Sep. 24th, 2017 05:08 am
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Twitter user @astrokatey (Katey Alatalo) just posted this in 22 parts, which I will present in bullet form here. I have heard these sorts of stories from fellow students (as a student) and from professional scientists (as a radio inteviewer). Science (and STEM in general) is supposed to be a meritocracy, and it does best when it is, but it is also a human endeavour and wrought with all the failings and successes of all human activities. As soon as privileged thinking enters the picture, the quality of the science goes down because those with privilege know they don't have to try as hard to get the same recognition of their work or careers. It just so happens that most of those with privilege are white and male (and often in the latter part of their careers). It is hard to make space for others not exactly like ourselves, but that is (imho) one of the defining aspects of civilization and civil society.
  • This article (NYT "Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far") has made me super angry. Do you want to know what it is like trying to be a woman in a scientific space? Let me tell you.
  • Your teachers will start telling you when you are young that you are “not ready” for advanced math.
  • I was just lucky my mother stood up for me with that teacher. Otherwise I would not have been in calculus in high school.
  • In college, you will be in classes where your male classmates will tell you how easy the homework was. You’ll doubt yourself a lot.
  • Only to find out they were scoring Cs while you were getting As. Be ready for them to also say things like “women aren’t naturally scientists”.
  • Those same men will look at you like a possible person to date, when you just want to do your work. You learn to close yourself off.
  • Then, if you’re lucky, the president of Harvard will give a speech about women being biologically inferior in science.
  • And you’ll get to listen to your peers repeating that all around you. You get into top grad schools, are told it’s because you’re a woman.
  • You go. Then your advisor makes you uncomfortable by staring at your chest [she linked to this article: "How Sexual Harassment Halts Science"].
  • You make it clear they made you uncomfortable. So they isolate you, insult you, and try to drive out of science.
  • When it is too much, you report it to the chair. Who tells you that you are overreacting, or lying. And threatens to throw you out.
  • You put your head down and try hard as you can not to “rock the boat” after the chair did you the “favor” of letting you switch advisors.
  • The stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically.
  • AND that ex-advisor is using his platform to denigrate you and your science.
  • MIRACULOUSLY you make it out. You graduate, you get your Ph.D. and you get a postdoc.
  • You work your BUTT off to catch up to peers. Build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done.
  • YOU DID IT! You got a fellowship!! You talk about your struggles. Many don’t believe you.
  • Every day, articles like the one in the New York Times come out to remind you your voice matters less than a spoiled white boy’s.
  • And those classmates and those harassers come back to your mind. And you wonder…
  • Was the cost of having the audacity to want to be an astronomer while also being a woman worth it?
  • Most women in science I know share some of my narrative. Do most men? No. They were assumed from kids to be sciencey.
  • When the day comes that vast majority of science women DO NOT have a tale like mine, then, New York Times, we can talk “biology”.

It is the two lines "the stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically" and "you work your butt off to catch up to peers and build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done" that, to me, highlight why action needs to be taken to address sexism (and racism, and classism, and ableism, and...) in the sciences. Societies have huge problems with discrimination and building those walls doesn't protect it, it makes it weaker and has a huge opportunity cost (imagine if all of those people that are interested and good at things were the ones given the opportunities instead of those who are meh about the whole thing but do it because it's easy because they are privileged... that is lost opportunity for all of us). This is also why professional organizations need to up their game when it comes to taking active measures to reverse the historic inequities that exist in their respective fields: the way the system work is that no matter how well someone does in their formative years, if they are part of a marginalized group they were not permitted to do as much as their privileged peers (I am, at the moment, quite frustrated with the Canadian Association of Physicists... they are doing a poor job at addressing the institutionalized discrimination in the field of physics in Canada). Again, we are all poorer for it. If we can't get this to work in the sciences (remember? supposed meritocracy?), then what chance do we have of sorting this out in society as a whole?

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"Cassini, in some ways, represents the best of humanity. It's really a testament to our endless curiosity, our collective passion to continue exploring the world and the solar system we live in."
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Goodbye Cassini. With a final kiss goodbye from Titan, you will soon leave nothing but memories (and data, lots of wonderful data).
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Our new head of state in Canada is a female astronaut... how frickin' cool is that!?!!!

Former astronaut Julie Payette to be Canada's next governor general

She is also a computer engineer with a commercial pilot licence, and is also an accomplished athlete, pianist, and choral singer.
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I just read the phrase "non-avian dinosaurs" in an article, and it made it surprisingly happy. That we have so recently discovered that the dinosaurs were not (all) wiped out and live among us is such wonderful and magical knowledge.
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Ooooo... a Cassini probe Google Doodle today! :-D
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You know times have gotten bad when government decisions can drag scientists out of their labs and onto the streets. I participated in the "Death of Evidence" march in Ottawa in 2012 and the scientists that participated were fairly consistent in saying that they'd rather be doing their research than marching publicly through the nation's capital. I just got this email from the President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) calling for global solidarity with scientists in the United States now. For a professional society like CAP to state that it "strongly endorses these marches" is exceptional language for exceptional times (and a stance that I both agree with and support, fyi). At the same time, there are those in Canada (and elsewhere) that stand ready to poach the best talent as it attempts to flee both the USA and the UK. Here is the whole email:

April 22, 2017 designated March for Science Day

The 2017 U.S. budget proposal submitted to Congress by the White House on 16 March 2017 contained some very bleak news, including a whopping 31% reduction to the Environmental Protection Agency, with smaller but nonetheless damaging cuts to the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The National Science Foundation did not even garner mention in the budget proposal.

