Archive for the 'Role Models' category

Eventually They Recognize Your Genius

I see the Google doodle today is in honor of Dorothy Hodgkin's birthday. They did a good job with the doodle. Very nice. Seeing that prompted me to think of another famous scientist in the world of protein structure, who it just so happens is also female - Jane Richardson. She is currently a James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry at Duke University.

My time at Duke coincided roughly with the period between shortly after she'd been awarded a MacArthur 'genius' grant in 1985, and the year she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, in 1991. During that time she held, as the Chemical Heritage Foundation notes,

a variety of “invisible” positions as a research assistant, nominally in a variety of departments due to her lack of a doctoral degree and the university’s rules, since discarded, against hiring a husband and wife in the same department.

It only took inventing Richardson diagrams, winning a MacArthur, being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the patriarchy's grudging dismantling of the "nepotism" rule,  for Duke to find her suitable for the faculty.  Well, she doesn't have a doctoral degree. So really, Duke was doing her kind of a favor there by granting that exception.

Anyway, eventually they recognize your genius, if you live long enough. Tough luck, Rosalind Franklin. Ladeez: you may not need to depend upon the kindness of husbands to help craft an "invisible" position for you, but do strive to be über-excellent, have good health, and longevity! Then someday, when the d00ds are wondering just why there are no really top-notch women scientists, yours can be one of the names that never comes to their minds!

I feel a particular kind of grudge against Duke for Richardson's years in those "invisible" positions. Although I was a biomedical engineering student, I was working on my dissertation with a biochemistry professor. So most of the time I was in the biochemistry building. I was trying to figure out who was who, what the pecking order was, and where I would fit in, if I could at all. People were still talking about Richardson's MacArthur, and what an amazing scientist she was. A postdoc in my lab who was helping me find my way around warned me not to bother her with any questions at all because she was so incredibly important and busy and besieged by requests from other colleagues and the press, that mere students should never cross her path. And then he explained that she didn't really have any sort of real position, but just kind of worked in this kind of not-faculty not-postdoc not-labtech not-student kind of thingy job.

So, my mind was blown.

The MacArthurs, I had just learned, were for geniuses. You could not apply for them; someone mysteriously deemed you worthy and you were so named a Fellow. It was incredibly prestigious. This woman had won one. She was a genius.

But she had no job. And the university did not say "Hark! Unbeknownst to us, a genius lives amongst us! Let us hasten to beg that she honor us by joining our faculty!" Her official job appeared to me to be something like "scullery maid" while, according to what people were telling me, she was doing genius science.  How to explain the conundrum?

1. Her science was no good, but MacArthur, knowing nothing about science, got hoodwinked into handing out money to her. Everyone likes her now because she has money, and money is necessary to do science. Everyone wants some of the money.

2. Her science was okay, but it was mostly her husband's work, and the MacArthur folks got fooled.

3. See (2), but the MacArthur folks were making some political statement about feminism.

4. Who says the MacArthur awards are a big deal? This postdoc probably doesn't know what he is talking about. Who would give some big award to a woman who doesn't have a real job? Just forget about it, and your brain will stop hurting.

Not long after that, I found Women's Studies at Duke. Then a LOT of things that were murky and mysterious suddenly began to clear up and make a twisted kind of sense. I knew now why the genius was a scullery maid, and why even scullery maids who are geniuses are still not invited into the parlor.

The clarity was bracing, and yet enervating. Why on earth was I laboring away at my stupid little project? I didn't want to be a scullery maid. And yet I knew I was no genius, so if that was what genius got you, what was there for me?  There I was, down the hall from a genuine genius scientist potential female role model, and all I got out of it was abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Ye are come to where ye shall see souls to misery doomed, who intellectual good have lost. No hope but blind life meanly passing, and Fame of the world ye will have none.

That was a bad time. This is why, I think, it's so difficult for women with some privilege to give it up and look at the patriarchy straight on. It's not like feminism is going to make you a cheerful, happy-go-lucky soul and give you tenure, fame, and cash. Cognitive dissonance and denial is bizarrely useful in a purely pragmatically functional way, even given the very high cost one pays to do so. But once you know, you can't unknow. Time to look around for like minds and foment a rebellion.

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You "Lean In" to Puke. You Organize For Change.

I have no problem with leaning in. Really I don't. If you are going to puke on someone's shoes, you had best lean in a little, lest the spatter hit your own glorious footwear.  And Zuskateers know that it's just sadly necessary to give someone a proper shoe-puking now and again, if only for the sake of our own mental health.

But if it's real, substantive change we're after, then we'd best be talking about organizing and collective action. In all cases, it is most heartily recommended that one know something of one's history. Our foremothers' struggles and triumphs are inspirational, to be sure, but they are also instructional.

Do not waste your time, energy, or cash enriching Sheryl Sandberg with her corporatized vision of a pseudo-feminism for individuals. Do not Lean In. Do read Susan Faludi's excellent critique of that whole hot mess situating it in history dating back to the Lowell "mill girls" in 1834. I must confess I did not know this:

The mill workers went on to agitate against an unjust system in all its forms. When Lowell’s state representative thwarted the women’s statewide battle for the ten-hour day, they mobilized and succeeded in having him voted out of office—nearly eighty years before women had the vote. Mill women in Lowell and, in the decades to come, their counterparts throughout New England threw themselves into the abolitionist movement (drawing connections between the cotton picked by slaves and the fabric they wove in the mills); campaigned for better health care, safer schools, decent housing, and cleaner water and streets; and joined the fight for women’s suffrage.

