We’re happy and proud to sponsor and contribute to Ada Lovelace Day, held annually on 11 October. Mendeley is sponsoring the Ada Lovelace Day Live!, an annual celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. Ada Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer, and a perfect figurehead to represent women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field.
The event features an inspiring line up of seven women from across the UK STEM world — design engineer Yewande Akinola, planetary physicist Dr Sheila Kanani, science writer Dr Kat Arney, developer Jenny Duckett, mathematician Dr Sara Santos, computational biologist Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, and climate scientist Dr Anna Jones — each of whom will be giving a ten minute talk about their work. The evening is being compèred by the fabulous Helen Keen.
Mendeley is offering two pairs of tickets to attend this incredible event*, held this year at the IET, Savoy Place, in London at 6:30p.m. on Tuesday 11 October. This contest is now closed. Two names will be drawn at random. Want to make sure you secure your place or need more tickets? Tickets are £20 general entry and £5 concessions, and are available from Eventbrite.
We will also be participating in the worldwide celebrations by interviewing and highlighting women in STEM careers here at Mendeley! Follow our Twitter and Facebook this week and next for new contests, interesting facts and links, and brief interviews. Get a headstart with our Women in STEM series on YouTube:
*Prize is for event entry only. Contest winners are responsible for their own transportation and stay in London.
In June 2015, Sir Tim Hunt was reviled for being perceived to be in favour of gender-segregated labs on the grounds that ‘girls’ cause men to fall in love with them, and cry when criticized. His comment, whether or not it reflected his actual opinion, cost the Nobel Prize winner his honorary professorship at UCL, and his position on the Royal Society’s Biological Sciences Awards Committee. More recently online, The Review argued that campaigning for women in STEM was unnecessary. Gender gaps in different professions, the editorial contends, can often be a matter of biology. Gender is a factor in determining why we study what we study, and blindly incentivizing students to pursue STEM subjects may distort the job market in the longer term.
But what we’re increasingly seeing is that failing to encourage women to pursue these careers can be equally damaging to the job market. In the short term the UK could find itself in the position of Australia, struggling to address the 600,000 strong STEM skills shortage. On a broader scale, a report released by the European Commission in 2013 estimated that if as many women as men worked in ICT, European GDP would be boosted annually by around €9 billion – therefore showing that failing to attract, and retain, women in this sector has negative consequences for the entire economy. In terms of the advancement of science, the research community could have missed out on the talents of Dr Sarah Noble, featured last week on the blog, Christina Richey, Planetary Science Division Program Officer at NASA, Liu Yang, pilot and astronaut who became the first Chinese woman in space, Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, selected as the next director general of CERN, Maryam Mirzakhani, who won the Fields medal in 2014, and so many more.
The science community might also have missed out on the work of Professor Lucy Carpenter, this year’s winner of the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award, which was celebrated yesterday as part of the Royal Society’s Anniversary Day. Professor Carpenter specializes in atmospheric chemistry, studying the controls and mechanisms responsible for the release of a wide range of oceanic gases, many at concentrations around a trillionth of nitrogen and oxygen (hence named ‘trace gases’). This type of research is vital to understand the Earth’s atmosphere, how it affects our health and climate, and how our atmosphere responds to natural and human activities. Above all, Professor Lucy Carpenter was chosen for this award not only for the outstanding quality of her work, but also for her suitability as a role model and her project proposal to promote women in STEM.
What is certain, however, is that her meaningful work in learning about the structure of DNA was never publicly rewarded: she was beaten to the publication of her X-Ray photographs of DNA and work on the DNA structure in part because of her frictions with Maurice Wilkins. Later, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962 was awarded jointly to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.
Photo 51: X-ray diffraction image of DNA obtained by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in 1952. The pattern triggered the idea that two strands of DNA ran in opposite directions, forming a helix.
Without doubt, this helps to highlight the importance of awards and schemes, such as those championed by the Royal Society, in supporting the development of female scientists, recognising their achievements and instilling them with the confidence to pursue lines of research that could lead to the next major scientific breakthrough.
In July, some of us Mendeleyans had the amazing privilege to fly over to Washington to visit the NASA HQ for the New Horizons Pluto Flyby. During our trip, we had the chance to meet some of NASA’s scientists, one of whom is planetary geologist and a program scientist Sarah Noble. Sarah’s specific interested are in space weathering on environments such as the Moon, Mercury, and asteroids.
