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Wednesday Geek Woman: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer

Originally posted on Lecta for Ada Lovelace Day.

Else Shepherd is an Australian electrical engineer specialising in communications equipment. She has co-founded multiple Australian engineering companies, including Mosaic Information Technology, a custom modems company, and Microwave & Materials Designs, developing microwave filters for mobile phones. She was appointed as the chairman of Powerlink, the state government-owned corporation maintaining Queensland’s high voltage electricity grid, in 1994, and has been a board member of the National Electricity Market Management Company (now known as the Australian Energy Market Operator).

Shepherd won Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 2007, their most prestigious award, recognising an engineer with over 20 years of substantial contributions to professional engineering in Australia. As best I can tell, she is the only woman Peter Nicol Russell medallist. She is also a Member of the Order of Australia since 2003, and was the University of Queensland Alumnus of the Year in 2009. She is also a pianist and choral director.

Shepherd has talked about her experience as a woman in electrical engineering with University of Queensland publications. She and one other woman graduated in 1965, the university’s first women graduates in electrical engineering. She was unable to attend Institution of Engineers meetings in the 1960s, because they were held at the local Men’s Club. She continues to promote workplace flexibility, having used part-time work during parts of her career to care for her two children.

Further reading:

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Ada Lovelace portrait in woodcut style

Wednesday Geek Woman: Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer

This post was originally published at the Ada Initiative’s blog on Ada Lovelace Day.

Ada Lovelace, 1836 portrait in oil by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Ada Lovelace, 1836 portrait in oil by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (known as Ada Lovelace) is probably a familiar figure to most of our readers. She is the world’s first computer programmer, writing the instructions to carry out a computer program on what would have been the world’s first computer if it had been built – the Analytical Engine, designed by famous inventor Charles Babbage.

Lovelace published the first computer program in a paper in 1843. It was presented as “Notes” to a previous, less complete paper on the subject which she also translated, but her “notes” were longer than the original paper and were considerable more insightful. She spent many months perfecting the paper, writing letters back and forth with Charles Babbage to check her work.

The depressing part? Some people argue that Lovelace did not write the first computer program, instead Charles Babbage wrote it for her and she took the credit. Despite ample contemporary evidence in the form of Lovelace’s letters to Babbage while she was writing the Notes, people have many arguments (often tinged with anger and contempt) for why she didn’t write or even understand the first computer program.

Arguments against Lovelace’s authorship include that Lovelace made mathematical mistakes when she was learning mathematics, Lovelace failed to correct a mathematical error introduced by a printer in a reprint of someone else’s work, Lovelace was literally insane, Lovelace had too high an opinion of herself, etc. Interestingly, these arguments are rarely used to question men’s authorship of joint works; indeed mental instability or difficult personalities sometimes seems to add to the reputation of male scientists and mathematicians (Nikola Tesla, John Nash, and Isaac Newton, to name just a few). Certainly I’ve personally never seen a single published mathematical error (actually, in her case merely failure to correct someone else’s error) used as an argument against a male scientist’s competency as a whole.

As another example of the lengths to which Lovelace’s critics will go, Charles Babbage’s biography, written long after Lovelace’s death (and after they worked on the paper) has this statement on Lovelace’s paper:

I then suggested that she add some notes to Menabrea’s memoir, an idea which was immediately adopted. We discussed together the various illustrations that might be introduced: I suggested several but the selection was entirely her own. So also was the algebraic working out of the different problems, except, indeed, that relating to the numbers of Bernoulli, which I had offered to do to save Lady Lovelace the trouble. This she sent back to me for an amendment, having detected a grave mistake which I had made in the process.

Ada Lovelace portrait in woodcut style

Ada Lovelace in a modern portrait by Colin Adams

People argue that “the algebraic working out” of the numbers of Bernoulli means that Babbage wrote the program to calculate the numbers of Bernoulli. Yet the paper contains an actual algebraic equation for calculating the numbers of Bernoulli – separate from the computer program – which would seem much more likely to be what Babbage is referring to.

