Sticking up for STEM women

Posted by S Donaldson on 22 June 2015

Studies show that women leave academic research in larger numbers than men, and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Initiatives like Athena SWAN have been set up to address the problem, but if you're a female researcher there are other sources of support out there for you too. One example is STEM women.

The site was put together by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, Professor Rajini Rao, and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, three women with PhDs who wanted to generate open debate around how to improve the situation for women in STEM. Here, Buddhini tells us a little more about the site.

How did you first start the website?

Back in 2012, I think it was on International Women’s Day, someone on Facebook shared a list of female scientists whom you may or may not have heard of. Obviously Marie Curie was in it, and there were lots of other black and white photos of women who were mostly already dead. Great that such a list is being shared, but I figured I should put together a list of more current female scientists to whom people could better relate. I used Google +, which was pretty new at that time and had lots of female engineers and scientists who were posting publicly about their work. So I started compiling a list of their names and ‘shared’ them around, making a group of strong female role models who could inspire people. Off the back of that, I teamed up with two other female researchers and launched a website to celebrate females in STEM, and to comment on the current issues they face.

What kind of things does your website cover?

We profile successful female scientists, and host Q&As with them, to help inspire the next generation of female scientists. For example, we featured an amazing woman called Annika O’Brien who runs robotics workshops in disadvantaged areas in LA, and has her own company now. And we also talk to high-profile male scientists to try to get their input in how to improve the STEM environment for women.

And we call out and comment on current issues that are relevant to women in STEM, such as sexism. As an example, last year the journal of Proteomics published a paper on the sequencing of the coconut genome, and the picture that accompanied a link to the article featured a scantily-clad woman holding coconuts in front of her breasts, which was extremely inappropriate. One of my fellow website authors wrote to the journal’s editor to complain, and she received a less-than-satisfactory response from him, telling her it was all normal, and as a physiology Professor she should be familiar with female physiology!

The photo has since been taken down in response to a twitter storm involving outraged people like us. But I think this perfectly highlights why a site like ours is needed. Firstly, the picture went up when it absolutely shouldn’t have. But secondly, when it was taken down, the apology was far too wishy-washy; they were sorry we’re offended, but they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d done wrong. Which is why things like this keep happening e.g. The Rosetta-landing shirt controversy. Some people think it’s silly to focus on these things, that at least the situation today is better than it used to be. But these are the microaggressions that make women feel less welcome in the male-dominated scientific space. We want to shine a light on sexism within STEM, to help the women facing it know they’re not alone, and to try to move the field forward.

Picture courtesy of STEM women, taken from their Nature blog article.

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Topics: STEM, Diversity

Women in Academia

Posted by Rosalind Kemp on 4 June 2015

The Institute of Physics has recently published a report with the Royal Astronomical Society, Gazing at the Future. Kate Murray, Careers Consultant to the Graduate School, King’s College London attended the launch and is sharing what she learnt with us on Reach:

The report looks at the experiences of male and female physics and astronomy researchers during their PhDs and their expectations of whether or not they will enter academia after the PhD.

The stats in the report make pretty depressing reading: female doctoral students rate the overall experience of their doctorate lower than their male peers; and the proportion of female doctoral students happy with their doctorate is on average 7% lower than for male doctoral students. Only just over 55% of female doctoral students across all years of study agree that they would make good research scientists (70% of male students overall would agree).

Particularly stark was the finding that 48% of female students, in their final year, envisage that they might have a university role in 3-5 years' time, compared with 65% of male students.

The report suggests reasons behind these stats, including the issue of a lack of role models (thus reinforcing unconscious bias amongst recruiters and setting an unconscious bar on ambition on the part of candidates).

It doesn't seem to me, though, that physics and astronomy are particularly alone in these findings. While efforts such as Athena SWAN and the Equality Charter Mark, as well as initiatives by individual universities such as the fantastic photos of female professors in the Strand building, all help to promote academia as a welcoming place for women, the conversations I have with female researchers across all subjects point to structural issues around the competition for grants and working culture that are off-putting. In fairness, they are often off-putting to men looking for work/life balance too.

What to do? Find resilience, set examples, seek good advice, take opportunities. Find a mentor, find a 'supporter' (someone who actively looks for opportunities for you), and don't be pigeon-holed. Think about protecting your self-esteem and promoting your self-confidence. And retain a love for research.

Image (example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider) by CERN used under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Topics: STEM, Diversity, Postgraduate study

Rock Physics and Scilly Birds: Exotic vacancies this week

Posted by careers consultant on 16 March 2015
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Topics: teaching, STEM, Jobs and Internships, Peace, Politics and Policy, charity, Working abroad, Postgraduate study, creative industries

All the Techie ladies

Posted by DeenaLamelaPanthaky on 16 March 2015

Here is a good news story, it shows that positive change is possible and it needn't even take that long. Technology has long been a male dominated environment, but they have also been an industry that has been one of the most proactive in taking action to remedy the dire previous gender split, and are now reaping the benefits. It is also worth celebrating, as this progressive industry is also a fast growing sector which means the changes are here to stay and likely to benefit a wider number of people as time goes on

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Topics: STEM, Diversity, Business and Finance

International Women's Day

Posted by DeenaLamelaPanthaky on 6 March 2015

Did you know International Women's Day was yesterday? Well there were a number of interesting and engaging events taking place, highlighting serious issues affecting women across the world.

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Topics: STEM, Diversity

Space: It’s open for business.

Posted by Kate Murray on 3 March 2015

Think Space. You thought of rockets launching amidst explosions and astronauts floating about in zero gravity right? Now, scrap that and let’s start again, because the Space industry is so much more than that and has a lot to offer to students and graduates.

 

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Topics: STEM, career choice

Diversity Roundup - October

Posted by Rosalind Kemp on 31 October 2014
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Topics: STEM, Diversity, law, Business and Finance, Fairs and Events

Women in STEM

Posted by Rosalind Kemp on 14 October 2014
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Topics: STEM, Diversity

Diversity in Science

Posted by Louise Honey on 7 August 2014

Do you feel that a career in science is unattainable? Are you discouraged from considering science opportunities? Is it really all men in white coats?

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Topics: STEM, Diversity

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