STEMinist Profile: Jarita C. Holbrook, Researcher

Oct 08 2012 Published by under Uncategorized


Jarita C. Holbrook, Researcher
Women and Gender Studies at UCLA

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My career is really two stages if not three. I hold degrees in physics, astronomy, and astrophysics through my doctorate. At that point in time, I wanted to be an astrophysicist but by the time I finished my PhD, I had changed my mind.

The next stage of my career has been as a social scientist focused on the links between humans and the night sky: Cultural Astronomy. To make the transition from physical science to social science was not easy! I had to learn a new language and way of approaching and analyzing data.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The third stage of my career is that I am a filmmaker! When I am making documentary films I focus on minority astronomers and astrophysicists. Being a cultural astronomer takes me to amazing places and I talk about the sky and gather information about the sky from everyone I meet; when I am making a film I follow astronomers to cool places and focus on them and their research.

Role models/heroes:
I have many great mentors but role models is more difficult: Anthony Aveni added respectability to Cultural Astronomy and his work is amazing. I love the work of filmmaker Julie Dash, but I have never met her. Angela Davis is my role model for how to always be gracious no matter how famous.

Anthropologist Brackette Williams taught me how to undermine my opponents because they are predictable. Finally, former dean of the UA business college Ken Smith taught me some tricks to being an effective academic leader. All of them I consider to be my role models.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I like being able to develop a hypothesis, design a research project to test it, and then to look at my results to see if my original hypothesis was correct. This step 1, step 2, step 3 that you can always fall back on. What I absolutely love is when I am looking for one thing and I discover another thing!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Being an interdisciplinary scientist is difficult because the academy is rigid so everyone wants to fit you into somebody else's box. However, I think that the most exciting work is occurring in the spaces between disciplines.

Career-wise, I have had to compromise and occupy places where I do not fit intellectually, however I have always learned things important to my research from my colleagues in every situation. I have occupied history of science, applied anthropology, Africana studies, and now women and gender studies not to forget physics and astronomy, too.

Favorite website/app:
I have always been a movie person so nothing beats IMDB and their app.

Twitter: @astroholbrook

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STEMinist Profile: Kim Arcand, Science Outreach Coordinator

Oct 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Kim Arcand_Steminist Profile

Name: Kim Arcand

Occupation/Job Title:
Science outreach and visualization coordinator for high-energy astrophysics
Newbie co-author (“Your Ticket to the Universe” coming out April 2013)

Organization:
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was little, every year I would pick a new career, and they all had something in common: science. Nurse, doctor, astronaut, environmental scientist, veterinarian, microbiologist. My parents were supportive, and each Christmas there would be some special gift, a chemistry set, a microscope, a stellarium. I loved science, or what I thought of as science: the idea of discovering something new, of figuring out puzzles, of contributing to people's lives in some significant way. That first crush never went away.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It’s hard to pick just one! Can I have two?  I have to start off with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. It's an engineering and scientific marvel. A sister telescope to Hubble, Chandra orbits the Earth out to about 1/3 of the distance to the Moon. The phenomena it studies are exotic – black holes, exploding stars, huge clusters of galaxies to name just a few. And the incredibly beautiful images and the discoveries they lead to are awe-inspiring[1].

Working for Chandra led me down a new path in scientific outreach. I organized a project called "From Earth to the Universe[2]" that brought astronomical discoveries into unique locations – picture large images of planets, nebulas and galaxies set up in public parks, metro stations, shopping malls, art festivals, and even prisons. My colleagues and I created a framework for organizers around the world to easily adapt the free materials for an exhibit in their desired locale.

We started out hoping for a couple dozen exhibits that would be run during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. We ended up with about 1,000 different sites all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica and translated in over 40 languages. Some of the exhibits are still ongoing today. We could never have personally disseminated astronomy to so many people, but by enabling others we were able to reach exponentially more people.

Role models and heroes:
My mom. Growing up, I watched her juggle kids and family, going back to school for nursing, and working the late shift as a waitress. I would sit near her as she did her anatomy homework on the dining room table, or go with her to the local community college to buy the mammoth-sized books for her class. She made it seem completely normal and doable. I secretly hope that my own son and daughter might feel even a tenth of that for me some day.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Our collective scientific viewpoint is always changing, as new discoveries are made, old discoveries shift, and cultural frameworks evolve. So we're always learning and adapting to new things. It’s exciting to work in a field that is so dynamic, and that touches everything, everyone, everyday in some way. In my day-to-day work, I am most directly involved in astronomy, of course, but science is so much bigger than one specific field. There are connections everywhere.

