STEMinist Profile: Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Science Writer and Blogger

Oct 04 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Arielle Duhaime-Ross
Arielle Duhaime-Ross

Science, Health and Environmental reporting masters student, Science Writer and Blogger
New York University,

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Very early on, I developed a fascination with animals, especially amphibians and reptiles. As a child, I devoured books about the world's most poisonous snakes, and always clamoured for the television to be tuned into shows like the "Crocodile Hunter" on the Discovery channel. I would proclaim to anyone who would show an interest that I was destined to become a herpetologist. Of course, I would later realize that I was better suited to writing about science as opposed to actually performing scientific experiments, but my fascination for all things STEM continues to grow.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in zoology. For my honours thesis, which I am hoping to publish soon, I studied the sensory determinants that guide the behaviour of the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) during conspecific interactions. I tried to determine if and how olfactory cues interact with visual cues to provoke a territorial response in the salamanders during their interactions with each other. It was pretty amazing to get to know the behaviour of this amphibian on such an intimate level, especially given its well-documented territoriality.

Role models/heroes:
I am especially appreciative of the work of the prominent science writers of our time. I find journalists like David Dobbs, who wrote a wonderful piece entitled "The Science of Success" for The Atlantic in 2010, and Deborah Blum, who is the author of many a popular science book, especially inspiring.

But in truth, the person that has inspired me the most throughout my life is my grandmother, Mariette Dessureault-Duhaime. Thanks to her, the word "feminist" and all its implications were always cast in a positive light in my household. She taught all her grandchildren that fighting for gender equality was a worthwhile and critical battle to wage, and she did so joyfully throughout her life.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I never wanted to stop learning, and being a science writer means that I will never have to. The feeling I get from reading a study about, say, a faster way of DNA barcoding various plants and animals, or a new HIV treatment is indescribable. The only way I can find tranquility is by putting that excitement (or skepticism) into words, and sharing it. Discovering new concepts and ideas every single day is a fantastic way to go through life, and that's why I love what I do.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I am still at the very beginning of my career, so I feel rather strange about giving advice. That being said, I think that perseverance is a virtue. The scientific method allows, and even plans for, failure, so you should never let that faze you.

Favorite website/app:
I am a big fan of Knight Science Journalism at MIT Tracker Website. This site is dedicated to peer-reviewing science journalism. It is a great resource for anyone wishing to exercise a more critical eye when reading about new scientific discoveries in the mainstream media.

Twitter: @ArielleDRoss

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STEMinist Profile: Carolyn Dougherty, Project Engineer

Oct 03 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Carolyn Dougherty, Project Engineer
Tata Steel Projects

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was finishing my BA at Berkeley and planning to go into international relations, I stumbled across a serialised version of Harry Harrison's novel Tunnel Through the Deeps. For whatever reason, that book got me interested in civil engineering; I wrote papers on the subject as an undergraduate, then had the epiphany, 'I could write papers about building railways, or I could actually go and BUILD some railways.' When I finished my BA I immediately started university over again, in a couple of years completing a master's degree in civil engineering at Berkeley.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to thank Harry Harrison for inspiring me to become a civil engineer; who knows, if I'd stuck with my original plan to be a diplomat I might be stamping passports in Outer Mongolia by now.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The restoration of Hardwick Park, an 18th century landscape garden near Sedgefield. I was brought in to manage the completion of the work because it had gone over budget and was in danger of not keeping its commitment to the Heritage Lottery Fund. I was able to sort things out and get the restoration work completed; the project and county staff did a beautiful job and the restoration won the Georgian Society award for landscape in 2009.

The park is a fascinating example of a mid 18th century circuit walk garden—its design gives visitors who walk the circuit a very specific emotional experience that resembles going to the theatre, reading a novel or seeing a film. While working on the park I learned a great deal about 18th century landscape design, which opened up a whole new field of knowledge for me; since then I've visited several other similar parks (none as nice as Hardwick!), and I gave a paper on the design of Hardwick at the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference in January 2012.

Role models/heroes:
None, I'm afraid—it would be crass to say 'I did it all on my own' since my parents paid for my first degree and supported me sporadically for some time afterward, but my career and my choices have been almost entirely of my own devising, without inspiration from role models or support from mentors. Not recommended!

I will, though, admit some admiration for I. K. Brunel. I'm amazed at how successful he was at talking people into things.