More contemporary evidence in Lovelace’s favor includes her extrapolations of what a general purpose computer could do, which stretched far beyond Babbage’s ideas for its use (printing mathematical tables, mostly). She even proposed that computers could make music, which definitely wasn’t Babbage’s idea as he was famous for his passionate hatred of music. The Computer History Museum’s biography of Ada Lovelace says, “The idea of a machine that could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules and that number could represent entities other than quantity mark the fundamental transition from calculation to computation. Ada was the first to explicitly articulate this notion and in this she appears to have seen further than Babbage.” On balance, the evidence would suggest, if anything, that Babbage was the person who did not fully understand the computing capabilities of his invention and Lovelace had the greater knowledge.

In the end, most arguments that Lovelace did not write the first program only make sense in the context of a common assumption: in any partnership between a man and woman, the man did the important work and the woman assisted and polished. Look at Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. Du Châtelet was a pioneer in the new discipline of physics, publishing several seminal papers in physics, a physics textbook, and a translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Voltaire and du Châtelet were long-term collaborators in the areas of physics and mathematics, working closely on many works, as well as lovers. However, Voltaire’s primary or sole authorship of many of their joint works is rarely questioned.

As one example, only Voltaire’s name appeared on a book he published, of which he later wrote, “Minerva dictated, and I wrote.” Voltaire often referred to du Châtelet as Minerva (interesting in itself as it suggests that du Châtelet was a channel for the goddess of wisdom rather than the originator of her ideas). Is there any serious contention that Voltaire was not the primary author of his publications during the time he collaborated with du Chatelet? No. Was there plenty of evidence that she contributed significantly to his published works? Yes.

How to Suppress Women’s Writing” by Joanna Russ shows the patterns in how people dismiss women’s writing: “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it but look what she wrote about. She wrote it but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art,” ad nauseum. (Substitute “computer programmer” for the last – people also argue that what Lovelace wrote wasn’t really a program, either.)

Lovelace’s current Wikipedia page reflects the effect of thousands of people arguing against giving credit to Lovelace: “[…] She is sometimes considered the world’s first computer programmer.” But what Lovelace needs is not a better Wikipedia page, but a better biography.

The most evidence-based biography, “Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers,” quotes heavily from Lovelace’s letters, but is written by someone without a deep understanding of computing. Other biographical works are written by people who appear to be heavily biased against Lovelace, often making extremely critical personal judgements and sweeping statements contradicting contemporary evidence without citing evidence to the contrary.

In 2012, we should not be denigrating women’s accomplishments in science based on specious arguments about personality, occasional errors, and collaborations with men. That’s one of the purposes of Ada Lovelace Day: to bring recognition to women who have had credit for their accomplishments stolen from them.

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Photograph of Wikipedia editor Anastasia Lvova

Wednesday Geek Woman: Anastasia Lvova (Анастасия Львова), prominent Russian Wikipedia editor

This is a guest post by Netha Hussain. It was originally published at the Wikimedia blog and is re-published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Anastasia Lvova’s story should be an inspiration to women editing Wikipedia. She started editing Russian Wikipedia in 2007, because she found volunteering very interesting and useful to society. She has been one of the most active editors of Russian Wikipedia since. After writing her first article (certification) and improving her first good article (RFID), she became dedicated to Wikipedia.

Photograph of Wikipedia editor Anastasia Lvova

Lvova’s contributions to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia community are impressive. She runs a bot, which does automated tasks on Wikipedia. It is now active on multiple language Wikipedias. She is also a Toolserver user — where she works on the Connectivity project — and an agent for Wikipedia’s volunteer customer service group, OTRS. She has created more than 2,200 new articles and authored some good and featured articles about Ireland and the arts. She has made as many as 404 edits in a day, 23,777 actions with flagged revision in a month and more than 60,000 edits in all! She was at the lead in organizing Wiki Loves Monuments Russia in 2011. She is an advocate for free knowledge and took part in organizing protests against internet censorship in Russia. A large part of her collection of images on Wikimedia Commons are photos from her foreign trips, because according to Russian law, photos of still-in-copyright buildings are not free.

