Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dreams Fulfilled - Journeys to Science Ph.D Bloggers

Visibility.  There is still a need to document the work being done by women, particularly in the sciences. It is even more important to educate people outside of the science world because it can literally save lives. More on that later in my post. One of the benefits of going to a science blog is that another person is telling me they are traveling the distance between a dream and actuality. If they can do it maybe I can too.

This post was inspired by FairerScience hosting a blog carnival on dreams of a more equitable society. Prudence Motowo is from Zimbabwe.  It is one thing to say that you want to be a scientist but there is a lot of work involved in gaining that higher degree. In a video from 2007 you can learn about Prudence’s area of research and her climate transition from Zimbabwe to the English winters. 

In 2008 Prudence had to defend her dissertation in what folks in the UK call a “viva.”  This is a video of the moments after Prudence Mutowo became Dr. Prudence Mutowo.

Disgruntled Julie is working on her Ph.D in Oncology. Her blog is a mixture of what she is doing in and out of the lab. The first post I read was explaining a dilemma about a presentation she needed to give to her peers. In this passage you can clearly see that she loves what she does:

My program is in cancer biology, rather than biochemistry or pharmacology or structural biology, so we are tied together by the fact that we study cancer, not by the way in which we study cancer. 98% of the program studies cell signaling and knockdown genes in cells and in animals, and while they produce some hot science and generate some pretty cool results, the techniques they use are all same old, same old in so much as we see the same thing every week.

Then I come along, and my results come from surface plasmon resonance and circular dichroism and fluorescence polarization, and I talk about things like molecular modeling with structures from co-crystallization…That’s what I love about my project – even though it’s taking me a long time to generate worthwhile data, my presentations are always interesting, because I am the black sheep of the program doing something COMPLETELY different than everyone else (all biochemistry/biophysics), and people are interested to learn about what it is that I am doing.

Nightmares On The Journey

Now just because you think your dream is a good idea doesn’t mean that all educated people are going to respect or encourage you. Even in the halls of science, there are people who will be threatened by a woman’s presence . Melissa at Confused At A Higher Level, dreams about if there will ever be any increased representation in physics by women:

I have become less optimistic the longer I have persisted in physics. Initially, I imagined there existed a few old guards resistant to change, but that the attitudes and actions that hindered women in physics were on their way out. Yet I have had physicists of my generation say appalling things to me, and I continue to be disappointed in the complacency of people who claim to be allies.

What does make me optimistic is that women who have had 30+ year careers say that they have seen improvement over the course of their careers. However, now that the blatant discrimination is gone, the challenges are more insidious. For that reason, I think Virginia Valian’s book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women, might make good required reading for scientists.

Honoring The Dead and Saving Future Lives

In 1989 a man walked into an classroom at the Ecole Polytechnique. This man killed 14 women students. This is a statement of fact. It does not tell the story. Alice at Sciencewomen fills in the details about what happened in her post on We Remember the Montreal Massacre. You see, in most stories they remember the name of the killer. Alice list the names of the women who were killed. 

Most stories also remember that he stated that he wanted to kill “f*cking feminists.” It did not matter if these women were or were not feminists. They were women who dared to dream. In our world, that is enough to get you killed. Thesis with Children wants you to know that the fear echoed south of the border. 

I understand that fear because when you are in a male dominated environment or course of study you are told both covertly and overtly that you as a woman do not belong. I bring this up because there is a fictional movie based on the events of December 6, 1989. You can view a trailer of the movie, or read more about it at IMDB’s Polytechnique page. Canadians are conflicted about the movie. There is an article in the The Star.com that talks about film and what memories it invokes.

Unfortunately it might become the cultural record of fact. This is another person that is revising and re-interpreting the actual experience. I do not know if those of us the U.S. will have access to this movie.  To be honest, I don’t think I would see if I could. Watching women being killed is not entertainment to me.

We can save future lives by educating our children that all people have the right to be educated. We can be verbally respectful of women who choose their life path, whether that is a SAHM, a Bio-Medical engineering or a mom who is a Ph.D.

We can save future lives by telling our truths in our writings, photographs and recordings. We can no long allow people to tell our stories if we are capable of doing so ourselves.

We can save future lives by following our dreams.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer where this article first appeared.

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