A march in support of science entitled the Scientists' March on Washington, that had been organized prior to the budget announcement, has blossomed into a much wider March for Science to be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. There will be over four hundred marches held in locations across the globe, including seventeen cities in Canada. The number is likely to grow as that date approaches.

The CAP strongly endorses these marches. I urge you to consult the March's URL to find out details of the event nearest you, and to get out and show your support for science!

I will be participating in the march in Montreal; if you are in the area and plan to attend, let's participate together; send me an email at the address below to let me know. CAP Past President Adam Sarty will be participating in the march in Halifax, while CAP Vice-President Stephen Pistorius will be participating in the march in Phoenix, Arizona, alongside our APS colleagues as he is representing the CAP at meetings of the American Physical Society in Phoenix at the time.

We hope to see you this coming April 22, marching for science.

Richard MacKenzie, P.Phys.
CAP President
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Three quick (ya, I know, I'm not into posting short messages) updates:

Most pressing is that yesterday me and a good friend finally launched a Kickstarter campaign. Check it out, and if you think it's a good idea and have the means, please consider supporting it: "The 2016 Reboot of a Legendary Interactive Drama and the Inception of a New Media Genre"!

Also, I'm one step closer to being published as a physicist in a peer-reviewed journal (Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research)... the accepted pre-press manuscript has been made available. I'm not sure what issue it will be finally published in (it needs to go through the final editing and production phases), but you can bet I'll post when it happens :). Anyway, here's the link for that (it'll be there forever, so if you only have 5 minute, go poke your nose at the Kickstarter instead):

Finally, the new format for my radio show is finally starting to become workable for me. In case this is news, the show is an hour of feminism, science, and music (after 5 years I got good at the music part and don't want to give it up now). Yesterday I did my first interview: a Master's student in Women's and Gender Studies who is going to do their thesis on Batgirl from the comics (Barbara Gordon, and Oracle, and the controversies surrounding her on again/off again status as a person with disabilities and the tropes that surround it). I'll be trying to alternate between interviewing on science and feminism/social issues topics. The particular show is here (available "on demand" 24/7 for the next year or so):

The general show link is here, again it's available to listen to "on demand": The Passionate Friar...
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I am sorting through some old boxes of mementos, keepsakes, portfolio stuff, and odds and ends ... wow, talk about a trip down memory lane. I have kept bits and pieces from everything I've done since I was a least a teen going into high school. I am writing this because of one little piece of paper I found (because I could fill volumes of books just documenting everything else in those boxes) — or rather, a business card. This particular card is for one Dr. R.G. Barradas, Professor of Chemistry, Carleton University. What is special about this card is, as I remember it, I had gone to some sort of open house at Carleton when I was in early high school. I got to look at all manner of stuff and try out all manner of equipment and little experiments (including time on a timeshare "minicomputer" through a teletype terminal playing the original Adventure game). One of the places I visited was the chemistry laboratories where they had lasers and all kinds of other really, really cool stuff (especially as a teenager in the late 70s, but it'd be cool even now). In one particular lab, and I don't know how this happened, I felt invited to drop in... and did. Yes, I would skip high school and take my bike to Carleton University (from Bell's Corner's, quite the haul) and hang out in a chemistry lab. In particular, and thus the card, in the lab of Dr. R.G. Barradas. I remember green lasers and lots of equipment and vials of some uranium compound. He would let me help out with little jobs around the lab and I got some "hands on" experience there with him. I was there when he made a discovery that the particular compound he was testing fluoresced when subjected to a particular kind of laser light. He had predicted it, but it had never been observed before. It was thrilling to be there. To this day, I credit Dr. Barradas with a more mature love of science (a more practical appreciation, rather than any romantic notions I might have had from only reading books... a condition, I should emphasize, did not diminish the magic in the slightest, it only made it more tangible and keen), and I have often thought about him. Sadly, I had forgotten his name until I found this card of his that I had kept. I did an online search for him and, while it's not like he never existed, there is nothing but a historic footprint and no indication of what happened to him. Is he still alive (unlikely as I remembered him being fairly old even at the time, but then I was just a kid, so old is relative, heh)? I could neither find any trace of his passing. What I did see was he published from the 1960s through to 1995 and that's where the trail goes cold. If he retired then, even if he retired young, that was 20 years ago now, so if he's still alive he would be at least in in 70s (or more likely 80s). I don't necessarily want to track him down, but I think I will make an inquiry of the chemistry department at Carleton as to whether they know what happened to him... at least one current professor is listed as a joint author on one of Dr. Barradas' papers, so someone should know something. As I stated, the generosity he showed with his time for the young (inexperienced but enthusiastic) time-sink that I was was profoundly influential on the course my life has taken and many of my attitudes about how to approach things.

Edit: When I dug down to the bottom of the box I found stuff from when I was in elementary school. What a bizarre life I have led.


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