, I wanted to pick the mind of someone who may have more of an inside clue into how important the EPA is in this day and age.

 

Recently, I got in contact with Samantha Stuhler.  She is a young scientist who works with asbestos every day, and knows a thing or two about harmful fibers that could potentially risk human lives.  I asked her about her job, and how she thinks the EPA affects human lives now, and what she thinks would happen if the budget cut goes through, or if congress does terminate the agency altogether.

 

Q: “Hi, Sam.  Thank you so much for  taking time our of your day and answering these questions for me!  Having an opinion come from someone who works in this field will be truly insightful.”

 

A:  “No Problem!”

 

Q:  “Would you be willing to explain what your position is, and what it is you do every day?”

 

A:  “Sure. I work for an environmental testing company as an analyst. My position involves the preparation and analysis of air and bulk samples for asbestos fiber content using various types of analytical methods and microscopes.”

 

Q:  “Wow!  That sounds a bit complicated and pretty fascinating.  How long have you been in this field?”

 

A:  “I’ve been working for this company since 2010, so almost seven years!

 

“I started off as solely doing prep work, but I was able to learn first PCM (phase contrast microscopy) analysis, which tests for fiber content in air, and then the more complicated TEM (transmission electron microscopy) analysis which uses a significantly larger microscope that allows for precise identification of individual fibers.”

 

 
 
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Q:   “Very nice!  It sounds like you’ve had good, steady growth in this field, and you’ve learned a lot from it!  With the fact that you work to protect customers from harmful asbestos fibers, I was wondering how you felt about the prospect of the EPA being in potential danger of shut down for the government.  Congress recently introduced a bill that could shut down the EPA altogether.  If the bill to shut down the EPA were to go through, would your job be directly effected?”

 

A:  “Well… yes, and no. Obviously we haven’t experienced this before, so I can only speculate.

 

“I say no, because there will always be buildings with asbestos in them. I live and work in New York City, and there are countless buildings here that were built before asbestos use was widely discontinued. When those buildings are being renovated and tested for asbestos, if the contractor is one of our clients, we may get their samples from their abatement procedures.

 

“(By the term “samples", I’m referring to anything from air cassettes for PCM/TEM analysis to pieces of building materials like floor tiles or plaster that are tested in the bulk lab. The laboratory that I work for is very diverse and also runs tests on mold samples, lead samples, various foods, and even does some forensic testing, but in general, we refer to each different item we receive as a “sample”.)

 

“I say yes, because without the EPA’s regulations on asbestos, I don’t know if my job would be there still. I would like to hope that it would, due to the fact that most people are aware of the <a href="http://www.dictionary.com/browse/carcinogenic">carcinogenic</a> effects of asbestos and finding out if it is present in buildings is important to do, but I don’t want to speculate.

 

“Another side of this coin is that potentially the use of asbestos could actually increase, which is something that I shudder to think about. The fact that the US actually hasn’t discontinued the use of asbestos completely despite knowing about all of the harmful effects is something that still blows my mind to think about, though the primary use of it is in products like brake pads and cement pipe, which I presume provide a low risk of inhalation of fibers.”

 

Q:  “It is kind of scary to think about.  FemSTEM will be sure to cover the harmful effects that asbestos can have in another article to better explain what you mean to anyone who may not be aware.  In my community, actually, there was recently some commotion over asbestos making people in a subdivision very, very sick.  It was scary.  Now, on a personal note, I’d like to ask how do you feel about the EPA?”

 

A:   “I appreciate the work that they do, and am very thankful for the regulations that they have in place. It’s nice to know that there’s a part of our government that’s dedicated to protecting our environment and coming up with ways to improve on the current conditions of our world.”

 

Q:  “When I spoke to you about doing this interview initially, you mentioned how schools rely on you the most.  How could schools and the children in school suffer if there aren’t safety measures being enforced?"

 

A: “There’s currently a special type of analysis that we do that was specifically created for use in schools. It’s called TEM AHERA (which stands for Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) and involves a very specific method of fiber counting. The protocols that contractors have to go through in order to clear a school for students to be able to enter is extremely rigorous in order to be sure that there are no fibers in the air when students, teachers, and employees enter the building again.