Why do you love working in STEM?
One thing I think is true in STEM that is not, at least not necessarily, true in other kinds of work is that we all understand the importance of interaction and collaboration. I like working in an environment where people routinely help each other, aren't afraid to make (or acknowledge) mistakes, and are accustomed to working as teams.

There are two reasons why engineering offices are like this, I think—first, the kind of work we do is so risky that we just can't afford to cover up or ignore errors—we have to be open and honest about them, while at the same time acknowledging that mistakes are part of the human experience and not criticising or belittling people who make them. Second, there's still a strong apprenticeship/collegial tradition in engineering, and people are used to the experience of routinely and casually teaching and being taught.

Also, being an engineer has provided me all sorts of opportunities that most other jobs wouldn't have—particularly the opportunity to obtain EU citizenship though I was born in California.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don't sell yourself short—you don't have to be perfect to be successful. Spend time with people who appreciate and value what you're interested in and what you do.

Favorite website/app:
I'm going to plug Sydney Padua's Lovelace and Babbage comics here, I think, as of possible interest to readers:

Twitter: @CarolyninYork

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STEMinist Profile: Suzie Sheehy, Research Fellow

Oct 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Dr. Suzie Sheehy
Research Fellow

I work in the Intense Beams Group of the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) based at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory where I am supported by a Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I find it hard to narrow it down to one particular moment. Lots of people say "it was my teacher" or "I looked through a telescope for the first time and just knew!" but it isn't like that for me. I don't remember the point when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in STEM, I had a lot of interests when I was younger and I was as interested in musical theatre as I was in science! My careers advisors in high school told me I could do anything I wanted for a career—in a way, that was quite empowering.

My choice of subjects at university (where I started out doing a double degree in both Engineering and Science) was based on what I was good at and what I thought would leave as many doors open as possible. Only in second year Physics did I realise that I might be able to pursue a career in research—I still remember when one day I asked a lecturer a question about what he'd shown us and he said "we don't know, actually—that's my research, I'm trying to figure it out." I had some great lecturers who encouraged me to pursue that curiosity. So I guess it was when I realised that physics doesn't have all the answers that I finally got interested!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I've worked on is called 'EMMA', which stands for the Electron Machine for Many Applications. It's a new type of particle accelerator which I refer to as a 'rock-star accelerator' because the way it is designed breaks a couple of really important rules that accelerator experts like to stick to.

I think it's a cool project because it's the first of this kind in the world and many people in the field doubted it would work. During my PhD I got to control the machine hands-on during experimental shifts (not many people can say they've run a particle accelerator, even a small one!) Oh, and it really does work!

Role models/heroes:
Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell is definitely a role model for me, she is one of the most respected physicists of our time and meeting and getting to know her a bit during my PhD in Oxford was really inspiring. I also have to say that a number of the London 2012 athletes are also my role models, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, and loads of others who have proven that if you put in the hard work and have the right support you will see results.

I'm a runner too and training for my first half marathon earlier this year taught me a lot about hard work and dedication, which is now crossing back over into my life as a scientist. If I'm stuck with a problem I now tell myself "if you can run for over 20km you can do this too!", it's very motivating!

Why do you love working in STEM?
There are so many things to love about it! One of my old high school friends recently summed it up nicely for me when she said "While the rest of us sell people things they don't need or spend our lives doing something which will be easily forgotten, you spend your days pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge. In my job I might make a difference to a few people's lives but imagine the difference you can make—it's practically limitless. You have the most amazing job." I was totally humbled.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do what inspires you and play to your strengths. If you're anything like me you probably have lots of different interests – so don't forget you can combine them in surprising ways! For example, I'd always had an interest in theatre and as a scientist I use my stage presence and vocal techniques all the time when giving public lectures and science shows for schools.

Also, don't be afraid of doing things differently. I approach my research in a slightly different way to the rest of my research group and it took me ages to realise that it's OK, in fact, it's really valuable to have members of a team with different approaches!

Favorite website/app:
I'm a little bit obsessed with Pinterest at the moment—I've been using it to put together ideas for decorating my new house, finding yummy things to cook and even, occasionally, ideas for science demonstrations or interesting bits and pieces.

I'm also loving RunKeeper—it's where I store all my running data so I can check out the statistics like my pace and heart rate and see my improvement, it keeps me motivated.

Twitter: @suziesheehy

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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)

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] (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

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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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