Tag Archives: stem

A fisherman of the inland linkspam (14 May 2013)

  • Sometimes I Feel Like I am a Fake Geek Girl: “I know that I’m not really faking anything as I’m pretty up front with the holes in my experience, but sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t even call myself a geek because I’m missing so much ‘critical geekdom’. It feels like geek culture is a competitive and not-inclusive space with invisible hierarchies.”
  • How to draw sexy without being sexist: “‘Sex appeal ONLY comes into play when the characters PERSONALITY dictates that as a factor,’ says Anka. ‘The CHARACTER must be first and foremost the inspiration and guideline for all the decisions made when trying to design the clothing.'”
  • The Great Debate: Comic about the misguided idea that disabling youtube comments to forestall harassment is censorship.
  • ‘Brave’ creator blasts Disney for ‘blatant sexism’ in princess makeover – Marin Independent Journal: “Disney crowned Merida its 11th princess on Saturday, but ignited a firestorm of protest with a corporate makeover of Chapman’s original rendering of the character, giving her a Barbie doll waist, sultry eyes and transforming her wild red locks into glamorous flowing tresses. The new image takes away Merida’s trusty bow and arrow, a symbol of her strength and independence, and turns her from a girl to a young woman dressed in an off-the-shoulder version of the provocative, glitzy gown she hated in the movie.”
  • The Latest on the Women in SFF Debate: Roundup of links about the recent debate on recognition for female authors of sci-fi/fantasy.
  • Using Python to see how the NY Times writes about men and women: “If your knowledge of men’s and women’s roles in society came just from reading last week’s New York Times, you would think that men play sports and run the government. Women do feminine and domestic things. To be honest, I was a little shocked at how stereotypical the words used in the women subject sentences were.”
  • Queer in STEM: “A national survey of sexual diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
  • This 17-Year-Old Coder Is Saving Twitter From TV Spoilers: “Jennie Lamere, a 17-year-old girl, invented the software last month—and won the grand prize at a national coding competition where Lamere was the only female who presented a project, and the only developer to work alone.”
  • A Woman’s Place: “Now, almost 50 years after the birth of an all-female technology company with radically modern working practices, it seems remarkable that the same industry is still fumbling with the issue of gender equality.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Test tubes and beakers by zhouxuan12345678

11 reasons we’re still not there yet: Women in science

Erin Hardee works in university STEM outreach and blogs at Let’s Talk About Science, where this was originally posted.

It is not uncommon, when reading articles about the difficulties that women in science face, to come across comments citing that female enrolment in undergraduate and masters programs has skyrocketed in recent years and thus, it is posited, the problem really isn’t a problem any more. While it is true that the number of female students in tertiary institutions has grown faster than men that is only one part of the picture and certainly not an indicator that equality has been attained.

Below I will highlight all the ways in which women in science are not yet equal to men in science and link to appropriate studies and articles for proof.

1. Women in science only outnumber men in undergraduate and masters degrees enrolments. When you look at number of graduates produced, undergraduate figures are balanced between male and female. When you look beyond that, “men surpass women in virtually all countries at the highest levels of education, accounting for 56% of all PhD graduates and 71% of researchers.” (study above) That means the people actually doing science (that is, research beyond undergraduate/masters level) are still overwhelmingly male.

2. It’s not just academia, either. In commercial work female scientists are woefully underrepresented, with no more than 10% of Science Advisory Boards made up by women (and this figure has dropped as time went on, not risen).

3. It’s projected that there will not be a 50/50 split of female and male scientists in STEM fields within the 21st century, perhaps because (among other reasons):

4. Women receive patents 40% as often as men;

5. And they also receive far less funding when they launch a new business than their male counterparts.

6. In terms of compensation, in the EU female scientists earned on average between 25% and 40% less than male scientists in the public sector

Now, some may argue that the reason for these figures are that female scientists just aren’t doing work that’s as good as male scientists, and rather than engage with that statement as an offensive opinion (which it surely is), I instead offer the following figures:

7. Both male and female scientists were more likely to hire a male candidate for a laboratory manager position over a female candidate. They also offered the male candidate a higher starting salary and were more likely to offer mentoring to a male candidate – despite the fact that the CVs were identical save for the candidate names.

8. Male candidates were also more likely to be rated as having done adequate amounts of teaching, research, and service experience than an identical female candidate.

9. Male authors were rated as producing work with greater scientific quality than female authors, especially when their work was deemed to be ‘male-typed’.