My colleagues and I are just about to launch a new project that celebrates that fact.  “Here, There, and Everywhere[1]” will explore the connections that exist between the seemingly incongruous - how are a bumblebee, farmer and starburst galaxy related? Can you think of how a neon sign in Las Vegas, an Aurora in Norway, and an exploding star light years away from us might be somehow connected?  The intent of the program is to help to demonstrate the universality of physical laws and the connections between our everyday world and the Universe as a whole.

[1] http://hte.si.edu (Goes live on August 27, 2012)

Advice for future STEMinists?
Find something you're passionate about. Your passion will help you succeed, even if it's something that's difficult. I don’t know how many people can say that science is an easy subject in college, but it wasn't easy for me. At university, I would breeze through my literature courses (I was and still am a Jane Austen junkie), but struggle in my science classes.

I managed to get through the physics, chemistry, microbiology and anatomy courses, but I can vividly recall getting a D in genetics. I had never gotten a D before, and it made me doubt my abilities and that I should even continue with a degree in science, never mind a career.

But I stuck with the degree in biology, rounded out my skill set in computer science to be safe, and eventually found a niche that I was very comfortable in – communicating science with others, and researching how people respond to certain aspects of science (mostly imagery). I had the background to feel at home in the scientific content, but also an understanding that science can be alienating, or frightening, or just plain boring to some.

And to me that is such an exciting opportunity. How can we help others find their niche in science? I'm interested not only in people who might want to pursue a hobby or career in science. I also want to help foster the larger population's perspective on and awareness of science as a whole.

Favorite website or app:
For science sites, I'm in love with the Encyclopedia of Life and for leisure apps, I’m addicted to Brainium's Spider Solitaire, the 2 suit game.

Twitter: @kimberlykowal
Site: http://yourtickettotheuniverse.com/

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Women in STEM

Oct 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

My name is Ann Hoang and I am thrilled to kick off October with the opportunity to guest blog here at Scientopia. In 2010 I founded a website called STEMinist, which focuses on women in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math. Over the next two weeks I hope to share with you our most popular feature: profiles of STEMinists doing awesome things.

While the issues surrounding women in STEM are complex and multi-layered, my goal with STEMinist has been and continues to be straightforward: visibility. It is visibility in the form of presenting news and topics that otherwise get lost in the torrent of social media, visibility achieved by featuring women in diverse STEM fields and stages of their career, and the visibility that comes about through highlighting the voices of an underrepresented community.

Please feel free to suggest topics and STEMinists to feature in upcoming profiles!

You can find us on the web, Twitter and Facebook.

As for myself, I am a Software Engineer for a research group at the University of Oregon, where I lead a team that builds applications used by schools to manage their Positive Behavior Support implementations.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Marketing has a Pink Problem

Aug 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

Lindsey B. alerted us to a newly published paper in the Journal of Marketing Research suggesting that the current approach to raising awareness of breast cancer hurts more than helps.  You might have noticed, just maybe, I mean if you’ve been paying attention, that breast cancer has become associated with the color pink.

Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that when women were exposed to gender cues, like the color pink, they were less likely than women who had not been primed with a gender cue to think that they might someday get breast cancer and to say that they’d be willing to donate to the cause.  Pink, in other words, decreased both their willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.

Puntoni explains this finding with a common psychological tendency. When people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive.  In this case, when women are exposed to information about breast cancer at the same time that they are reminded that they, specifically, are vulnerable to it, they subconsciously try to push away the idea that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something that they, or anyone, needs to worry about it.

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The Ubiquity of Gender Rules; Or, Do Lesbians Have to Love Cats?

Aug 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In my Sociology of Gender course I talk about how gender conformity isn’t simply a matter of socialization, but often a response to active policing by others.  Single women usually avoid having too many cats, for example, not only because they’ve been taught that too many cats sends the wrong signal, but because they may be called a “cat lady” by their friends (a joke-y slur suggesting that she is or will be a batty old spinster).  Or her best friend, with her best interests in mind, may discourage her from adopting another cat because she knows what people think of “cat ladies.”

