Science can be a brutal enterprise. Experimental biology is highly prone to failure. Grants are difficult to land. The political climate can make entire nations hostile environments for your research. For those in the trenches of science meant to stem long emergencies, like species conservation, climate change and vaccine development, the emotional costs of the work can be very steep. For long stretches of time, you can give a research question your all, work in obscurity, face continual discouragement and forget why you fought to be in the field in the first place.
…and then there are moments like these, that make you feel like you did the first time your future science touched your heart and soul.
On the list of coolest things I’ve gotten to do since starting college, chatting with Dr. Randy Nesse about the evolution of the human immune system for Arizona State University’s Center for Evolution and Medicine youtube channel ranks pretty high. I was at ASU this past October talking about our lab’s research on some pretty cool pathogens and the affects they have had on human and non-human primate evolution, when I was invited to sit with Dr. Nesse and chat on camera about how the immune system has evolved, and the importance of understanding how evolution affects disease. Now my tiny contribution to promoting evolutionary medicine is online alongside interviews with some serious biology superstars….which is kind of mind-blowing.
The entire channel can be found here (I highly recommend checking it out. So many great and very accessible conversations about some important and fun science). I contributed 7 short little videos on a range of topics associated with infectious disease, the immune system and human evolution. The first of these videos can be found here.
A few weeks back I had the honour of being interviewed by Dr. Kate Clancy for her excellent podcast “Period”. Period examines all things cultural and biological about menstrual cycle. Want to know how Periods for Politicians found its groove, or the biological reasons that PMS and PMDD occur, or why we and Killer whales undergo menopause? Maybe how menses is addressed in literature over time has been niggling at you. If any of this sounds interesting, Period is for you.
Dr. Clancy has 12 excellent episodes available on her website “Context and Variation”. You can find the introduction to the podcast here kateclancy.com/period1/.
In episode 8, “Menstrual-born killers”, I get to chat a bit about the potential health outcomes of bad menstrual hygiene. We also get into environmental impact of menstrual waste and measures menstruating women can take to reduce their footprint. Check it out – kateclancy.com/period8/
Janet Chang ( University of Connecticut) has written a fantastic post on the basic problem with racial colorblindness and the myth of meritocracy over at The Robert Wood Foundation’s Human Capital Blog. Check it out!
…at least for now. We will keep you posted. There are a few things in the works over here.
What a powerful response. If, the day before we released the call, you had asked me how many people would write to us, I would have estimated 20. Maaaaybeee 25. How wrong was I? We received dozens upon dozens of titles from you over ~10 days. We haven’t finished responding to your emails so we don’t have an accurate count of titles yet. If you haven’t heard from us yet, I apologize. You will.
When Marie-Claire and I sat down to discuss this project over 2 years ago, we were persistently dogged by two concerns a) very few people or no one would want to talk about their challenges b) our call for supportive essays describing negative experiences in order to pass along the derived wisdom to another generation of women would be met with denial. “Science is hard for everyone. Complain less and get to work”, “this is how the weak are weeded out of the field” “I’ve never had a problem and women who do are not suited to the field”, …and so on. We were deeply concerned that the primary response would be protests describing women who have faced serious obstacles as exceptional…somehow not within the normal distribution of women in science and, therefore, not worth talking about.
While we did hear from one person who told us “science is hard”, every other comment we received, including those from people wanting clarification on the the project’s tone, was respectful and informative. Importantly, the hundred-ish women who contacted us with stories to share were overwhelming positive about the project. A hundred-ish women who wanted to talk about their negative experiences, and wanted to pass along advice and support to young scientists – how exciting is that??
The last 10 days has me thinking about our future in STEM. I’m sure if we left the call open, we’d get many more title proposals. Describing the negative to derive some good has struck some kind of collective nerve. The utter absence of “pull yourself up by your boot straps” narratives in these proposals relieves me of the messy business of excising such stories due to tone, but it also bring me relief for another reason entirely. We – I mean the grand-all-of-us-WE – care about this leaky pipeline in STEM. In stark contrast to period during which I was a trainee, a lot of us are willing to honestly and loudly talk about our experiences in order to help others. Importantly, as these we scale the obstacles we face on this career path, we are not pulling up the rope behind us.
…and that, right there, is just one of the many ways that you ladies rock.
I am humbled by how many of you have reached out to us to share your stories. My website was only indexed a few days before the call went out and within hours of the call’s release, that particular post had been viewed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times and the numbers keep climbing. The emails proposing titles for personal essays just keep rolling in. Every proposed essay has been deeply relevant and important to discuss. Your enthusiasm is so infectious. Marie-Claire and I are truly honoured to be able to work on this project with you.
We are so excited to see what the next week brings.
Given the enthusiasm you have shown and have generated (Tumblr and Facebook posters and those tweeting in the world – wow. Thanks so much!) we are trying to cast the net really far this week, so that we can get the broadest representation of women and their experiences in the sciences as possible. If you have a story to share please contact us. If you know someone who might be interested in contributing to this effort, please pass along the link to the call . If you would prefer to pass along a pdf, you can find it here -> Call for Women in Science_final .
Thanks again for your excitement and encouragement.