 

“This is one of our primary jobs; a very significant portion of our samples are from schools in the city and surrounding areas. Whenever schools are out on break, whether it’s for a week or for summer, our sample count in-house increases substantially.

 

“As I mentioned before, older buildings still contain asbestos, and so a school built before the frequent use of asbestos was banned could still contain asbestos.

 

“If these rules aren’t enforced and this sort of careful and thorough testing isn’t implemented, then young kids (as well as parents, teachers, school employees, etc) could be exposed to asbestos, which like I said before, is a known carcinogen.”

 

Q:  “Without the EPA and agencies like it, we are really putting children in danger.  Putting adults in danger is bad enough, but considering that schools rely on you the most and even have their own, specific method of fiber counting makes you realize just how important it is to have these regulations. 

“Let’s refocus a little and assume that the bill to discontinue the EPA does not pass the House and Senate.

 “Let’s talk about Pruitt’s involvement.  I don’t want to get too political as FemSTEM does not have a political affiliation, but I am interested in your opinion as a scientist yourself.  

Your job does not directly relate to climate change, but as I’m sure you’re aware, Pruitt and Trump have promised to refocus the EPA 'on protecting air and water quality, while scrapping many of Obama's initiatives to curb carbon dioxide emissions'.  Can I ask what your personal thoughts on this are?”

 

A:  “I personally don’t see how cutting plans to curb CO2 emissions will help with making air quality any better. I’ll try not to get too political here (which is a bit hard for me in this political climate) but I don’t have much faith in this current administration’s ability to successfully do much of anything, especially in relation to the EPA.”

 

Q:  "Pruitt was quoted as saying: 'Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth'.  Do you believe this to be true?  Can we have mutual goals regarding the environment, people’s health, and economics?”

 

A:  “I don’t agree with anything that Pruitt has done so far, and it’ll take a lot for him to change my mind, especially after him saying that he doesn’t believe that CO2 has any effect on climate change. This probably relates more to your prior question, but I figured I should say it nonetheless.

 

“I think that in a perfect world, we can have mutual goals, but right now our country is too divided to easily find that mutuality. With some work though, I think it can be done.”

 

Q:  “I want to thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions for me.  I truly appreciate it, and I know our readers will as well. Getting your opinion was great, and I’m sure this will cause a lot of discussion. Thank you!”

 

A: “Not a problem! Thank you!”

 

There is no real way of knowing how much of an effect dismantling the EPA will really have until it happens — if it happens.  Both Trump’s budget proposal and the bill still need to go through the House and Senate and be approved by them before anything takes really affect.  Until then, we can only make estimations -- guesses -- until we see how things will continue.

 
 

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: Why We Won't Ask Anyone What It's Like to be a "Woman in Science".

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How many times have you read (or heard) the question: "What's it like to be a women in [insert male-dominated field here]?"

 

A lot?  Yeah, we have too.

 

A lot of fields are male-dominated, and this includes STEM fields to a high degree.  As an example I know from my personal life, my mother and my grandmother worked (or are currently working for) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  This is a government agency, and it deals with airplanes, the locality of the within space and time, advanced technology such as radars, and much more.  This is a very male-dominated field today, and was even more so when my grandmother first started in the agency.

 

This is just a fact of life at this point.  Some fields are more dominated by men, and sometimes that can leave women behind.  Because it might be harder, or more rare, for women to make it into a field for one reason or another, it's almost natural to ask women in these fields "What's it like to be a woman in science?"  It can be a genuine question, but it can also be a very lazy question.

 

Here's why (so long as I run FemSTEM, which I plan to for a very long time) we won't ask the women we interview "What's it like to be a woman in science?"

 

It's Cliché and a Weak Question

 

A cliché is, by definition, is "a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought."

 

The question:  "What's it like to be a woman in science?" definitely fits here.

 

We're never going to know every woman's personal experience with being a woman in science.  Never.  And while it might be interesting to ask someone this personally, so that we can get a deep understand of their personal struggles or rewards from being a minority in the system, we all know the general idea behind it.  When it's asked as an interview question, you're generally going to get the same basic answer.  It's, of course, harder in most cases.  You'll maybe hear a generalized story about how a male co-worker (or some) may have bullied, or harassed said woman, or you may hear about other women telling the interviewee that she can't do it because she's a woman.

