13.9.12

Scientist Bloggers

Welcome to the first installment of my Scientist Bloggers series, where I feature the authors of beautiful blogs who are scientists. These women challenge both the stereotypes of scientists as boring old men and style bloggers as vacuous young women.

But before I get onto the interview, a little background to the idea: stereotypes keep people out of science. Many people get their primary career advice from the media which has allowed socialite, reality TV star, WAG and glamour model to become legitimate careers. From TV we also learn that the most glamorous jobs for women are advertising/fashion (soap operas), law (Ally McBeal) and being a doctor (Grey's Anatomy), and consequently these careers are completely oversubscribed. We learn from shows like The Big Bang Theory that science is a dull subject which attracts socially inept man-nerds. I would like to help change this perception and see more people, especially women consider a career in science because they realise how exciting it would be to help develop artificial sight, the rock sampling kit on the Mars rover, or the solution to a maths problem which has been unsolved for nearly 300 years. And not only is science interesting, but it pays well too: 9 out of 10 of the top paying jobs of the future will be in science according to this article (which I obviously chose because it puts biomedical engineering in the top spot) and the top field for employment in the UK is the physical sciences.

Historic women in science ornaments by Eavesmade.
When 66% of surveyed Americans can't name any living scientists, it shows that the general public are very detached. Therefore most people who end up in science either had a really good careers advisor at school or got the idea because they had scientists in the family. There were no scientists in my family, and one female family member even questioned my decision to study something "so butch". I fell into South Africa's first biomedical engineering degree because of my love of sci-fi and a serendipitous photo of a prosthetic leg which I saw during my gap year. When I was a child I thought I wanted to be an inventor because of cartoons like Inspector Gadget, The Jetsons and Dr Snuggles (who invented a machine to restore the colours of the rainbow!) but had no idea that inventors are in fact engineers. Scientists and engineers were just not people who got a lot of exposure.

The timing for offering up and alternative view of scientists couldn't be better, with the recent popularity of all things geeky which started with hipsters "dressing like nerds although they never got the grades". Whether geekery is a passing fad or not, it provides some great publicity for science, as a quick survey of Etsy reveals. Pictured above are some female-scientist ornaments, but I plan to turn my Ada Lovelace one into a brooch. As an electrical engineer she was an obvious choice for me, not because of her sassy name, but because she wrote the first computer program.

Here are some more science related goodies from Etsy:

Pillars of Creation astronomy necklace by Land of Rapture, volumetric beaker necklace by Finest Imaginary and test-tube necklace by Temporal Flux, on Etsy.





And even at Accessorize where geekery has gone mainstream:

Geekery goes mainstream at Accessorize.

Without further ado, here is my first interview, with Annika, a scientist and fashion blogger. Annika has an enviable wardrobe of amazing outfits which she's acquired on a student budget, and is an expert on thrifty and DIY fashion. She's studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney and as it's early days she hasn't majored yet. She's often mistaken for an arts student because people find it hard to believe that a science student could wear a cute skirt and a bow, a misconception she's passionate about changing. If you ever get surveyed about knowing the name of a living scientist, here's your answer...


Name: Annika Victoria
Hometown: Sydney (Australia)
Studying: Bachelor of Science, University of Sydney

1. What/who inspired you to study science? Does science run in the family?

Not one member of my family has completed a university degree, let alone studied science! However, I’ve been brought up by parents who have a strong regard for thinking critically, which has inspired my interest in science in probably more ways than I give them credit for! As a kid, I was fascinated by astronomy and constantly had a book about the solar system from my school library out on loan. My biology teacher at high school was also a large inspiration, and so were the pop-science books I started reading around the end of high school, particularly ones which made concepts from neuroscience really accessible to a lay-person (The Brain that Changes Itself would have to be one of the main influences for getting me interested in science).

2. You’re obviously a creative person, with interests in things like fashion. Why are you studying science and not fashion?

About 3 years ago, I actually had my mind set on being a photographer – but on the day I went to check out all the universities and their courses, and sat in on a seminar on the photography course I really wanted to take, I hated it. That same day I sat in on a science seminar on a whim and was totally convinced to study that instead. Since then I have been completely immersing myself in all things science, and have fallen in love with it. I want to know how the world and universe works! Fashion is something I am also very passionate about, but am happy for it to be a hobby and a creative side-project. The amount of my time that I dedicate to fashion and sewing is enough to satisfy my need to be artsy!




3. Many style bloggers already work in the fashion/design industry so it’s a smooth transition into full-time blogging.  If your blog became extremely successful would you be happy to take it on full-time?

No – becoming a scientific researcher is my number one goal, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything! If my blog became very successful I would most likely try to run it while still focusing primarily on science. But, if I ever had to choose between the two, science would win.

4. Historically, science and engineering were considered careers for men only. How much have attitudes changed and are you mindful of being a minority? 
 
