Sunday, March 1, 2009

March Scientiae: Role Models

This month I asked for posts related to role models. I wanted to know who inspires women scientists today, in honor of Women’s History Month and the Anniversary Edition of Scientiae. It turns out that we all have different answers, but our answers falls into similar themes.


Some of us are inspired by the works of relatively high-profile or historic women.


Lab Cat writes about Marie Curie. "I connect to Marie Curie and see her as a role model because she gave her all to science despite the conventions and expectations of women at her time."


Podblack Cat applauds the work of consumers rights advocate Loretta Marron, whose “…diagnosis of cancer in 2003 gave her first hand experience of the scope of misinformation that contributes to the exploitation of our most vulnerable Australians.”


At Women in Astronomy, Hannah writes about pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin, who “…became an astronomer in an era when few women were even working out of the home. She discovered dark matter. She has four children, all of whom are now scientists themselves and raising their own families.”


Others find motivation close to home.


Cherish at Faraday’s Cage reveals that her husband and her advisor both “helped me move from a place where I was certain I couldn't do anything on my own to a place where I felt very comfortable with my independence.”


Friday Afternoon finds that her mother has had the biggest influence on her professional life. “…my mom is still in inspiration to me, through the way she has lived her life, is living her life.”


The Silly Conservationist writes that her own advisor has been her mentor, and leads by example. “I am learning to be a good senior and “Supervisor” from Lady Advisor’s successes and of course, mistakes.”


At the Physicality of Words, we can read about the power of having peers who will tell you the truth. “I had always felt that if you could not be enthusiastic about your research all the time, you were somehow not worthy. Being frustrated and bored to the point of crying was to me a shameful secret. Maybe, just maybe, this was something that happened to others too? Even smart, successful students!”


Academic tells us about her admiration for older academics who love what they do. “I want to be someone who's known for my ideals, even if they are quirky as all get out. I want to have fun with what I'm doing. I want to have a realistic picture of myself even if that means telling humorous stories at my own expense when I'm an invited speaker.”


Melissa contemplates her teaching persona and decides to be herself, since “…I’ve finally given up trying to find exactly one person who will be an ideal mentor/role model for me. That person doesn’t exist.”


Pat at FairerScience outdoes us all by taking a well-deserved break! “Yup I'm being my own role model and accepting and acting on the idea that sometimes you just need a break in between making and remaking history. Please let me be your role model too.”


Some of us are looking for role models who can show us that we can be scientists and professors while having a family.


Patchi of My Middle Years discussed this very topic last year, revealing that she became aware of success stories only after her own pregnancies stimulated family-related discussions:


Why doesn't "family" come out in conversations with female professors, while male professors always seem to mention that their wife stays home with the kids? I always thought the latter was the problem, the bad advice that one needs a "wife" to have kids. However, the lack of realistic discussions about career and family might be the biggest problem. Are women keeping women out of science?


Some of us were lucky, and found ourselves in a supportive environment from the start.


Laura at Neurotypical credits her early science teachers as well as her neuroscience mentors, who provided a network of female scientists and make her want to give something back.


As I reflect on all of these people who have helped me get where I am today, I'm anxious to give something back to other women like me. Although I'm relatively inexperienced, I, too, have support to offer.



Some of us, perhaps expectedly, find that female role models are few and far-between in the sciences.


Mrs. Comet Hunter finds inspiration in friends who have managed some degree of that sought-after work-life balance. She writes,


I find it unsettling that I have a hard time finding female role models. There should be more women in the sciences that can lead the life they want and not feel they have to sacrifice their other roles as wife (or fiance or girlfriend), mother, daughter, sister, or friend…it's time to take action. In order to do so, we need the support of our male colleagues, so we can create that change as a whole.


In my own experience, I seem to have these sought-after supportive male colleagues, and I have to wonder why they seem so scarce in the experiences of most other female scientists.


Volcanista reveals a similar lack of female mentors, but offers an anonymous tribute to one woman who kept her in grad school. “It was like a magical breath of fresh air to work with a supervisor who, well, kind of gets it innately…it got me over my burn-out and renewed all of my vigor for my degree, and it just gave me hope again, so that I could return to my all-male home world for another 3 years.”


Rivika at Life and Then Some discusses the lack of significant contributions from female mathematicians. “It’s pretty easy to find biographies of female mathematicians on the internet. Harder is finding information on the mathematics that they worked on.”


Finally, for those of us looking to become the mentors we lacked or loved, Kate provides a guide to good mentorship.


The best mentorship I have received has explicitly appreciated my hard work, creative thinking and mind, and has clearly articulated criticisms throughout whatever project I was doing. Less helpful mentorship has ignored hard work, and avoided criticism until the very end of the project. But I also want to say that there is a lot that both the mentor and mentee can do to improve communication; it does not necessarily have to be only up to the mentor.


Thank you to everyone who submitted! Hosting was a lot of fun, and I appreciate having the opportunity to put this month’s Scientiae together.