Outside the Wikimedia network, she is a photographer and writer. She graduated with a degree in management and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in psychology. She maintains a blog where she posts about her activities within and outside Wikipedia. She is also involved in charity and volunteering, and likes spending time writing letters to the elderly and children in orphanages. For her, these hobbies contribute to her activities within Wikipedia, as her hobbies help her create ideas for writing Wikipedia articles.

For Lvova, being a woman editor is a positive. She says that the Russian community is receptive to woman editors, and fellow editors have helped her from time to time. She has met like-minded individuals from the community, and has done collaborative projects with them. She has noticed that the Russian wiki-community sometimes expects feminine behavior from women editors, but she says it’s not really a problem for her. She also noted that in the past, when it was hard for women to teach in universities, they became teachers, fighting against the odds, even disguising themselves as men to be able to teach. Women should be inspired by the past and feel empowered to contribute now, she argued. “Dear women, we can do it, and sharing information has always been our competence,” she said with a smile.

Lvova enjoyed meeting other women editors in Argentina during the WikiWomenCamp, a meeting of women Wikimedians from around the world that took place in May 2012.

“WikiWomenCamp was helpful for me not only because I got new contacts and a new perspective of things, but also because it gave me some courage to work for women’s issues,” Lvova said. She was grateful to receive a grant from Wikimedia Germany to participate in WikiWomenCamp and she has been supported by Wikimedia Poland to attend two Wikimanias and several wikiconferences.

After WikiWomenCamp, Lvova started a project for new woman editors to write articles about notable women on Russian Wikipedia (they have written about 50 articles so far). She said she wishes to be helped by both men and women in her community to bridge the gender gap in Wikipedia. She thinks that this is an issue which has to be dealt with urgently. “Statistics show that around 6 to 23 percent editors are women, but we can’t be sure yet as many women prefer to disguise themselves as men because they think that a man’s opinion would be preferred over a womans,” said Lvova. She, therefore, likes to research about women’s participation in her home wiki.

Her activities on Wikimedia have helped her visit interesting places, but the most rewarding experience for her has been meeting fellow Wikimedians. Through these events she has met new people who have helped her learn fresh ideas for problems, many of which were not raised in local discussions. If you want to say a ‘hi’ to Anastasia, the best place to drop by would be her talk page, where she says she would welcome the discussion.

A Russian language version of this post is available in the original profile.

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Ada Lovelace portrait in woodcut style

Wednesday Geek Woman: cross-post your Ada Lovelace Day 2012 post

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

This is a submissions thread for Wednesday Geek Woman series of profiles. This time you have two submission options:

  1. submit your Ada Lovelace Day profile for cross-posting
  2. submit in comments here as usual

Option 1a: submit your Ada Lovelace Day profile for cross-posting.

To do this, simply leave the URL of your ALD post in comments. In addition, you can optionally include:

  1. optionally, a one sentence biography about yourself, with any links you want.
  2. optionally, a note that you are willing to release your profile under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Notes:

  • the profile must be written by you
  • the profile will still be checked against our standard criteria before posting (see below)

Option 1b: submit your Ada Lovelace Day profile for a round-up

This mostly applies to anyone who wrote about a woman we’ve already featured. We won’t cross-post your posts, but we’d love to stick them in a roundup.

Option 2: submit in comments here.

Note: this option is not limited to profiles of women in STEM.

Submit your profile of a geek woman in (hidden) comments here and selected ones will be posted (perhaps lightly edited). Here’s what to include:

  1. Optional: a quick one sentence bio paragraph about yourself, with any links you want. For example: Mary is a humble geek blogger and you can find her at <a href=”http://geekfeminism.org/”>geekfeminism.org</a&gt;Notes:
    • if this bio line is missing, you will be assumed to want to be anonymous. This applies even if you put a name and URL in the comment field.
    • don’t feel pressured into revealing things about yourself you don’t want to. A pseudonymous, mysterious, vague or simple bio is fine.
  2. Compulsory: two or more parapraphs describing your geek woman, ideally including why you admire her in particular.
  3. Optional: links to her biography, her Wikipedia page, and so on.
  4. Optional: agreement that your post can be used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (posts that have this can be used in the Geek Feminism wiki).

See previous posts for examples.