Now that is far more interesting than that Leaning In bla. If those women, in the 1800s, through collective action, could get a dudebro out of office without even having the vote, imagine what we could accomplish today with the vote. If only we organized. And worked together. And stopped thinking of success as something that individuals obtain, for their own self-interests.


Hat tip to @KMBTweets for the link to the Faludi article. Follow @KMBTweets on twitter. You will not be sorry!

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Telling the story of Woman, over and over

Sep 18 2012 Published by under Feminist Foremothers, Naming Experience, Role Models

[View the story "Telling the Story of Woman, Over and Over" on Storify]

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Smart Girls at the Party

Via Gerty-Z - thanks so much for alerting me to this site!

Smart Girls At The Party!

As Gerty-Z notes,

the tagline [is] "change the world by being yourself". Now, that already sounds pretty awesome. BUT, if you poke around you will find that it is set up by three super-awesome women: Amy Poehler, Meredith Walker and Amy Miles. They interview women and girls who do cool stuff

Valentine is a gardener.  And there are many, many more cool videos and other things on the site.  Share this with every young girl you know!!!!!!!!!!!


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Underrepresented Groups, Online Science Media, and ScienceOnline2010

Over at A Blog Around the Clock there are a series of posts with great video interviews from ScienceOnline2010, but I'd like to especially point your attention to this one with David Kroll and Damond Nollan, both of North Carolina Central University. It was filmed shortly after their session on "Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Session: Engaging underrepresented groups in online science media".
I missed this session due to a combination of sleep deprivation and headache, and am really regretting it. Isis has a good post based on her attendance at the session, however - you should read it.
You can also follow the Twitter conversation about the session with the combined tags #scio10 #mlk.
Dr. Free-Ride has posted a collection of her tweets from the session here. And a fine job she did, too.

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Profile: Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover

Mar 10 2009 Published by under Diversity in Science Carnival, Role Models

Guest post from Female Seaside Scientist, for the Diversity in Science Carnival!

Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover is a Professor of Marine Biology, Director of the Duke University Marine Lab, and Chair of the Marine Science and Conservation Division at the Nicholas School. Her research combines biogeochemistry, biodiversity, ecology of chemosynthetic deep-sea vent organisms, marine technology, and astrobiology.
Faculty page here; research page here; cv here.

More after the jump

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Barbara Liskov Wins ACM Turing Award

Just in time for Women's History Month and the second edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival, the Association for Computing Machinery has announced that the 2008 Turing Award goes to Barbara Liskov! Here's all the info from the press release:

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the winner of the 2008 ACM A.M. Turing Award. The award cites Liskov for her foundational innovations to designing and building the pervasive computer system designs that power daily life. Her achievements in programming language design have made software more reliable and easier to maintain. They are now the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java, and C#. The Turing Award, widely considered the "Nobel Prize in Computing," is named for the British mathematician Alan M. Turing. The award carries a $250,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation and Google Inc.
The first U.S. woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from a computer science department (in 1968 from Stanford University), Liskov revolutionized the programming field with groundbreaking research that underpins virtually every modern computer application for both consumers and businesses. Her contributions have led to fundamental changes in building the computer software programs that form the infrastructure of our information-based society. Her legacy has made software systems more accessible, reliable, and secure 24/7.

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First Diversity in Science Carnival is Up!

It's up and available for reading, people! Go over and enjoy at Urban Science Adventures!

This carnival celebrates the people of science and engineering - those who innovate, invent, research, teach, and reach out. This Blog Carnival tells the stories of achievement and perseverance. Why is such a celebration needed? Many reasons, but as Molecular Philosophy put it best, it is to showcase the individuals of science as ROLE MODELS. I think we have a fine list of Role Models for the Black History Month edition of Diversity in Science Carnival.

And when you look at just the first few entries of this carnival you will realize (A) what a fabulous reading treat you are in for and (B) how much this carnival is needed and (C) what a great amount of thanks we owe to Danielle Lee for bringing this into existence! Yay!

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Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith: Career Path of An Administrative Leader

Feb 22 2009 Published by under Diversity in Science Carnival, Role Models

Scientists who are still at the bench may not ever think much about administration or, if they do, their thoughts may be markedly negative. And yet administrative work can be both important and personally rewarding and fulfilling, just as much so as bench research. I know, that sounds like sacrilege, but I've done both, so I think I know what I'm talking about. So for my contribution (as terribly late as it is) to the Diversity in Science blog carnival, I want to talk about African-American women in higher education administration.

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Gordon Brownell, Inventor of PET Imaging, Mentor

Jan 22 2009 Published by under Announcements, Role Models, What They're Saying

Gordon Brownell is the person who got me to go to MIT.
I had turned down my acceptance at MIT because my then fiance (now ex-husband) did not get in. Dr. Brownell telephoned me himself to ask why I had declined the nuclear engineering department's offer. When I explained the circumstances, he replied, "oh, is that all? Well, we can take care of that!" And he did. He arranged for my fiance to be accepted into nuclear engineering as well, and so off the two of us went to MIT.
And that, my friends, is how you actively recruit women into your program.*
It was with great sadness that I learned recently of Dr. Brownell's death. I was perusing an issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I almost never look at the notices section but for some reason this time I did, and there was the announcement of his passing on November 11, 2008 at age 86.

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