 

But here's the problem -- the key words her are generalized and basic.  Most of the answers you will receive will be the same answers that most other women are going to give you.

 

Let's face it; this is such a vague question.  A vague question is often times a weak one and is going to warrant a weak response.

 

If you really want to ask a variant of this question, it might be better to talk about the specifics of a situation in which sexism may have occurred, and then ask the interviewee if they can relate, or if they've experienced something similar.

 

No One Seems to Like That Question Anyway

 

A great example of being just plain tired with this question is the example of Actress Lucy Liu.

 

Actress Lucy Liu, probably best known for her role as Joan Watson on Elementary, has faced a similar dilemma as to what we've described here.  Back in October of 2016, the internet blew up when she asked that people stop asking her what it was like to be an Asian-American actress in Hollywood.  She is an actress who was accepted before the big push of diversity in the industry took place.

 

“I had this moment of, I was just thinking about it. I was just so glad I was accepted into this wonderful group because of my work, not because I am Asian, and now they’re trolling the fields for people who fit that. I want to be acknowledged for my work, not for my ‘fill in the blank,’” She told the New York Times.

 

And we don't want to acknowledge the women in STEM fields just because they 'fill in the [diversity] blank', either.  That's not what this website is about.  Though it focuses on a minority in the field, yes, we don't want to make it seem like the only reason we're acknowledging them is because they're women -- because we're not.

 

The goal of this website is to show more women (especially young women) how great STEM fields can be, and encourage them to take a part it in. Not to fill in a blank.

 

It Can Come Across as Borderline Sexist ...If Not Completely So

 

When you want to ask  <strong>"What's it like to be a woman in science?"</strong>, you have to ask something of yourself.

 

Are you really interested in what they do and who they are, or are you just interested in them because they are a woman in a male-dominated field?  If it's the latter, you may have a problem.  This can come across as sexist because you care more about their gender than what they do or who they are.

 

Women are people.  People work in science, and tech, and engineering, and math.  It's okay to showcase a woman in science who is successful despite the odds, and it's okay to have a woman-focused group.  It's also alright to talk about the fact that things just aren't fair in these industries sometimes.  But how much attention are you bringing to the woman part of the equation?   It can be a fine line.

 

And if this question wasn't already asked so often, maybe we would ask it from time to time.  But the bottom line is: it's just not an interesting question anymore.  If it ever was to begin with.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Astronaut Jeanette Epps was Pulled From Her NASA Assignment; There's Only Speculation as To Why

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It was a big deal to many when it had been announced that Jeanette Epps was going to be the "first black crew member to live on board the International Space Station".  On Thursday, January 18th, however, it was announced that she would no longer be going to the International Space Station in June of this year as previously scheduled.  Instead, she would be a candidate for later assignments, while fellow astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor would be taking her place.

 

NASA did not make a comment as to why this crew change had occurred, but according to the Washington Post, Epps' brother had accused the organization of racism in a (now deleted) Facebook Post.  He had stated: “My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!”  In addition to this statement, he had linked to a moveon.org petition that is hoping to reinstate Epps on this crew to the ISS.  As of the writing of this post, the petition is hoping to gain 3,000 signatures, and has 2,379 signatures at the current time.

 

Others had speculated that the crew change could have been due to health or family reasons that NASA would not announce on and that Epps may want to keep private.  However, according to the aforementioned Washington Post article, Epps stated that there had been no health reason or family reason to keep her behind.  She also said that she would not comment on her brother, Henry Epps', post about the situation.  The only thing she did comment on regarding her brother's post was that no one in her family had created the petition he linked to.

 

It's important to note that Epps' removal from this mission is not something that is an isolated incident.  Many astronauts have been bumped from missions before for various reasons.  Miriam Kramer, writing for Mashable, notes in one of her articles on the situation that NASA's Ken Mattingly was pulled from the Apollo 13 crew just a few days before their scheduled launch because he was exposed to German measles".

 

There's reason to believe that Jeanette Epps is not going to be excluded from future missions.  Former NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, says that these crew changes are common, and most of the astronauts go on to go into space at later dates.  "The exceptions are very few and far between,"  He said. 