Here’s a form you could copy and paste into comments:

My bio (one sentence only, optional):

Name or pseudonym of the geek woman I am submitting:

A few words summarising the woman’s geek accomplishments (for example “AI researcher” or “discoverer of supernova” or “engine mechanic”):

My post about this woman (two or more paragraphs):

Links to this woman elsewhere (optional):

[Please delete this line if you don’t agree!] I agree to licence my post under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Criteria. Continue reading

Front view of lego line-following robot

Wednesday Geek Woman: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder

Cross-posted with minor edits from Hoyden About Town.

Marita Cheng is the Young Australian of the Year winner this year. She’s been involved in volunteering since she was a high school student, and in 2008, early in her undergraduate studies (mechatronic engineering and computer science at the University of Melbourne) she founded Robogals, which is an engineering and computing outreach group, in which women university students run robotics workshops for high school age girls.

Marita, while still in the final year of her undergraduate degree, is also an entrepreneur and has been previously awarded for her work as founder of Robogals, including winning the Anita Borg Change Agent award in 2011.

While I have heard of Robogals (there’s talk of a chapter starting at my university), I hadn’t heard of Marita specifically before she became Young Australian of the Year. One of the fascinating things about starting the Ada Initiative is slowly discovering all the other amazing women who work in technology career outreach and related endeavours. But it’s a little embarrassing, judging from her bio, to have not heard Marita Cheng’s name before last week.

Congratulations Marita.


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Cells shown on a microscope slide

Wednesday Geek Woman: Esther Orozco, cell biologist and politician

This is a guest post by Cecilia Vargas, a retired software developer living in Vancouver, Canada.

Esther Orozco is a Mexican cell biologist, winner of the 1997 Pasteur medal, and a 2006 laureate of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.

Esther Orozco was born and raised in a small rural town in northern Mexico, where she became a school teacher. I admire her because she overcame all the social expectations for women that exist in such conservative environments and became a successful scientist. She also found time to raise 2 kids. In 1998 she ran for governor of Chihuahua state, Mexico. Last year she became president of the Autonomous University of Mexico City.

The UNESCO/Pasteur medal is awarded by UNESCO and the Paster Institute for “outstanding research contributing to a beneficial impact on human health and to the advancement of scientific knowledge in related fields such as medicine, fermentations, agriculture and food.”

Orozco received the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for her discovery of the mechanisms and control of infections by amoebas in the tropics.

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Máirín Duffy giving a presentation

Wednesday Geek Women: Joanmarie Diggs, Máirín Duffy, Jessica McKellar and Stormy Peters, open source contributors

This is a guest post by Marina Zhurakhinskaya. Marina is a software engineer at Red Hat working on the GNOME desktop and organizing the Outreach Program for Women in GNOME. This post originally appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

I’d like to tell you about four women who have inspired me to no end with their work, insight, and community outreach. Every interaction with them has motivated me in my work. Essentially, by being as dedicated as they are, they bring out the best in other people. I’m lucky to have met all of them and to have worked with them on community outreach efforts.

Joanmarie Diggs has worked for the Carroll Center for the Blind for the last 14 years, helping visually impaired people learn to use assistive technology. She decided to teach herself programming in order to contribute to Orca, GNOME’s screen reader. She eventually became the maintainer of Orca. Exactly a month ago, she was hired to work on GNOME accessibility at Igalia within 4 hours of posting on Twitter that her grant-funded position at the Carroll Center had been cut.

Joanie’s tweets are always infused with a great deal of humor. She says “Random thought: I wonder if I’ll ever shovel snow again….†in the wake of her move from New Hemisphere to Spain. Joanie has been a very caring mentor for one of the participants in the recent round of the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She is the best role model I know for any woman getting involved in GNOME development.

Máirín Duffy giving a presentation

Máirín Duffy, by Ramakrishna Reddy y, CC BY-SA

Máirí­n Duffy is an interaction designer at Red Hat. She has a strong commitment to graphic design with free software. She has been using 100% free software to create her designs for many years now and has created many resources and opportunities for others to learn free software graphic design tools.