We recently got in contact with Sarah again, to speak with her about being a women in planetary geology.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am a program scientist at NASA Headquarters. In my job I have two main hats to wear, grants management and mission work. I manage several Research and Analysis (R&A) programs for the planetary science division, making sure that we find and fund the best planetary research. I also serve as a program scientist on missions, like the recent LADEE mission to the Moon, and I’m currently the Deputy Program Scientist for our next Mars rover, Mars 2020. A program scientist serves as a sort of liaison between HQ and the science team, it’s our job to make sure that the mission actually produces good science. I also get to do a little science once in a while, my research is mostly working with Apollo samples to understand the effects of space weathering on the properties of lunar rocks and soils.
Is this what you wanted to be, when you were growing up? If not, what did you want to become?
I think I always knew that I would work for NASA, though as a kid, of course, I wanted to be an astronaut, didn’t every kid?
With Moon rock and the giant microscope I use to study it.
Doing a Q&A just before the LADEE launch.
What is your background and how did you get to where you are now?
I started my undergrad as an aerospace engineering major (because it was the only major with the word “space” in it), but quickly realized that I was much more interested in science than engineering. I switched to geology and fell in love with it, I also minored in both political science and art, because why not? I continued on the geology path in graduate school, specializing in planetary geology. After completing my PhD, I took a year or so off from science to scratch my political science itch and went to work for Congress. As an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, I worked as a committee staffer for the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology. Then I went back to science, in what I like to call my “NASA-nomad phase, where in the span of a few years I worked at NASA Johnson Space Center, then NASA HQ, then NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, then NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and finally back to NASA HQ.
Apart from being a lunar/planetary, what else are you/do you do?
In my spare time, I’m an artist. My day job tends to leak over into my art, most of my paintings are of the Moon and planets – they are so beautiful and amazing that I can’t help but paint them.
What are the best and worst parts about working in planetary geology?
In planetary science, we literally get to discover new worlds. Like NASA’s New Horizons mission that flew by Pluto this summer, giving us our very first pictures, and ESA’s Rosetta mission that has brought us incredible views of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. And every time, every new world, they are more amazing and incredible than we had imagined. But it’s a two-sided coin, space is hard, and vast, so our data is always limited. It took New Horizons nine and a half years to get to Pluto (and that’s just from launch, it doesn’t include the nearly three decades of work lobbying, planning, proposing, and building to get the mission off the ground), it will be a long time before we go back.
Is there a problem attracting girls/women to planetary science?
At the graduate school level, we are doing pretty well, about 40% of planetary grad students are women. Recruiting isn’t the problem, retaining is a bigger issue. Those numbers fall off precipitously among tenured faculty and senior researchers.
Me sporting #thatothershirt
With my Pluto painting
Have you had any role models or mentors in your field/during your career? If so, how did they support/encourage you?
My PhD advisor, Carle Pieters, was/is an amazing mentor. She was a women in planetary science back when there weren’t any women in planetary science. When I was her graduate student, her door was always open and whenever I would knock on it, no matter how busy she was (and believe me, she was always busy), she would give me her full attention. No phone calls, no quick glances at her computer, her full attention, which taught me that what I had to say was important and worthwhile.
Are there any particular challenges you’ve faced as a woman in STEM?
Imposter syndrome (the feeling that you are not as smart or qualified as those around you and that one day you will be found out) is something that I have struggled with. It turns out to be quite common among scientists, particularly female scientists, and actually I have found it to be very comforting and reassuring to realize that most of the people around me are struggling with the same feelings. One thing I try to remember to do when I mentor early career scientists is to talk about my failures, not just my successes, it’s important to realize that everybody fails sometimes and it’s not the end of the world. When we only talk about our successes it makes us appear superhuman, and that can be a tough standard to compare yourself to.
What has been your best experience, as a women in STEM?
I help run the Women in Planetary Sciences event at our annual meeting, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. I used to attend those events when I was a graduate student and it would be maybe twenty people crammed into someone hotel room swapping war stories. Now we fill up the big ballroom, well over a hundred women (and a few men) gathering to support each other and offer advice. Every year as the women are gathering, I take a minute to look around, take in the scene, and remember how far we’ve come.
Is there anything you wish you’d had, to support your career path?
My career path has not been a straight line, I have stepped away from doing research, first to work for Congress, then again at HQ, and I wish there had been more people telling me that that was okay, that getting a tenure-track faculty job wasn’t the only correct path, that I wasn’t “throwing away my science career”. I have no regrets about those decisions, they were the right ones for me, and I love my job. There are lots of ways to be a scientist, and all of them are valid career choices if you end up happy and fulfilled.
Which woman in STEM, dead or alive, do you most admire, and why?
