“You will not get emotional support here, I am telling you this because you are a girl.” A senior told me when I joined for PhD (Phew,by that standard guys don’t need emotional support!!). “How come you are a mechanical engineer ?”another stereotyped clichéd query which every woman who is a mechanical engineer goes through, I also underwent and still do. Being a mechanical engineer for a woman is incomprehensible to a great lot of our society.But if looked around, it is not just with women who are mechanical engineers but in general with women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In March 2015 UNESCO published an article which shows despite significant worldwide increase in number of researchers between 2000 and 2012 from 1.9 million to 6.9 million, under-representation of women researchers is a great issue.
I came across the following picture long time back on TED Fellows Blog listed as; “Meet 12 Badass Scientists…Who Also Happen to be Women”. Looking at this portrait fills me confidence and gratification that we are not alone, others are there who have fought prejudices, perceptions and shining up there like stars. I wanted to talk to each one of them. I emailed them my questions and they were very kind to reply with much enthusiasm. I am thankful to them for sharing their experiences and thoughts which I have summarized below along with their short bios.
Left to right standing: 1.Renèe Hlozek, 2. Katie Hunt, 3. Jedidah Isler, 4. Patricia Medici, 5. Julie Freeman, 6. Sheila Ochugboju Kaka
Left to right sitting: 7. Janet Iwasa, 8. Kristin Marhaver, 9. Marcela Uliano da Silva, 10. Laura Boykin, 11. Lucianne Walkowicz, 12. Michele Koppes
1.Renée Hlozek, Cosmologist
Renée Hlozek is a cosmologist all the way from South Africa. Hlozek is an Assistant Professor at Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto. Her study focuses on Cosmic Microwave Background observations, constraining cosmic models for determining the structure and amount of dark energy in universe. She obtained her B.Sc. degree from the University of Pretoria in Mathematics and her BSc (Hons) and MSc degrees from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She completed her DPhil in Astrophysics as a South African Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 2011. She was a Lyman Spitzer Jr. Postdoctoral Research fellow at Princeton University and the Spitzer-Cotsen Fellow in Princeton Society of Fellows. She is a senior TED Fellow .
Hlozek feels proud to be a role model for the young women interested in science and looks forward to the day when there will be equal number of men and women in astrophysics and cosmology. Hlozek suggests young women out there interested in astrophysics to learn as much as possible in school about physics and mathematics and to remain curious about world and its making. Hlozek feels that talking to professors, their suggestions and self-learning plays a big role in science.
2. Katie Hunt, paleo-oncologist/archaeologist
Hunt is an archaeologist, physical anthropologist, and cancer survivor.She received a BA in Anthropology and Classical Studies at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Washington state, and earned a MSc in Palaeopathology from Durham University in England. Her current research lies in the global history of human health, the bio-cultural factors leading to the evolution and development of disease, and specifically the study of cancer and other neoplastic diseases in ancient societies.
At the age of 22 Hunt was diagnosed with malignant ovarian cancer during a period when she was invited to do fieldwork in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings as an assistant osteologist. Two months after completing her chemotherapy Hunt jetted back to the Valley of the Kings, bald and hobbling on a cane, she jumped on the quest of finding cancer’s past and nothing has stopped her ever since. Hunt has excavated abundant historical literature recorded as early as 1,500 BCE (in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical text) which shows cancer existed in the past civilisations.From paleo-oncology standpoint, physical evidence shows that 7,000 years ago, maybe even 9,000 years ago, there were individuals with cancer.
3. Jedidah Isler, astrophysicist
She is the First African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Yale, along with an award-winning study that examined the physics of particle jets emanating from black holes at the centers of distant galaxies called blazars.Dr. Jedidah Isler is an astrophysicist, TED Fellow, and a nationally recognized speaker and advocate for inclusive STEM education. She is also the creator and host of the monthly web series“Vanguard: Conversations with Women of Color in STEM.”
Dr. Isler received her bachelor’s degree at Norfolk State University’s Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences (DNIMAS) and Masters in Physics from the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program.Her research on supermassive, hyperactive black holes was supported by fellowships from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Dr. Isler’s current research focuses on using simultaneous infrared, optical and gamma-ray observations to better understand the physics of these blazar jets.
4. Patricia Medici, conservation biologist
Patrícia Medici is a Brazilian conservation biologist whose professional interests are tapir conservation, tropical forest conservation, metapopulation management, landscape ecology and community-based conservation. She leads the longest running conversation project to protect lowland tapir.Medici has coordinated the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative in Brazil since 1996.
“It’s not always easy to be a woman in the conservation world as it requires a significant level of commitment to spending long periods of time in the field, away from home and family. It also requires physical strength and the proper frame of mind to deal with the hardships of working in the wilderness — not to mention the mosquitoes, ticks and botflies!”, Medici says.
5. Julie Freeman, artist/computer scientist
Juliee Freeman is herself a multi-disciplined personality. Reading about her amazed me about her multitasking abilities. Freeman is an artist and a scientist, a speaker and a swimmer, a trainee taxidermist.Freeman is a graduate of the MA in Digital Arts at the Centre for Electronic Arts, Middlesex University, London and Board Member of nonprofit collective MzTEK (which encourages women artists to pick up technical skills).Her work spans visual, audio and digital art forms and explores how science and technology changes our relationship to nature. Freeman experiment in transforming complex processes and data sets into sound compositions, objects and animations.