I’m not suggesting that the majority of people involved in those studies (or in STEM fields as a whole) are actively discriminating against women, but it is undeniable that there is an unconscious bias by both men and women against women going into these fields. Although more anecdotal, it’s also worth pointing out:

10. A woman who runs a popular science blog on Facebook who ‘revealed’ her gender was overrun with a deluge of comments ranging from shocked to misogynistic* – when her gender was never the focus of the initial post in the first place.

11. Reporting on female scientists focuses heavily on their families and domestic achievements in a way that male scientists would never be subjected to; while it may be important to highlight the challenges they faced in their time in science, what does it matter that she made a mean beef stroganoff?

Maybe taken individually any one of these statistics or stories might be explainable – a blip in the system or a quirk of circumstance. Taken together, however, they illustrate that things are not equal yet, and we have a long way to go until they are. It will take more than quotas or laws to put things right; men and women alike need to examine their actions and the reasoning behind them and strive to be as unbiased and fair as possible. The resulting equality for women won’t just help them, but everybody involved.

*as any internet-based feminist will tell you, read the comments at your own risk (both on the Facebook post and the Guardian article).

Test tubes and beakers by zhouxuan12345678

How can I tell if my outreach to women is effective?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question answered by guest poster Erin Hardee, who works in university STEM outreach and blogs at Let’s Talk About Science.

How do you know that volunteer work you’re doing to encourage women to enter technology is effective? I get asked fairly often to volunteer from programs such as technology summer camps, mentoring, promotional websites and science fairs, and I’ve often wondered whether they are worthwhile.

While I like to think that every little bit helps, the fact is that programs targeted towards youth often have unintended consequences. Take the example of “girls in technology summer camp”. Maybe girls that attend technology summer camp would rather spend their vacation doing other things, and walk away annoyed and less inclined towards careers in technology than they were before. Maybe the girls that choose to attend are all girls that were planning to enter [science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)] careers in the first place, and it has no effect. Even worse, maybe summer camps cause girls to make poorly-informed decisions to go into technical careers. Maybe they present an incomplete view which causes attendees to pursue STEM degrees, only to drop out when they realize what the degree is really about. Maybe they don’t realistically present the aptitudes required, and encourage attendees who are unlikely to succeed to pursue certain careers.

While the outcomes above might not be likely, they are possible, and as I do more of this type of work, I’d like to better understand its impact. As a minimum, I’d like to make sure that my work isn’t actually discouraging girls from entering the field, and at best I’d like to figure out what type of activity, per hour spent, has the most impact.

Does anyone know of any research on this subject, or have any thoughts in general?

Firstly, kudos for getting involved in outreach work – it’s great that you’re so committed to helping encourage the next generation of women into exciting and rewarding STEM careers!

Secondly, this is an interesting question. One of my favourite things about science in general and scientists in particular is the desire for evidence to support their stances. It’s perfectly reasonable to inquire about effective outreach and indeed, any outreach programme worth its salt should be asking the questions ‘is this effective?’ and ‘how do we make it more so?’. Unfortunately, those questions then lead to the meta-questions of ‘how do we define effectiveness?’ and ‘how do we measure it?’, which are far more woolly and hard to pin down.

From your question it seems like you have several different criteria for what could make a programme effective, and none of these are invalid. It could be that it provides an accurate, well-rounded view of what a particular degree is like in order to appeal to the ‘right kind’ of person, or it encourages everybody regardless of pre-existing interest to consider STEM subjects. These of course are two different aims, and it’s important to consider which we want our outreach to achieve when we’re planning and executing it. Is one necessarily better than the other?

Add to the mix the fact that there are so many types of outreach you could be doing and that they all link to different intended outcomes and it becomes very hard to measure them all to one standard. An outreach programme for a particular engineering school within a university may consider ‘success’ to be an increase in women applying for their school, whereas a wider-reaching, more generalised outreach programme may measure success in the number of woman who tick ‘I am more interested in science than I was before’ after attending an activity. The outcomes are also rather self-selecting; a summer camp may look more successful at recruiting young people into STEM subjects, but usually because the people who choose to attend them are already interested in those subjects to begin with. So unfortunately the question about which activity has the most impact per hour spent is nearly impossible to answer, at least when considering the wide range of possible outreach activities and the huge range of audiences and goals.