 

It's more than likely that we will not get an official reason from NASA themselves, as they often do not comment on the crew changes.  O'Keefe has a couple speculations of his own, however, as to why Epps was replaced on this particular mission happening in June.  One of them was the idea of a health concern, which as previously stated, Epps debunked herself.  Another, however, stated how Epps and Auñón-Chancellor had different skill sets that may have determined who was better suited for this specific assignment.  "Dr. Epps is an engineer. The astronaut replacing her is a medical doctor. [It] could well be there are now more human factors research projects on the mission manifest than material science research."  Of course, though, he cannot say for sure what the reasoning was for Epps' replacement.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

There's Another New Female Science Podcast on the Block!

 

Originally Posted in 2017

I don't know about you -- but I never get tired of finding new podcasts to listen to! Especially science related ones.  New ones like Undiscovered by Science Friday and the Femmes of STEM make my morning commute to work that much more enjoyable!

 

So when I found out that there's another podcast coming out, another one about women in science, I was over the moon!

 

Check out Superwomen in Science.  "A biweekly podcast about the past, present and future of women in science".  It's already on SoundCloud.

 

Superwomen in Science is hosted by Cordon Purcell and Nicole George, two graduate students based in Canada who have a strong passion for showcasing the amazing work that women in STEM do that sometimes just doesn't get talked about.  "The Superwomen in Science Podcast aims to highlight a wide variety of different scientific endeavours, ranging from arts research to STEM fields,"  They said in their press release.  "Each episode will include stories of past women, interviews with current women in science, and opportunities/organizations for future generations,"  They continued.  "The goal of the podcast is to increase exposure of women in science, as motivation for young women entering scientific fields and to provide a supportive community for current lady scientists."

 

And you don't have to go into this podcast blind.  They've released a five minute sneak peak of a couple their episodes, which you can listen to here!  Both women have a very confident and steady voice that's easy and nice to listen to.  Their intro is complete with adorable, quirky ukulele music, too and that sets the mood so well.  And you can tell that they clearly know what their talking about, and their passion radiates throughout the preview.  I can already tell that this will be a very fun and engaging new podcast to listen to.

 

Do you want to learn more?  You can follow them on twitter here, and check out their SoundCloud to subscribe!

 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Gwyneth Paltrow Defends Goop, Her Pseudoscience, and Blocks Critics

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Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, long ago now, joined the group of celebrities attempting to sell the masses pseudoscience and, frankly, snake-oil. Among her are people like Dr.Oz, and celebrities and influencers who try to sell their followers detoxing tea (which are really just laxatives and don’t help you lose weight in the manner they claim).

 

Paltrow has gone so far as to creating her own online space and shop called: “Goop”.  They sell more than just their branded snake-oil.  You can also buy shoes from her that are nearly $700.  But as unnecessarily expensive as those flats are, they’re generally harmless if you’re the kind of person who can afford those shoes.  The real problem are the products that are meant to be good for your mind and body, that are anything but.

 

The latest controversy (of many) was a few months ago now — back in June, Goop promoted a company called “Body Vibes”. In case you missed it, they sell stickers that are meant to promote healing (really!).  They also claimed that these stickers were made with the same “carbon material NASA uses to line space suits”.

 

NASA had a few words to say about this. Specifically, they told Gizmodo that they “do not have any conductive carbon material lining the spacesuits.”  (The article is not intended for younger readers — strong language throughout.)  Furthermore, after the controversy, Body Vibes themselves sent out a statement apologizing for the “communication error”, claiming that they had been lied to by a distributor, and promptly took the claim off their website.

 

However, they still claim to (maybe) offer relief from pain, (perhaps) reduce inflammation, and (perchance) release you from anxiety.  Despite their product labels claiming this, they have a disclaimer at the bottom of their website that says that Body Vibes are “not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any ailment or disease …”.  But they may be able to anyway, so they say.

 

Goop has not taken down their endorsement of this product.

 

So Why Are We Talking About This Now?