“I have been interested in computers since I was at school, and continued my passion through university – using them but not studying them. Now, over 20 years later, I am working in the computer sciences field as an artist, meaning I can be creative with the tools and materials that I love”.Answering to the question , how it feels to be a computer “geek” she says, “Being a ‘geek’ used to be seen as a bit strange especially for a woman, but now it is seen as something to be valued. I love to know how things work, and for me science and technology enable me to understand things more and more everyday. A life time of learning is a happy life. Women were the first geeks, and we are only now perhaps reclaiming that role. I would encourage anyone, women especially, to pursue the things they love, the things that make them happy. Do not listen to anyone that says women cannot do certain things, they are not correct, they are stuck in the past, often stuck in tradition which can sometimes result in maintaining the status quo rather than moving forward and changing the world for the better “.
6.Sheila Ochugboju Kaka, genetic virologist
Sheila completed her PhD from London University in Biochemistry and was a Daphne Jackson Trust Post Doctoral Research Fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she worked at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology focused on genetic virology. Dr Sheila Kaka Ochugboju is a skilled science communicator who has worked across Europe, East, West and Southern Africa over the last 15 years.She is the Director Of Communications of African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) based in Accra and Washington, a leading economic think-tank based in Accra, Ghana serving African government in economic policy advisory services and enhancing international partnerships for African development.
Dr. Sheila Ochugboju Kaka is a member of Wellcome Trust Arts Committee which works on bringing diverse range of individuals and organisations for developing innovative and highly creative activities.She also the co-founder of the African website http://www.africaknows.com, a website narrating about Africa.
7.Janet Iwasa, Molecular Animator
Janet Iwasa is a research Assistant Professor at Department of Biochemistry, University of Utah. Her study focuses on visualization of molecular processes. She completed BA (Hons) in Biology in 1999 from Williams College and PhD in cell Biology in 2006 from University of California, San Francisco. She is a TED Fellow. She has been listed in 100 Most creative People, Fast Company Magazine, 2012 and Leading Global Thinkers of 2014, Foreign Policy Magazine (Innovators category).
According to Janet regarding research the most important thing is to identify good mentors (men or women) whom one can trust for support in their interests and endeavors, and who can offer good advice when challenges are encountered.
8.Kristin Marhaver, coral reef biologist
Having spent 1,000 hours underwater Dr.Kristin Marhaver is a scuba diver since she was 15 years old. Marhaver completed her Ph.D. in 2010 from the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She was an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at the CARMABI Research Station on the island of Curaçao.Her research focuses on the study of ecology , reproduction and juvenile behavior of Caribbean reef corals,coral reproductive biology, larval behavior, and marine microbiology
Mahaver joined Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2016 as a Program Manager in the Biological Technologies Office, where she is looking on the potential to derive new biological tools and technologies from marine organisms. She is a WINGS World Quest Fellow, Senior TED Fellow, and a World Economic Forum Young Scientist.
9. Marcela Uliano da Silva, computational biologist
10. Laura Boykin, Computational Biologist
Laura Boykin is a senior research fellow of Computational Biology at School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Western Australia. Her working project focuses on outbreaks of African cassava whiteflies, causes and its sustainable solutions. Boykin completed her B.A. in 1996 from Department of Biology, Occidental college, Los Angeles, California, USA and M.A. in 1998 from Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California, USA. She completed her PhD in 2003 from Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. She is also a TED Fellow.
Whiteflies from Aleyrodiale family are small bugs that feed on the leaves of plants. Problems related to whiteflies are quite prominent in warm and tropical climate such as in sub-Saharan African parts. Boykin studies the genetics and evolution of whiteflies and uses genomics and supercomputing for their outbreak control and crop-protection. She has launched WhiteFlyBase –genetic information database of whiteflies.
Warmly answering to the my questions , Boykin tells that for her there was not any particular moment when she decided, “I’ll study biology.” It was a subject that she liked and wanted to pursue. For young girls out there she suggests in her very words, “Don’t let others try to change you. Do not worry about what others think of you. Stay strong, Science is hard game but if you truly love it you will find your way. And if you don’t, it’s ok to find other things outside of research. Always give more than you take. Work hard and stay humble. Team work is what science is all about. I spent too long worrying about what others thought of me but now I am A-OK and not changing for anyone.”
11. Lucianne Walkowicz, Astronomer
“Planetory systems outside of ours are like distant cities whose lights we can see twinkling but whose streets we cannot walk.But studying those twinkling lights we understand how planets and stars interact and make their own ecosystem and create habitat suitable for life.” – stated by Walkowicz in an offical TED conference. Lucianne Walkowicz is an Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago who studies planetary habitability as influenced by stars. As an undergrad at Johns Hopkins she got the taste of astronomy . She completed her MS and PhD from University of Washington in June 2004 and August 2008 respectively.
She is also an artist and works in a variety of media, from oil paint to sound. She is a guitarist in Ditchclub. “Both our challenges and our opportunities are so great, we need the brightest minds to create the future we want to see — and that means making science open and accessible for all”,says Walkowicz
12.Michele Koppes, glaciologist
Glaciologist Michele Koppes spends about half year teaching courses about physical geography, field techniques, snow and ice processes, and climate change to undergraduates. The other half is spent by her planning, fundraising and coordinating field research campaigns to far-flung, remote regions, such as the Northwest Himalayas, Greenland, southern Patagonia and Antarctica. In between, (often on flights between these crazy places), Koppes tries to write up all our research findings for publication!
Koppes is an Assistant Professor at Department of Geography,University of British Columbia. Her current research projects focus on quantifying glacier change in response to warming climate and warming oceans, the landscape response to changing glacier dynamics, and the effects of climate change on meltwater resources in BC, Patagonia, Antarctica, Greenland and the Himalayas.