Máirín created the Fedora Design Bounty project to provide people interested in contributing to Fedora design with well-defined tasks suitable for beginners. She created some great flyers and art work to promote the Fedora Design Suite spin at SXSW. She ran Gimp and Inkscape classes for local middle school students and for Girl Scouts, creating great resources for both. Helping Máirín with the Girl Scout classes and going over these resources was actually how I learned do useful things in Gimp and Inkscape.

Máirín has showcased 17 open fonts in an “Unpackaged Font of the Week” series in her blog. There is always some fun and inviting project she talks about in her blog, accompanied by great pictures, designs, and educational resources.

Jessica McKellar is a recent MIT graduate who works at Ksplice. She organizes Boston Python Workshops for women and their friends. These workshops assume no prior knowledge of programming and walk the attendees through the installation steps, basic Python constructs, interactive programming exercises, and small projects during a 1.5 day event. Jessica explains programming in an engaging way and she and other volunteers help the attendees with any stumbling blocks throughout the event. These workshops get filled up within days of being announced and, in response, have grown in the number of attendees they accommodate. Being able to learn how to program in a supportive environment where any setback is resolved within minutes is tremendously empowering to the attendees. Jessica has found a great approach for helping more women feel confident about learning to program and the detailed materials she has created are now used for similar workshops in other cities.

Jessica is one of the maintainers of OpenHatch, a community website that provides the information and teaches the necessary skills for getting involved in free software. Open Source Workshop is another event Jessica recently organized together with Asheesh Laroia, who is the creator of OpenHatch. This workshop walked the attendees through the basics of free software contributing and gave them hands-on experience with using IRC, working with patches, and triaging bugs. Participating in such events gives the attendees the necessary confidence to make their next steps in the free software world. The first step is often the hardest and the community events Jessica puts together help many people make it.

Stormy Peters photo

Stormy Peters by Ross Burton, CC BY-SA

Stormy Peters is the Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. Before that she was the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. After leaving that position, she ran for the 7 person GNOME board as soon as she had a chance, coming in first with the largest number of top votes. Stormy is also the founder and president of Kids on Computers, a nonprofit organization setting up computer labs in schools where kids have no other access to technology. Her leadership and ability to connect people is a great gift for all the organizations she is involved with.

Stormy has been my go-to person for the last two years in which we have been working on the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She championed the need to revive the women outreach initiative in GNOME and has helped with everything from getting sponsorship to answering applicant inquiries. It’s a great luxury to know that I can get sound and helpful advice from her about anything related to the program. When not bouncing ideas off of Stormy, I like reading her blog posts. They are just as insightful, both on matters related to free software and on other things in life.

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Wednesday Geek Woman: Virginia Satir, ground-breaking family therapist

This is a guest post by Sheila Addison. Dr. Sheila Addison, LMFT, is a family therapist who currently teaches in an accredited Master’s program at Capella University and is passionate about GLBT clients, Fat Acceptance/Health at Every Size, family systems, and 21st century privacy/public life concerns for therapists.

In 1972, the journal Family Process held its quadrennial meeting of editors, which featured a “face-off” titled “Is Virginia Satir Dangerous for Family Therapy?” Satir and her “second,” another woman, were pitted against the legendary family therapist Salvadore Minuchin and his (male) “second” in a debate over the validity of her work. Such a spectacle had never been (and would never be) held in order to question the work of any of the men in the field of family therapy, and afterwards, Satir never attended another major family therapy conference, turning her attention to work outside the United States.

Family therapy, which broke away from psychology in the 1950s and 60s, was a movement descended from psychiatry and mostly made up of male psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. Satir, on the other hand, was originally trained as a teacher and social worker, professions which, then as now, were regarded as “women’s work.” Later in life, Satir described the prejudice she experienced in her graduate program at Northwestern due to being married – in the 1930s, married women were not meant to continue to pursue education, but were to stay home and care for their husband and family.

“Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.”
Virginia Satir

Against the odds, she found her way to the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California to work with anthropologist Gregory Bateson, Bateson’s protégé Jay Haley, psychoanalyst Paul Watzlawick, psychiatrist John Weakland, and psychiatrist Don Jackson. Working with principles from cybernetics, the study of regulatory sytems (integral to information theory, engineering, neuroscience, and other “hard sciences”) the MRI team had previously developed the theory of the “double bind” as an explanation of schizophrenic symptoms, and was using concepts from the fields of constructivism and communication theory to understand the inner workings of families. In 1962, Satir was hired as the Director of Training of the first federally-funded family therapy training program, and wrote her first book, “Conjoint Family Therapy,” based off of the training manual she developed for students. This book, heavily based in communications theory, provided the foundation for her work that would eventually develop in a more experiential, emotional direction, but provided concrete guidance for students of this newly emerging discipline at a crucial time in its infancy.

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.
Virginia Satir

From the cold, mechanistic language of cybernetics preferred by her male colleagues (who talked about “feedback loops” and “homeostasis,”), she developed a feeling vocabulary for family therapy, writing about “love” and “nurturance” and “self esteem,” concepts ignored or rejected by many family therapists who saw them as unscientific or touchy-feely. While the men of MRI sat behind one-way mirrors and gave deliberately confusing “paradoxical directives” to clients from a position of expertise as a part of their strategic therapy approach, Satir stood wives and children on chairs so they could be at eye level with their husbands or parents and talk to them as equals. She prescribed hugging and other forms of loving touch at a time when the prevailing wisdom in child rearing was still influenced by Cold War Era norms that counseled a hands-off approach, to avoid “coddling” children (ideas now thoroughly refuted by empirical research on infant and child attachment).

Satir dared to touch clients during their family sessions, holding their hand while they cried or offering them a hug at the end, breaking the rules about “neutrality” and “detachment” prescribed by psychoanalysis. She shared her own feelings with clients, telling them about feeling sad or caring or “soft” towards them, as a way of reducing the hierarchy between therapist and client and modeling for clients her genuine, congruent self. She celebrated differences of all kinds, and identified gender, racial, and sexual differences as opportunities for learning and celebration.

The Satir Growth Model identified communication patterns, coping strategies, family roles, and intergenerational patterns that led to problems in self-esteem, authentic communication, the nurturance of children, and responsible behavior in relationships inside and outside the family. “The New Peoplemaking,” originally published in 1972 as “Peoplemaking” and later revised and re-issued, sold over a million copies and has been translated into at least 12 languages. It has been adopted as a tool for assisting in the growth of communities, schools, and businesses, as well as families.

“The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world”.
Virginia Satir

Eventually, Satir’s work moved out of the therapy room and into meeting rooms and lecture halls, as she worked to bring her ideas to a global audience. She founded training programs around the world to teach her methods. She helped to found the International Family Therapy Association, and founded several other international organizations including the International Human Learning Resources Network, and the Avanta Network, later renamed the Virginia Satir Network. Her goal was always to improve relationships within families, but she connected to the larger global peace movement as a way of spreading her message.

Today, Satir is dismissed in textbooks as having a “disinclination to theorize” or “an encounter group for relatives” despite the fact that she wrote or co-authored at least 10 books (both professional and popular) on family systems and family therapy, and founded an international network of training programs devoted to her techniques. The MRI website contains “In Memoriam” entries for Jackson, Watzlawick, and Haley, but none for Satir, who is also left almost completely out of each man’s biography (and Wikipedia article). By daring to talk about emotions, in words parents and children could understand, she challenged the idea that mental health was a discipline that only highly-trained experts could understand. She brought family therapy to the families themselves, and in doing so, was declared “dangerous” to the field, which continued to strive for equality with “hard” sciences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, focusing on easily-tested behavioral models and insurance-friendly brief interventions, relegating experiential family therapy to the dusty bookshelves of family therapy history. Her work has only recently been “rediscovered” and given grudging recognition as contemporary experiential approaches, such as Johnson and Greenberg’s Emotionally Focused Therapy, have proven tremendously successful in traditional outcome research studies. Satir’s life-long belief, that authentic contact with one another is what people crave, seems to finally have been validated by science.

