Posts Tagged ‘women’

From shadow, into the sun

In March 2017 on March 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Photo thanks to thomasrousing/flickr

Anna: As a researcher, one could complain about a number of things. Grant season in is full flight and there are more and more applications for less and less funding, fake news and hyperbole seems to rule over facts and figures and …did I mention lack of job security?!

As a researcher and woman, one could feel even more pessimistic about the future. As far as dollars go,  NHMRC 2016 funding outcomes highlight the divide between women and men*, there are reduced travel and networking opportunities if you have family commitments and then there is the all-pervasive unconscious bias knocking you back, without you or your colleagues even noticing.

Hidden Figures”, nominated for Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards and based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, reveals the challenges that faced 3 mathematicians working for NASA in the 1950’s and 60’s. They were women and they were African American. The bias wasn’t unconscious or hidden or casual. At this time – in the state of Virginia, and thus NASA’s Langley headquarters –  segregation laws were enforced. The bias was out there in the open, all day, every day. These women had constant social and professional roadblocks just because of the colour of their skin (and gender).

When I saw the film, I immediately thought of someone else who worked away in the shadows and described as “The Dark Lady of DNA” – Rosalind Franklin. She too was a researcher. She too was a woman. She too was a minority (Jewish in an anti-Semitic Britain in the early 1900’s). She too was an inspirational ‘hidden figure’. Here, in discovery of the structure of DNA (for which Watson and Crick won a noble prize).

So as I finalise my 2017 fellowship application in between breastfeeds and childcare pick-ups, I hope I, and many other (probably more deserved) women can step out of the shadows, get funded, do inspirational research and continue to break down the roadblocks.

*Across all funding schemes, applications with a male CIA received almost double the budget as applications with a female CIA 


Totes bushranger

In July 2014 on July 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm


Sarah: Kirsti and I went totes bushranger this school holidays.

Under the pseudonyms Blood Thirsty Kirsty and Saltrock Sarah, and accompanied by miscellaneous children and other family members, we explored Uralla in New South Wales.

Uralla is the home of the famed bushranger Captain Thunderbolt; the image above shows the table on which his body was displayed after being shot dead by a local policeman.

Now everyone loves a good bushranger story. But Kirsti and I were also very interested to learn about Thunderbolt’s partner Mary Ann Bugg. Some reports suggest that Mary Ann was the brains behind Thunderbolt’s success, as she planned, scoped, read and wrote on her man’s behalf.

It’s a theme scientists are already familiar with – woman plods away in the background, then man comes along and performs a daring exciting final move and gets all the credit.

Perhaps I’m being a little cranky, but we all know the story of Rosalind Franklin. And there are more cases of a similar nature.

We can’t change history, but let’s bring a few more ladies forward and get them robbing stage coaches, huh? There’s a bit of mongrel bushranger in all of us, regardless of gender.


Day 240. The Specimen

In April 2013 on April 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm


I was browsing in a book shop over the weekend and spotted a new novel entitled The Specimen (authored by Martha Lea).

A quick read of the blurb, and I purchased immediately:

The year is 1866. Edward Scales is a businessman, a butterfly collector, a respectable man. He is the man Gwen Carrick fell in love with seven years before. Now he is dead and Gwen is on trial for his murder.

From country house drawing rooms to the rainforests of Brazil, The Specimen explores the price one independent young woman might pay for wanting an unorthodox life.

Set in a Victorian world battling between the forces of spiritualism and Darwinism, polite society and the call of clandestine love, Gwen and Edward’s tale is a gripping melodrama, a romance and a murder mystery that will compel readers to its final thrilling page.

I’ve only read three chapters, and I’m hooked. Not just because it’s science-y, but because the science sits within a broader background of social and historical factors.

Actually, science is always influenced by such factors, but it’s reasonably rare to see it presented this way in general literature.

Here’s a quote from Gwen, responding to Mr Scales’ interest in her nature paintings (the year is 1859):

“When a young woman makes a picture of a pretty red beetle, Mr Scales, it is called ‘Delightful’, put into  frame and a husband is found for the artist. When a young man makes an anatomical study of a Cardinal beetle, he is expected to know that it is the Pyrochroa serraticornis, and he is bundled off to university to that he can one day add to the body of scientific knowledge on Coleoptera.”

Whilst we may all scoff at the gender discrimination intimated in this passage, and gratefully pat ourselves on the back that we live in much more enlightened times, it’s worth considering that even now a career in science isn’t always taken at face value for women.

Take a recent New York Times obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, in which the opening sentences read thus:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

The words were later edited following expressions of indignation from many online commentators.

[image of Pyrochroa serraticornis thanks to gailhampshire on flickr]

Day 208. International Women’s Day

In March 2013 on March 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Photo on 8-03-13 at 2.48 PM #2

Today is International Women’s Day, when we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

I’ve been thinking about some of my own achievements, and reflecting how lucky I am.

  • I have three children. They were born safely, they are strong-willed, they are smart. I hope they continue to enjoy good physical and mental health into the future. 
  • I have a husband. He is sensitive, caring, supportive, a listener and loyal.
  • I have chosen to be the predominant at-home parent in my house. I mostly enjoy this. I also am frustrated by this at least once every day. 
  • I have parents and siblings. I have parents-in-law and siblings-in-law. They are all excellent people. We help each other. 
  • I have the freedom to make financial decisions in my household. This makes me feel secure.
  • I cook because I’m damned good at it. I also want my children to eat well and know the value of ‘slow food’. 
  • I work because I’m damned good at it. Also, my brain needs it, it makes a financial difference in my household and I like to have my own daily agenda. 
  • I undertake random, frenzied tidying-up blitzes in my home because doing mindless work helps me to think, and I like the end result. Of cleaning and thinking. 
  • I wash clothes because…actually, the machine in my laundry does it. I am grateful for this. 
  • I run because it makes me feel free and strong. And it deals with the few bits and pieces I eat but don’t actually need in a nutritional sense.

Is my life perfect? No.

Do all women around the world enjoy the freedoms that I have? No.

Do I want to achieve more? Yes.

Am I an equal with the men in my world? Sometimes. Not always.

How can we help women around the world achieve what they want in economic, political and social terms –  in Australia but more urgently in other places where inequality is stifling? I’m not sure.

Day 132. Nine inspiring ladies

In December 2012 on December 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm


On the 9th day of Christmas, ScienceforLife gave to me:

*Many science-trained Australian women inspired me during 2012. If forced to list 9 of them, I’d start with my Mum (Masters in Ag Science, MBBS and PhD in medical education), then add my botanist aunt Carol, neighbour and nutritionist Jane, friend and previous employer Kristin Alford, Tedx presenter/PhD candidate/podcaster/writer and friend Upulie Divisekera, two outstanding breeders of babysitters in Caroline McMillen and Liz Farmer, and everything-she-touches-is-gold Professor Tanya Monro. As my 9th pick I nominate nutrition scientist Katrine Baghurst, whose funeral I attended today.

[image thanks to puuikibeach on flickr]