It is possible to reflect a little on why women choose to study STEM subjects and reverse-engineer the sort of outreach which would provide those influences. In this article a variety of factors are highlighted that show things like spending time outdoors and doing math problems and logic games were more positively influential for girls than boys. These are things that could possibly be worked into an outreach programme to make STEM subjects even more enticing to women. An even bigger influence seems to be classes and teachers – something I will touch upon a little later.

The good news is that even without rigorous data it’s possible to make sure your work is not in vain; instead of worrying about trying to find the most effective outreach activity, I’d recommend instead maximising effectiveness with the outreach you’re already doing by following these steps:

Remember what drew you to STEM in the first place and share your passion and enthusiasm.

The best spokespeople for STEM subjects will always be the people who are passionate about what they do and are able to share that with the people around them. Make sure you communicate that passion well, also — work on your presentation and communication skills so you can get your message across clearly and enjoyably for your audience.

Work with a programme whose methods and aims you agree with/enjoy.

There are lots of different outreach approaches out there run by a variety of groups and people*. Find the one you enjoy most; as above, you’re going to be most effective when you’re having fun. It’s better to have a positive impact on a smaller group (for example) than to force yourself to work with large crowds and to be miserable the whole time.

Evaluate your programme and look for ways to improve it.

Good outreach programmes should always have a clearly-defined evaluation programme to monitor effectiveness and give means for improvement. If the programme you’re working with doesn’t have this, work with them to create one!

Talk to the people you’re working with and ask their opinions.

The best way of figuring out how effective you’re being is to ask the people you’re communicating with, right then and there. Talk to them about what they find interesting about science (or maths, or engineering, or technology) and how you can help them explore that. Ask them what they feel the barriers are, what sort of support would help them, and what sort of things they’d like to see or do in the future. Feedback like that can be immediate and very helpful, especially when paired with effective formal evaluation.

Outreach can be effective on an individual level; aim for that as much as a general effectiveness.

While there’s a lot to be said about raising the awareness of the importance of STEM with the general public, when it comes down to it you’re really trying to affect individuals. Try and connect with the people you’re working with, find out what makes them tick and share your experiences. If someone is swithering or unsure about their options all it might take is one good personal experience to encourage them to pursue technology over another option.

Consider other options you might not have thought of.

We all know that working with young people is an effective way of encouraging more people into STEM, but think about other ways you might be able to positively influence their experiences. It’s been shown that good classroom experiences positively affect the uptake of STEM subjects later in life, so providing science and technology teachers with training which gives them more confidence in the classroom might actually positively affect a whole class. Providing equipment for clubs or access to journals for students can also contribute to a better experience in schools and an increased likelihood of STEM uptake.

Lastly, all the outreach in the world is only worth so much if the environment that recruits are entering is unwelcoming or toxic to them.

Therefore it’s also incredibly important to improve the STEM environment for women in order to retain them after they’ve entered. Work with your company or university to support women entering the area and make sure your voice is heard on important matters of monitoring and equality!

Outreach resources

UK

US

Australia

Further reading

Ada Lovelace portrait in woodcut style

Reminder: Ada Lovelace Day on 7th October

Ada Lovelace Day is a week from today. This is the third year of Ada Lovelace Day, a day devoted to blogging or otherwise writing profiles of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

From their FAQ:

How does blogging help women in tech and science?

Women in tech and science tend to be less well known than their male counterparts despite their valuable contributions. The aim of Ada Lovelace Day is to focus on building female role models not just for girls and young women but also for those of us in tech who would like to feel that we are not alone in our endeavours. Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones, so the idea of creating these role models is not just some airy-fairy idea, but based on a real need.

This is a good day to reach out to your own readers, to give them a name or two more the next time they think or are asked about women in science and technology.

Want some inspiration? Check the Geek Feminism wiki for women in science, women in computer science, women in Open Source and other women in geek culture collections. See also our Wednesday Geek Woman profiles.

In a week, when it is Ada Lovelace Day, we’ll be asking for ALD cross-posts for future Wednesday Geek Woman entries.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Linkspamming backwards in high heels (17th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The Fourteen Not Forgotten and Sexist Posters at Waterloo

This is a guest post from Christine Cheng. She is a research fellow in politics at Exeter College, University of Oxford. In a previous life, she studied systems design engineering and was student government president at the University of Waterloo. This post was originally published at her blog.

(Trigger Warning for survivors of the École Polytechnique Massacre and survivors of campus threats against women)

A photograph of Marie Curie has an image of a mushroom cloud next to it. It is titled 'The Truth'. The caption at the bottom of the poster says, ''The brightest Woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie. The Mother of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if the plan of Women leading Men is still a good idea !'