The social sciences may not be considered “suitably geeky”, as counseling/mental health has become a female-dominated profession (with the corresponding drop in wages that comes with pink collar-dom), although it is still male-dominated in its top echelons of academia and national leadership. But the divide between hard and soft sciences mimics other gendered divisions – between art and crafts, between cooking/cuisine (the domain of primarily-male chefs) and baking (done primarily by women, even in restaurants), between teaching in universities and teaching in public schools. If a geek is someone who is passionately devoted to an area of special interest or knowledge, who has extraordinary skill in their specialization, and who lives and breathes their passion despite the technical demands and social obstacles placed before them, then Virginia Satir was a true geek.

Satir died in 1998 of pancreatic cancer, at age 72. She had always said she would live to be 100.

I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person. When this is done, I feel contact has been made.
Virginia Satir

The Virginia Satir Global Netwok and their biography of Satir.
Satir Institute of the Southeast: Biography of Satir
Wikipedia: Virginia Satir

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Trees with yellow and orange leaves, Jenny Jump State Forest

Wednesday Geek Woman: E. Lucy Braun, ecologist and expert on deciduous forests

This is a guest post by Jacquelyn Gill, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, where I research climate change, ecology, and biogeography at the end of the last ice age in order to help address future global change concerns. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

Emma Lucy Braun was born in 1889 to rather strict and controlling parents; much of her early education was at home, as her mother was a teacher. She and her older sister, Annette, were fond of the outdoors, and Lucy began pressing plants in high school. Lucy went on to study geology and botany in college, becoming the second woman to earn a PhD from the University of Cincinnati in 1914 (Annette, with a PhD in Entomology, was first). Dr. Braun ultimately become a professor of Plant Ecology at the University of Cincinnati, training 13 MS and 1 PhD student (nine of whom were women) before retiring from teaching to focus on her research. This was highly unusual for women professors at the time, as most focused on teaching, rather than graduate mentoring and publishing original research.

The Braun sisters never married, but lived together in their Victorian home in the Ohio valley until Lucy’s death in 1971. They bought an automobile in 1930, taking extensive trips throughout the Appalachians to map, record and photograph the flora. Often, they had to contend with the dangers of moonshiners in the Kentucky mountains, but two sisters traveling alone weren’t typically considered a threat (and they never reported the mountain stills), so they often befriended the locals who would then direct them to the best mountain trails.

Trees with yellow and orange leaves, Jenny Jump State Forest

Ablaze: Jenny Jump State Forest by Nicholas_T on flickr

Dr. Braun published 180 articles in 20 journals during her career, but is perhaps most widely remembered for her 1950 book Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, which was the culmination of 25 years of fieldwork and 65,000 miles traveled for field excursions. This book is a classic reference in ecology that is still widely used today. She was the first to identify the mixed mesophytic forest as a distinct system, identified several new species and varieties, and worked tirelessly to promote conservation and preservation in her home state of Ohio. Her work on glacial refugia and postglacial plant migrations provided some of the early foundations for North American paleoecology (though many of her hypotheses were later disproved by paleo-reconstructions from pollen data). Unlike many early women in science, Dr. Braun was recognized by her peers for her contributions; she was included in the 50 most outstanding botanists by the American Botanical Society in 1956, was the first woman officer of the Ecological Society of America (vice president) and elected the first female president of ESA in 1950 (ESA also has an award in her name).

One of the things that I find most interesting about Lucy is not just the fact that she was an influential and well-respected botanist in a male-dominated field, but she is so often described in terms of her strong will (one male colleague called her a “woman of steel”) and confrontational nature. A former student described Lucy as embodying “four D’s”: she was dedicated, determined, dominating (Lucy was rather controlling of her sister Annette and their finances), and demanding of her students. Others described her as confident, with a strong self-image. These were not particularly desirable traits in women in the first half of the last century (they’re still typically frowned upon)! In a remembrance published in the Ohio Biological Survey’s Biology Notes, her former student relates an anecdote about Lucy:

“The Kenneth Casters of the University of Cincinnati tell about an incident when a micropaleontologist came to lecture in the Geology Department. Because this lecture was after Lucy’s retirement, the newer students in attendance knew nothing of E. Lucy Braun. To them the two white-haired sisters appeared like two characters out of Alice and Wonderland. As the lecture continued, challenging Dr. Braun’s origins of the mixed mesophytic forest, Lucy’s lips grew tighter and tighter. When the speaker sat down she rose to battle and made a ferocious attack upon him which was follwed by a vast silence which filled the room. Finally, the speaker arose and said, “Thank you, Dr. Braun, I wanted to hear your opinion.”