That attitude has definitely changed, though it depends on the particular scientific discipline and the particular part of the world you are talking about. Here in Australia, I don’t feel like a minority at all at my university - we have more undergraduate female science students than male, and generally we have an equal balance of female/male lecturers as well. Though it still makes me sad that even here, as science careers (particularly in maths and physics) continue into PhD’s and beyond, there are still quite a few more men than women, a lot of the time because women might want to start families and many disciplines are still not particularly supportive of a woman’s decision to choose to have a family over a high-powered science career. I am extremely respectful of the work being done by female scientists at the moment who are fighting this and hope that by the time I might be thinking of having a family, females will be regarded as equals in all sciences, and I won't have to choose either one or the other.

Science memes

6. What do you make of the current “geek chic” trend, which started with nerd glasses and developed into “I love nerds” slogans and chemistry LOLcats? Is this a passing fad or is science actually cool?

I don’t have a problem with it (in fact I follow a few "science memes" pages on Facebook and often gain great amusement from them) and think that on the whole, it is probably beneficial for the public’s perception of science. I know that my boyfriend’s little brother has suddenly become very interested in science, particularly astronomy, which was very influenced by internet memes like the “Symphony of Science” on Youtube. The internet has made science accessible to everyday people in a way that it never has been before.

Although I think that this whole "geek chic" thing will probably just be a passing fad, that doesn't mean that it won't inspire a whole bunch of young people (and hopefully young women as well) to start exploring the world of science. And just maybe they'll really like what they find! Hopefully it'll be the spark for a lot of people, and they'll then get to see that science is much more than just a passing fad - it really is a whole new way of looking at the world and has so much to contribute to everyone's lives.


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So there you have it! I think it's great that a Youtube video has the power to positively affect someone's career choices. A big thanks to Annika for participating, and be sure to visit her beautiful blog.

If you or someone you know is a scientist who smashes the stereotypes and would like to tell your story, please get in touch. Also do so if there are any burning questions you would like to see answered next time. If you got this far you may be interested in a Tumblr called This is what a scientist looks like too.



13 comments:

  1. YOU ARE THE BEST.
    Also this blogger is a neuroscientist: http://www.pandaphilia.com/
    :)

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    1. Thanks for being the first experimental subject
      x

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  2. what a lovely article! the puns and pictures made me laugh. i like annika a lot and just recently discovered her style. boy was i shocked to learn she's a fellow scientist fashionista (i'm a medical student now)! i struggled with balancing my natural artsiness with my chosen profession in science - and the latter won out as a career but inside i am always functioning on art and music. kind of the opposite, right? i think it's wonderful that you're an engineer AND an artist - the best of many worlds :)

    pandaphilia style

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it and thank you! It's a struggle to find your identity if you don't fit into a box- so it's comforting to find others with the same experience :)

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  3. :) ah, Annika is so cool.
    I do neuroscience at uni as well, it's cool to see other fashion bloggers breaking stereotypes!

    L.
    Good Morning Angel.

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    1. Nice to meet you. I'm going to put you on my scientist blogger database which I've just decided to make :)

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  4. Brilliant idea. Great start. Can't wait to read the next one.

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  5. I think I don't count as a scientist anymore because I quit after getting my Ph.D (in biomedical sciences). Yep, that's nearly a decade of schooling that I'm not using (but who's counting!).

    Want to hear some horrible ways in which I saw women treated while I was a graduate student at one of the best universities in the US? I knew a student whose (female) primary investigator told her that she should have an abortion because it "wasn't a good time to have a baby" after she told her she was pregnant (a planned pregnancy, I should add). After his wife had their daughter, one of the male postdocs in my lab (who now has his own lab), said he would think twice about hiring a female employee or postdoc because they might have to take time off to have a baby. Another male postdoc agreed, and said he would definitely consider that factor when hiring(his wife had coincidentally also just given birth to a daughter). A female P.I. told me that she wasn't sure she should have had a kid because even though she shared a lab with her husband, she had to do a lot more of the childcare. You have to be tough as nails to be a full-fledged female scientist!

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    1. Sheesh Rachel, I'm so sorry to hear this, thanks for sharing. Do you think the problem is unique to academia or that it's a problem with society at large?

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    2. Both! The idea that women should be the primary caregivers for children (or feel guilty about it), and the lack of availability for affordable childcare are definitely pervasive in society in general. If, for example, paternity leave was more widely available and accepted, it would spread some of the responsibility for pregnancy and its aftermath to men. The part that is unique to academia is the incredibly competitive environment. If your post-doc is having a baby instead of doing work, someone might scoop you, which might cost you a prestigious paper, which could cost you a grant, and in turn jeopardize your chances for tenure, etc. It certainly doesn't help that public science funding has been dismal in the US for years, making it that much more competitive.

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  6. fab article! I love Annika's blog, so this was great to get to more about her, she sounds so down to earth :D xx

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Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment- I appreciate it