Photo source: Canadian University Press

This post is in honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th).

Recent events at my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, have left a bad taste in my mouth. In mid-February, in the middle of student government elections, someone covered up the posters of female candidates with an image of Marie Curie, a nuclear explosion and the following slogan “The brightest woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, The mother of the nuclear bomb. You tell me if the plan of women leading men is still a good idea!” A poster with the same image was also put up with similarly alarming text: Kill 250 000 innocent Japanese in WW2 and is given 2 Nobel Prizes. Expose the defective Moral Intelligence of Womankind and it is called Sexism. It had the caption: “Marie Curie = evil”.

Later on, this person sent out a fake email purporting to be Feridun Hamdullahpur, the University of Waterloo’s President. In this mass email, the message railed against “against women in leadership and women attending university“.

This was followed up by a Facebook profile, presumably from the same person:

When a bad idea comes to this Earth it always hides behind The Shield of Vulnerability. This way it is immune from being attacked in the open. Radioactive Technology was hiding behind the vulnerable looking mask of Marie Curie and this is why no one caught it in advance. They figured that if a female was pushing it then it was harmless. They figured wrong. The truth is that overeducated women are truly dangerous. If they don’t know right from wrong they will nuke the whole Planet and call it the latest fashion from Holt Renfrew. This is the truth. The world is in trouble today because the higher moral intelligence of men is not in charge anymore. How long will you let this continue? The choice is in your hands. I didn’t leave posters on your campus because I am a fool. I left them because I am your father who is concerned about where your education is ultimately going. You are being taught the virtues of gender equality when gender equality is nowhere in the Orginial Plan of Creation. Queen Elizabeth is leading you astray and charging you big money for this evil favour. When you graduate from here you will have a degree but no real intelligence. This is the truth.

There have been at least two stories in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on the case, an article posted on the Maclean’s website, and now, an article on Jezebel. The UW campus police are investigating: “forensic analysis of the posters; review of closed-circuit television footage; and collaboration with computer specialists to track the identity of the individual who sent [the] impersonating email fraudulently.”

These are the facts that I have been able to cobble together. While I am loathe to give any legitimacy to the person who has done all of this, I felt that it was more important to post these comments so that readers can get a better sense of why I was alarmed. It may be the case that this person was just trolling and stirring up trouble. But if you take these sentiments at face value, this person comes across as off-balance and in need of counselling.

Obviously, this is not representative of how the larger UW community feels about female scientists, female students, and female leaders. The University of Waterloo as an institution, in my experience, has been quite sensitive to gender issues on campus (though Prof Shannon Dea eloquently disagrees with me in her post on this issue). Having assertive and capable female leaders at all levels of the institution has helped.

Yet this is not just about the misogynistic acts that have been committed, but it is also about how the larger community chooses to respond to these acts. Sadly, in addition to the many constructive conversations that have taken place as a result of these incidents, other comments have been less than helpful, to say the least. For example, Bill Li, a current UW computer science student had this to say in response to a female student who was extremely upset about the events:

Really Sherlock? UW is a male dominated campus, I wonder why… oh, let’s see, UW is in the top for Engineering, Math, and CS, given that most girls doesn’t want to give the effort and sacrifice needed to go through the Engineering or Math program at UW, you are going to bitch and cry that the university is male dominated? Really? So if you want a female dominated campus, try “Bryn Mawr College”.

You have no right to bitch that the campus is too male dominated, when there are literally no girls in the Engineer or Math faculty, even though there are scholarships and extra benefits given to females that are in the Math faculty.

I have seen similarly insensitive posts on other sites. Bill seems to agree that these incidents were wrong, but he fails to grasp that his comments contribute to making women in his program feel unwelcome. Women like me graduated from computer science and engineering despite sentiments like these, which thankfully, were extremely rare in my corner of UW.

Part of the reason that I’m posting about this is because it feels like I could just as easily have been the target of these incidents. I studied systems design engineering at Waterloo in the late 1990s. I was surrounded by amazing, accomplished female classmates. One third of my class was female (and none of us dropped out). I also ran for and became president of my student government at Waterloo. Those posters could just as easily have been mine.