 

Gwyneth Paltrow recently talked to #GirlBoss Radio and defended her lifestyle blog. "We're very clear on what we're doing. We stand behind everything we do. But unfortunately, people who are critical of us sometimes get attention for being critical of us. It gives people a platform,”  She told them.  “I wish that people would actually read the article or do their homework before they are vitriolic about it. A lot times they're not even addressing what's on the website. [Especially because] we encourage discussion and we love the back and forth. And we love different points of view.”

 

A sentiment that might hold meaning if Goop themselves hadn’t claimed things that made it seem like they hadn’t “done their homework” on the subject.

 

Rae Paoletta, space writer and the author of the aforementioned article for Gizmodo, took to twitter to question this.  “Did Goop ‘do its homework’ when it extolled the benefits of shoving jade eggs up your vagina?”  She asked, with a CNN article linked that claimed that experts were against the idea of using jade eggs to strengthen the muscles in your vagina. “Goop preys on people by tapping into their insecurities, and decades of advertising shows this is profitable,”  Paoletta continued.  “It's an old trick wrapped in something new. Marketing pseudoscience as ‘wellness’ doesn't make your product more endearing. It's still garbage, just expensive.”

 

Paoletta also brought out that Paltrow’s Goop was being investigated for 51 deceptive claims made on their website.

 

As the icing on top of the cake, Goop’s official twitter account blocked Rae Paoletta’s account, rather than standing up for themselves.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Being unable and unwilling to express and defend themselves to their critics, and childishly block said critic, shows that Goop really doesn’t have an explanation (or at least a good one) for their over four dozen claims for health.  Paltrow’s vague comment about readers and critics ‘doing their homework’ furthers this.  Instead of giving backed reasons for her claims, or speaking to and referencing an expert on the subject, she places the blame on critics.

 

When people blindly buy the products she endorses, that's when the consumer isn’t doing their research.  And though the general public needs to be more critical of the health tricks they buy into, it’s easy to believe in people we look up to — and many people look up to celebrities who claim to put the health of their fans first.

 

There’s even been studies done about this, such as this one by epidemiologist Steven J. Hoffman and science journalist Julia Belluz. They talk about how fans following celebrity’s advice on health is a form of "herd behavior”, something similar to a mob mentality. So while some blame may fall onto people for not thinking more critically before jumping into a new health trend, more of the blame falls onto these celebrities who know what they’re doing.

 

Paltrow is an Oscar Winning actress, who has continued to be successful in her acting career since her win for Shakespeare in Love.  She supposedly had a net worth of $60 million.  There is absolutely no reason she needs to be endorsing and selling these products to unsuspecting fans and other consumers.  She knows what she’s doing — she knows she’s promoting the herd behavior because it’s an effective marketing tool and always has been.  It’s greedy, and promotes pseudoscience, giving science itself a bad name and harming consumers.

 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

A Brief History of Maryam Mirzakhani: A Wonderful Mathematician

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Posted in July 2017

Last week, on July 14th 2017, the world lost Maryam Mirzakhani to Breast Cancer.  She passed away at the young age of forty.

 

Mirzakhani was, of course, most known for her mathematics. Her legacy includes being the first woman to win the Fields Medal back in 2014, an award given to those who are incredible mathematicians under the age of forty.  It’s considered to be the most prestigious award a mathematician can hope to ever receive.

 

Born in 1977 in Iran, she spent much of her time in her home country, going to schools specifically for children that had special talents.  She specifically attended Farzangehan School, an all-girls middle and high school where the children take classes as though they were already attending college.

 

Throughout her career, she was recognized for the joy that she had for math, her humility, and her overall brilliance.  The New Yorker wrote an article about her, quoting a few scientists on the qualities they saw in her.  In reference to her mathematical ability, one mathematician (who also won a fields the same year Maryam Mirzakhani had) said of her:  “[She] was a master of curved spaces. […] Maryam proved many amazing theorems about such shortest paths—called ‘geodesics’—on curved surfaces, among many other remarkable results in geometry and beyond.”  (Manjul Bharagava to the New Yorker)

 

In 2013, Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it quickly spread to her bone marrow.  Despite this, Bharagava continued to tell the New Yorker that she was still producing some of her best mathematical work throughout her illness.