People who find community in subcultures that are seen as “alternative” to the “mainstream” often feel like they are freed of such rules.  But these subcultures often simply have different rules that turn out to be equally restrictive and are just as rigidly policed.

A recent submission to PostSecret, a site where people anonymously tell their secrets, reminded me of this.  In it a lesbian confesses that she hates cats.  Because of the stereotype that women love cats, the “cat lady” stigma may be lifted in lesbian communities.  This lesbian, however, doesn’t feel freed by the lifting of this rule, but instead burdened by its opposite: everyone has to like cats.  So she feels compelled to lie and say that she’s allergic.

Related, see our post on a confession, from another lesbian, about suppressing the fact that she’s really quite girly.

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"Tribal Princesses" at Toronto's 2011 Caribana Parade

Aug 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of days ago I posted a video at Sociological Images about stereotypes of Native Americans in video games, including the Hot Indian Princess. Though the video discussed video games specifically, these tropes are common in other area of pop culture as well. Dolores R. sent in a great example. Over at Beyond Buckskin, Jessica Metcalfe posted about the 2011 Caribana Parade in Toronto. This year the parade theme was Native America, including various sections such as Amazon Warriors, Lost City of the Aztecs, Brazilian Amerindians...and Tribal Princesses. Here's a Tribal Princess costume provided by one band, Callaloo (it's now sold out):

Jessica Metcalfe posted other costumes, such as the Native Apache:

A commenter on Metcalfe’s post takes exception with criticisms of these costumes and the parade theme, saying,

[This is a] celebration of historic alliances between African Diaspora peoples and Native peoples. In New Orleans, the tradition was a specific response to racist laws that placed Native and other POC communities in a common frame of reference. This tradition is almost 200 years old among Caribbean/Diaspora people in North America…you are making a tremendous mistake by attacking a part of Afro-Caribbean culture as if this was the same as an expression of White/Euro privilege.

So the argument is that this can’t be problematic cultural appropriation or propagation of the sexualized Indian Princess trope because it is part of an event meant to celebrate and recognize the histories and cultures of groups that have themselves been the target of discrimination and political/cultural exclusion. Certainly there is an important cultural and historical context there that, the commenter argues, distinguishes these costumes from, say, the current fad of “tribal” clothing in fashion.

And yet, that argument seems to discursively claim a right to represent Native Americans in any way without being subject to criticisms of stereotyping or cultural appropriation. For instance, the Apache were not a Caribbean tribe (though the Lipan Apache moved far into southeastern Texas by the late 1700s, coming into regular contact with Texas Gulf tribes). Does this sexualized “Apache” costume, as imagined by non-Apaches and sold to the general public, differ greatly from other appropriations and representations of Native American culture and identity as fashion statement?

This feels a little like a different version of the “But we’re honoring you!” argument used in efforts to defend Native American sports mascots — that any concern the viewer has is only due to their lack of understanding of the reason for the depiction of Native Americans, not because that depiction might be, in fact, problematic.

Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

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(Young) (Male) Americans Prefer Boy Children

Aug 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In a previous post I’ve argued against framing a preference for boy children as “culturally Asian.” New data from Gallup, sent in by Kari B., shows that this preference is alive and well among Americans, at least among young men.  While women are most likely to have no opinion and about equally likely to prefer a girl or boy, men are significantly more likely to prefer a boy.  This preference is strongest among younger men, but still present among men over 50.  Whereas women become increasingly indifferent with age and, secondarily, begin to prefer girls.

The editors at CNN note that, since children are mostly born to young people, and indifferent women may bend to men’s preferences, new sex selection technologies threaten to create a gender imbalance in the U.S.