I’m a big fan of Poppy Northcutt – She was the first women engineer to work in mission control and helped to design the return-to-Earth trajectory for Apollo 8. There’s a great picture of her in mission control, fashionably dressed, tousled blond hair, sitting in the midst of a sea of men in short-sleeved white shirts with ties and horn-rimmed glasses – the unofficial uniform of Apollo. One of these things is not like the others, clearly, and yet, everything about her body language and expression says she was right where she belonged, comfortable and confident. It’s hard to be the first, the only, and I love that she didn’t shy away from her “otherness”, didn’t buy herself a white shirt and horn-rimmed glasses.
What advice and encouragement can you offer to girls wanting to enter a career in STEM?
Follow your passion and your curiosity. Science is hard, but if you love it, it’s worth it.
What is your science/tech dream?
Part of me still wants to be an astronaut, or more to the point, I want to visit the Moon, do some field geology, see the Earth rise over the horizon.
If you are, or know, a women in STEM who would be interested in contributing to our Women in STEM blog series, then please email us! We’d love to here your story!
Albert Einstein once famously claimed that “you don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Living this ethos, a new breed of fresh-faced, tech-savvy researchers are on a mission to break down the barriers and bring science to the masses.
Communication is forming a bigger part of the role of researchers, and for those in the early stages of their career, it can have a potentially huge influence on the trajectory of their career. Alongside the life-changing scientific research taking place every day, there’s also a lot of impressive communication effort in the background – how else would we know about it? And we think it’s about time these researchers get the recognition they deserve.
We’re looking for early career researchers who are brilliant at communicating their scientific ideas to the public. They must be currently living in the UK, affiliated with a UK university and have begun publishing no earlier than 2012. We want to see evidence that they have gone above and beyond the publication of their research paper, and used any kind of public activity to address misleading information about scientific or medial issues; bring sound evidence to bear in a public or policy debate or helped people to make sense of a rather complex scientific issue.
There are no restrictions on what or how – simply visit the dedicated Mendeley group and enter the researcher’s name, age, institute and the reason for the nomination, along with links to supporting evidence such as a blog, Twitter account or YouTube video.
We then encourage all nominees (and their nominators) to invite peers and colleagues to ‘like’ their nomination post – those posts with the most likes will make the shortlist, which will be put in front of our specially selected judging panel.
So, if you know someone who has the potential to be the next Brian Cox, why not give them the chance of receiving the recognition they deserve…and £1,500! Nominations are open until 30th September 2015, and the winner will be announced at this year’s Awards ceremony at the Royal Society in London on 5th November.
As governments worldwide are faced with tough funding decisions, what is the argument for prioritising this expensive area of research? Should the burden continue to be shouldered by taxpayers or will the emerging trend for commercial space exploration – spearheaded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – change everything? Google’s recent $1bn investment in SpaceX certainly points to an increased appetite in the private sector for exploring the final frontier.
Unfortunately, previously announced speaker Adriana Ocampo, Lead Program Executive at NASA’S New Frontiers Program was unable to attend due to health reasons. Although we’re extremely sorry not to be able to welcome her in person on this occasion, she will be contributing to our Women in STEM series, so do subscribe to the Mendeley YouTube channel for her upcoming video, coming straight from NASA Headquarters! We want to keep sharing these stories from people like Adriana and Christine, to support and inspire the next generation of female scientists.
“I used to go to the roof of my house in Buenos Aires and dream about the stars,” recalls Adriana Ocampo. And as Science Program Manager at NASA, it’s probably fair to say that she’s one of those people who tends to turn their dreams into reality.
I tell students that they must have the courage to move forward with their dreams and believe in themselves. I have a mnemonic that I use, with the word STARS:
Smile, life is a great adventure
Transcend to triumph over the negative
Aspire to be the best
Resolve to be true to your heart
Success comes to those that never give up on their dreams
Born in Colombia and raised in Argentina, as a young girl she would sit with her dog on the roof of her house and spend hours wondering what those points of light actually were, and knew that science was her calling.
“Our parents always encouraged our imagination and dreaming big. I remember the moon landing. I was still in Argentina, a very young kid, July 20th, 1969, and here were humans walking in another world. I was completely fascinated by that, and NASA was the agency that enabled that. I thought: That’s where I can make my dreams come true! I would steal pots and pans from my mother’s kitchen, and my father was an electronics technician. I would make my own space models and draw lunar colonies. I even wrote to NASA, in Spanish. And somehow that letter got to somebody’s desk and they responded. That meant so much to me, that somebody actually took the time.”
When she emigrated to the United States with her family, as soon as she got off the plane in Los Angeles her first question was “Donde esta NASA? (which translates to where is NASA?”, since she did not know any English yet). And at her high school she joined the Space Exploration Post #509 who were sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s centre of excellence for exploration of the Solar System.