 

Unfortunately, as one might expect, Mirzakhani left some family behind.  A husband named Jan Vondrák, who is a computer scientist and mathematician himself, and their daughter Anahita. Their daughter, who is currently six years old, considered her mother’s work art — often calling her mother’s work “paintings”.

 

In STEM, math almost seems to be the subject people avoid the most.  Though math is technically in every aspect of STEM in one way or another, math can be extremely intimating to many people.  Mirzakhani was a fantastic example during her lifetime for everyone in this matter.  She’s quoted as saying:  “You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math”.

 

Maybe all of us can step back and see the beauty in Maryam Mirzakhani’s honor.

 

READ THE NPR ARTICLE ABOUT MIRZAKHANI

 
 

The Relationship Between #SciComm and #SciArt

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Originally published May 2017

Sarah E. Kucharski, the Communications Lead at Biotech Partners, took over the @iamscicomm twitter on May 11.  Much of the discussion she had with the 9K followers on that twitter had to do with the relationship between science communication and science art.

 

What is Science Communication and Science Art?

 

Generally speaking, science communication is the communication between scientists and the public. Between the experts and the non-experts.  It’s also been called “outreach” or “popularization”, and has become somewhat of its own professional field within the science community.

 

Science communication can take many forms.  Journalism, science exhibitions, talks in front of audiences, storytelling, and more.  Science communication is what FemSTEM does every single time we upload an article.

 

However, as many scientists have realized, not every scientist can or should attempt to communicate sciences to the public. In a tweet from the twitter account @biotweeps, our guest writer, Melissa Marquez, expressed this point when she took over that twitter for the week.

 

"I DO think that scientists should partner with those already doing #scicomm to #sciengage with public." — Biotweeps - Melissa (@biotweeps) 

 

Science art is what it sounds like — the blending together of science and artwork.  Science art can take the forms of infographics, big pieces of artwork that convey a message, or something like a necklace even that has an atom pendant.

 

Where's the relation?

 

This was exactly the question that Sarah Kucharski had posed.  “Is #scicomm #sciart, and is #sciart #scicomm?” she asked twitter that night.

 

“I would say that the #scicomm, #sciart is like a highly overlapping Venn diagram,” Said biology undergraduate and science artist herself, Hannah Brazeau during the week she ran the twitter account @iamsciart.  “But they can be separated in some limited cases.  [For example]: a botanical illustration [without] accompanying information.  If [the] audience just sees something pretty, it’s #sciart, but not #scicomm.”

 

There were agreements with this statement, as user Peggy Muddles said that her science art pendants weren’t considered to be a form of good science communication.

 

But when science art and science communication do blend well together, they become imperative. 

 

Hannah argued that science communication couldn’t even exist without science art.  “Science Communication without infographics?”  She pondered.  “Oh my.”

 

Conservation Geographer and Photographer, Alena Ebeling-Schuld, seemed to agree.  “A lot of people learn visually and can understand [a] concept much better when presented in this form,”  She tweeted out.  “Plus,”  She continued.  “In a social media age, #sciart attracts viewers’ attention through colour and beauty. It connects people with the message!”

 

That being said …artists often times don’t get paid very much for their work.

 

Though science art is needed when it comes to science communication, the piece of the puzzle that’s missing is realizing how much work an artists really brings to their pieces.

 

When Sarah asked: “Regardless of [your] profession or field, do you earn a living on your passion? Or do you work to support your passion?”  the idea of making a living from science art made Moiety chuckle.

 

“Earn a living from #sciart?”  Hannah asked.  “Hold on, I need to stop laughing first.”

 

She went on to say that she has a day job, and thankfully, she does make enough money from science art each month to over at least one bill.  However, this is certainly not the case for every artist.

 

When I spoke to Hannah directly that day, she noted that there was a high expectation of free art in the science communication community.  “The expectation of free art is sadly quite common in scicomm.”

 

Taking for granted the use of artwork when it comes to science communication is something that needs to be addressed.  We’re lucky enough to have scientific artwork presented with the communication with science in just about everything.  Whether that’s beautiful photos taken next to National Geographic articles, or hand-painted or drawn works of skeletons or bugs (like Glendon Mellow’s wonderful works), or digitally created infographics that draw a point home.

 

We need to realize, as a community, how important science art is to science communication, and not take artists for granted.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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