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Lifetime Earnings Gaps, by Sex and Race/Ethnicity

Aug 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Dolores R. and Andrew S. let us know about the report “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, based on 2007-2009 American Community Survey data (via Feministing and Kay Steiger). Not surprisingly, higher education significantly increases lifetime earnings of U.S. workers:

But education doesn’t pay off equally for all groups. Women, not surprisingly, make less at every level of education than men do; in fact, their median lifetime earnings are generally on par with men a couple of rungs down the educational ladder:

Ah, but, you might think, women are more likely to take time out of the workforce than men, so perhaps that accounts for the difference. But the gaps calculated here are only for full-time, year-round workers and do not include periods out of the workforce — that is, this is the “best-case scenario” in terms of comparing gender earnings, and yet women still make about 25% less than men at the same educational level. When they include workers taking time out of the workforce, the pay gap would be significantly larger. The far right column in this table shows how much less women make compared to men based on the “typical” work pattern for workers in each educational category:

The benefits of education also vary by race and ethnicity, with non-Hispanic Whites generally making more at each educational level than all other groups, though Asians outearn them at the highest levels:

Though the authors don’t include a table showing the gap if you include workers who do not work full-time year-round throughout their careers, they state that as with gender, the gap widens significantly, since non-Whites are more likely to experience periods without work.

So does education pay? Undoubtedly, for all groups. But due to factors such as occupational segregation (especially by gender) and discrimination in the workplace, the return on an educational investment is clearly a lot higher for some than others.

Also see related posts on the gender gap in science and tech jobs, racial differences in job loss during the recession, unemployment among Black and White college grads, and trends in job segregation by sex.

Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

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Same Baby, Different Color

Aug 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In March we posted a set of greeting cards: a pink and a blue one congratulating new parents on a girl and a blue respectively.  The cards pictured exactly the same baby, revealing the way in which we gender infants before there are any discernable signs of sex (outside of the genitals).  Since then we’ve received two more examples of the phenomenon.  The first, sent in by Christine, is from FailBlog:

The second is for a (pointlessly gendered) hygiene kit at Walmart, sent in by Laura Confer:

The use of exactly the same baby just tickles me.  The marketers know that babies look like, well, babies.  We aren’t “opposite sexes,” especially at six months old.  But the sex of the child is very important to adults.  So they use color cues to make the consumer feel like they’re choosing the “right” or the “cutest” item.  But they can use any child — girl or boy — to sell the item… because that’s not what it’s actually about.

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The Gender Gap in Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math Occupations

Aug 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

The U.S. Department of Commerce just released a report on the continuing gender gap in STEM jobs - that is, science, technology, engineering, and math. While women make up roughly half of the total paid workforce, they still held only a quarter of STEM jobs as of 2009:

In fact, we saw no change in the gender make-up of STEM fields between 2000 and 2009.

There is significant variation in the gender composition within the STEM category, however. At the high end, women hold 40% of jobs in the physical and life sciences; the low point is engineering, where only 14% of employees are women. And the proportion of women in computer science and math jobs actually fell between 2000 and 2009, from 30% to 27% of workers.

This isn't simply because of differences in education, either. Here we see the proportion of both men and women in STEM jobs at various educational levels; while increased education correlates with a higher likelihood of having a STEM job for both groups, women are significantly less likely than men at every educational level to have a STEM job:


The gender disparity in STEM jobs is especially noteworthy because, on average, STEM occupations pay significantly more than other private-sector jobs, and the gender gap in pay is actually lower than in non-STEM sectors:

If we look only at women with bachelor's degrees, women who earn STEM degrees and work in STEM jobs earn, on average, 29% more than other women.

So the underrepresentation of women in STEM jobs means that women are missing out on some of the best-paying occupations in the U.S.; in fact, this type of gender-segregation of jobs is one of the leading causes of gender gap in yearly and lifetime earnings.

The authors of the report don't go into detail about potential causes of the gender gap in STEM careers, though they note that among those earning STEM degrees in college, women are significantly less likely than men to hold jobs in related STEM fields. They suggest this might be because STEM jobs are relatively unaccommodating to those who take time off for family obligations (disproportionately women), because of a lack of female role models in STEM fields (including as college professors), or because of gender stereotyping about math or science aptitude (like this, or this if you prefer a t-shirt) that pushes women away from STEM degrees and careers.

The complex interplay of factors that lead to a gender gap in who holds STEM-sector jobs provides significant challenges to increasing the proportion of women in these occupations --- as indicated by the lack of change over the past decade. But particularly as we see increasing economic divergence between well-paid tech and information sector and low-paid service sector jobs, addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM jobs will be essential as part of any effort to improve women's lifetime earnings potential and overall economic outlook.

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