So, the next time someone asks you if you can name a famous woman scientist, you can name Emma Lucy Braun, which is better than 65% of Americans and 66% of UK residents can do. And, because it’s equally important to highlight the accomplishments of current women in science, I’ll leave you with a few women paleoscientists you should know: paleontologist Dr. Liz Hadly at Stanford, paleoecosystem ecologist Dr. Kendra McLauchlan at Kansas State, paleoclimatologist and diatomist Dr. Sheri Fritz at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, paleofire ecologist Dr. Cathy Whitlock at Montana State University, and biogeographer Dr. Felisa Smith at the University of New Mexico.

For more information on Dr. E. Lucy Braun and other women in ecology, check out:

Damschen, Ellen, Kristen Rosenfeld, Mary Wyer, Deena Murphey-Medley, Thomas Wentworth, & Nick Haddad. 2005. Visibility matters: increasing knowledge of women’s contributions to ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3 (4): 212-219.

Durelle, Lucile. 1981. Memories of E. Lucy Braun. Ohio Biol. Surv. Biol. Notes No. 15. Stuckey & Reese, Eds.

Langenheim, Jean. 1996. Early history and progress of women ecologists: Emphasis upon recent contributions. Annual Review of Ecology & Systematics 27: 1-53.

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Black and white photo of Fan Chung in 1987

Wednesday Geek Woman: Fan Chung, leading mathematician

This post appeared on Lecta for Ada Lovelace Day 2011 and is an expanded version of a post at Geek Feminism last year.

“Don’t be intimidated!… I have seen many people get discouraged because they see mathematics as full of deep incomprehensible theories. There is no reason to feel that way. In mathematics whatever you learn is yours and you build it up—one step at a time. It’s not like a real time game of winning and losing. You win if you are benefited from the power, rigor and beauty of mathematics. It is a big win if you discover a new principle or solve a tough problem.

Fan Chung

Black and white photo of Fan Chung in 1987Fan Chung is a leading mathematician, specialising in combinatorics and later graph theory. She is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at UC San Diego.

I first heard of Chung in Paul Hoffman’s The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul ErdÅ‘s and the Search for Mathematical Truth; Chung and her husband Ron Graham were two of ErdÅ‘s’s closest collaborators. Hoffman tells a great story about how when Chung had finished, and come first in, her PhD qualifying exams at the University of Pennsylvania, her eventual PhD advisor Herbert Wilf gave her a textbook on Ramsey theory to browse and she came back and explained that she’d improved one of the proofs. That was a core part of her PhD dissertation, completed in a week. Those kinds of stories are told about the best mathematicians.

Chung has worked both in academia and in industry, having spent twenty years at Bell Labs and Bellcore in both information technology and mathematics before returning to the University of Pennsylvania, where she did her doctorate. After her time in industry she is deeply concerned with mathematical breadth, and is known for her “nose” for problems that cross several subfields.

Many mathematicians would hate to marry someone in the profession. They fear their relationship would be too competitive. In our case, not only are we both mathematicians, we both do work in the same areas. So we can understand and appreciate what the other is working on, and we can work on things together-and sometimes make good progress.

Fan Chung, describing her relationship with husband Ron Graham

If my count is right, Chung’s publication list shows 79 papers co-authored with Ron Graham. I’ve always admired stories of professionally companionate marrages: even Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne can’t compete on those numbers.

Chung’s website has a copy of a chapter about her in Claudia Henrion’s Women in mathematics: the addition of difference. Among other things it talks about her move to the United States from Taiwan for her graduate work, and her thoughts on having a child while at graduate school.

[Graduate school] is a wonderful time to have a child. You don’t have to attend classes; you only have to write your thesis.

Fan Chung

Hrm, yes, well. Perhaps I will give that advice in 20 years time. Perhaps not…

References

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