“As soon as I learned they were looking for volunteers, I immediately stood up and in my broken English said I wanted to do this. To me this was like Disneyland. Here where these people, engineers and scientists, that donated their time to provide guidance and to educate us about space exploration. At the JPL auditorium we worked with mentors who gave lectures, and eventually started doing hands-on projects. We constructed a telecommunication station to communicate with weather satellites. For the first time I experienced what it’s like to work together, and to lead a team. We had to do all these reports, and present them to the Director of JPL ,who was Dr W. Pickering at that time. It was a big responsibility. None of us had even graduated from high school yet!”
She stresses the huge importance of having mentors, such as the very bright JPL engineer Michael Kaiserman, who was the Lead Advisor for the Space Explorer Post. He gave generously his time to provide kids those opportunities and inspire them. Adriana fondly remembers the volunteer engineer and scientists who opened the doors of NASA space exploration to her.
“Thanks to the JPL mentors the Space Exploration Post was able to go on space science trips. We went to see the last Apollo launch, Apollo 17, together. We collected money by washing cars, selling cookies, etc. Those are the memories that mark you for life and I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have being given the opportunity to grow up in such an environment. I started working at JPL from the lowest possible position, as a kid in a summer program, and someone took me on and paid me to be his assistant after I graduated from high school. And when I started going to college JPL provided me with the opportunity to continue working part-time, which facilitated for me to pay for my own education.”
But was it difficult to make it through the ranks as a woman, and did she ever feel out of place?
“Obviously there were not many girls, and on top of being a girl I spoke English with a “funny” accent, so I was kind of a double minority. But they were really open and gave me a chance. Through my experience at NASA, I’ve seen how they truly look for talent. If you bring a good idea to the table, they listen to it, and if it’s a good idea it moves forward. One of the good things I learned here is that mistakes are part of the process to mission success. When we have problems with a mission, it’s part of learning how to do it better. Blame is not part of NASA vocabulary, nor is problem, we use instead the word “challenge”. It’s about: “How can we learn to do it better next time?” That’s something that really helps build confidence, trust, and a team spirit.”
These days she spends as much time as possible helping to create the next generation of scientists and explorers, trying give young girls some of that same inspiration and support.
“It is truly important, having somebody who is a mentor, developing that relationship and seeing that a young women could see herself working in this team, having someone who believes in her. Just responding to those dreams, sometimes a thing as simple as taking the time to respond to a message, as someone once did for me, can make a tremendous difference.”
For example, she participated in a Shadow Program organised by the Society of Women Engineers, where young girls come and spend a day with people such as Adriana, to get a flavour of what life at NASA is like, and develop a relationship and dialogue which helps to guide and support them in their STEM career path. It is a well-acknowledged problem that a high number of women are lost as they make their way up the career ladder in those fields, something that Professor Athene Donald from the University of Cambridge defined as the “leaky pipeline”
“Right now we’re facing a generation of people who are retiring. We need more talent in science and engineering, so that’s one of our challenges. But for every space mission that NASA launches, one percentile of their budget is allocated to education and public outreach. Those programs help kids get involved, but they also help teachers. We need to inspire not only the students, but the teachers and the parents. Less than 1% of science teachers actually have a science degree, even at Bachelor’s level. So you need to incentivize, and educate them, so they can build that sense of “wonder” in students.”
This is not easy though, specially with women, and those, like her, who come from minority backgrounds. “I remember a case where we had a very talented young woman who had a full scholarship to Stanford, to become an engineer. Her parents wouldn’t let her go, because San Francisco was too far away. Many parents of girls from minority families don’t see becoming an astronomer, mathematician, or physicist as a career path. They think they won’t be able to support themselves.
“We need to change that paradox in society, science can be fun and is necessary for the future of the species.I strongly believe that everyone is a scientist. Anybody who is a good observer and uses her or his imagination is a scientist. We need to develop that excitement about science and space exploration into the parents, the family and society. During the International Year of Astronomy I organized an event for 24,000 students and the whole theme was ‘space adventures’ and making science hands on and fun. At the end, we gave each student an oath, the essence of which was that science is to be used for the good of humanity. We all share the responsibility for science and technology to be use to benefit society.”
At Mendeley we’re very keen to support female researchers (nothing against the male ones of course!) in their pursuit of STEM careers, and are proud to have a number of fantastic women in our team. In fact, you can hear a few of their stories about how they got into technology on our YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the subject, or are working to help young girls get inspired to follow those careers, you might like to check out the Every Girl Digital community on Facebook and join our dedicated Mendeley Women in STEM group!