There is also a larger social and historical context to this story that should not be forgotten. Twenty-two years ago, on December 6th, 1989, Marc Lépine, walked into the École Polytechnique (part of the engineering school at the Université de Montréal), then shot and killed fourteen female students, and wounded ten other women and four men. If you read the coroner’s report about how the men and women were systematically separated before the women were all shot in the name of feminism, or watch Denis Villeneuve’s film Polytechnique about the Montreal Massacre, a chill will run down your spine. This event casts a long shadow over incidents like those at UW.

In 1998, during my last year as an engineering student at Waterloo, I organized the Fourteen Not Forgotten Memorial. I exchanged emails with Chris Redmond, the editor of UW’s daily newsletter, about why the memorial was important in spite of the fact that gender didn’t seem to be much of an issue with my cohort. He posted part of our exchange online. I don’t completely agree with everything that was said by my 23 year-old self anymore, but I do think the issues I raised back then are still relevant thirteen years later. Here is an excerpt:

I understood [when I was 14] that the gunman was a sociopathic killer, but I had no explanation as to how this could have possibly happened in the world that I had grown up in. His irrational behaviour didn’t fit into my model of how things worked and I had no reason to think of him as anything other than an extremist, someone who would not and could not listen to reason. My solution was to exclude him from my world, to cast him out. I guess this also meant that, to some extent, I ignored the impact of what he had done and the hatred that he represented. There was nothing in my social conditioning that allowed me to understand his deep-seated despisal of women, and in particular, of feminists.

Now, nine years later, I have a slightly better sense of the methodically rational side of his actions. After all, it was not in a rage of passionate fury that he committed these murders. A virtual hit list was found on his body consisting of fifteen high-profile women: these included the first woman firefighter in Québec, the first woman police captain in Québec, a sportscaster, a bank manager and a president of a teachers’ union.

Society recognizes that he was a psychopath — but to what extent was he a product of social influences, and how much of it was sheer and utter isolated madness? [Chris and I] talked about the continuum and where this event would sit on this continuum. I don’t have an answer for this. What I do know is that it was and still is, to a greater or lesser extent, a reflection of society’s attitudes towards women.

So we must ask ourselves: How do these attitudes filter down through the rest of society? When a male classmate jokingly says to me that I won my scholarship because I am female, how am I supposed to interpret that? How does that relate to the fact that the killer felt that these women got into engineering because they were female? He certainly felt that they were taking up his “rightful” place in the program. Am I taking up the “rightful” place of another disgruntled male in systems design engineering?

[Marc Lépine] committed an extreme act, but society is at a crossroads right now — we value women’s equality, but the lingering effects of centuries of discrimination [are] not going to disappear overnight and we have to recognize that together. [Women] are valued [equally] in the eyes of the law. But in practice, systematic discrimination still goes on, even if it isn’t as obvious as it used to be.

I know that these recent events were “isolated incidents”, but I think that they still raise broader issues of gender equality that are worth discussing. Comments on other sites also suggest that while gender was never an issue for me at UW, it has been an issue for other women.

While I hope that this is just a trolling incident that has gotten out of hand, there is a distinct possibility that there is worse to come. In light of the Montreal Massacre and my previous comments on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and the power of political rhetoric, this conversation about women’s equality is clearly one that needs to continue.

* * *
For more constructive commentary on these incidents, E. Cain suggests some concrete measures for improving campus safety, Maclean’s discussed the importance of hate crime legislation, and UW campus leaders gathered to discuss the problem. Shannon Dea has a thought-provoking piece in Hook and Eye.  Also check out the commentary following the Jezebel article.

Sidenote: On the accuracy of the claims about Marie Curie, see Luke Bovard’s piece: the honest truth: Marie Curie.

Update: Bill Xin Li took down his post on this topic but before he did so, he decided to troll someone who sent him an unfavourable response. Preferring not to do further damage to this person’s reputation by providing another link to what was written, suffice it to say that it was rude and inappropriate. Let’s keep this clean and constructive.

Across the calculus sections, women outperformed men on grades.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

Several recent studies have suggested that the gender gap in STEM fields is caused not by bias, but simply by different choices made by men and women. What the new research shows, Dasgupta said, is choice isn’t as simple as people think. “People assume that these choices are free choices, based on talent and interest and motivation,” Dasgupta said. “But these data suggest that the meaning of choices, of what it means to choose math or science, is more complicated. Even talented people may not choose math or science not because they don’t like it or are not good at it, but because they feel that they don’t belong.”

Inoculation Against Stereotype by Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed)

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Linkspam vs. The World

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.