I returned to the office this week, signalling that the New Year is now fully underway. It’s looking to be a pretty exciting (and hopefully extremely productive!) year, too.
This will be a busy year for me, as it’s the year that the bulk of my thesis will get written. (Or all of it? Let’s not hold our breath for that!) It’s also looking to be the year that I present a lot of my work at conferences and other events. (And hopefully, some of those presentations will be based on publications!)
My first presentation will be tomorrow in the form of a 1-minute madness presented at an Edinburgh Napier UniversitySchool of Computing research day. It’s an easy little warm-up for the year, and a great way to remind my colleagues about my research interests (and to be reminded of theirs!).
I will also be submitting proposals for a couple of other conferences over the next year. There are three that I have in mind at the moment though I don’t know that I’ll be able to attend and present at all three. But I’ll be sure to let you know!
I am really excited about 2016 and am hoping that it’s a productive and exciting year. I’m feeling quite positive about my research and my role in academia at the moment, and I hope to keep the momentum going!
I hope your 2016 is off to an equally wonderful start!
Last week, we held our year-end Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) meeting at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Computing. The bi-annual meeting was an opportunity for members of the CSI team to come together to discuss our research (investigation) activities over the previous six months, with an opportunity for questions (interrogations) afterwards. And, of course, since it was so near to the start of the Christmas holidays, at the end of the meeting we toasted the end of a successful year with a bit of Prosecco (that’s the imbibe bit*).
The format of these meeting is fairly simple: Each team member is given 5 minutes to share an update on their research and engagement activities. After 5 minutes are up, there is time for other CSI members to ask questions or to share other pieces of relevant and helpful information.
Time-keeping being what it is, however, these 5-minute sessions are known to take a bit longer than 5 minutes at times. That is, of course, until our centre director (and my supervisor, Hazel Hall) showed up at last week’s meeting with a 5-minute sand-based timer. Whilst we laughed at the excitement over such a thing, I think we can all recognise that it was a great way to keep everyone from going over their allotted time. (And it worked. Mostly.)
Ideally, I would be able to share a short summary of what each member presented at the meeting. However, I wasn’t really expecting to blog about the day so I didn’t take notes. (I will do that next time though!) You can find bio pages for CSI members here though, along with information about their research.
I can share with you the information that I presented though. So here goes:
I have nearly completed the data collection for my empirical research.
[Note: Click here to skip the personal epiphany stuff and go straight to the event recap.]
My personal celebration of women in STEM began earlier than that, however. In fact, it began when I woke up and saw the reminder on my phone. That was when it finally dawned on me that I am a “Woman in STEM”.
As I thought about my place within the STEM community, I realised that I am a poor advocate for the group. Not because I don’t believe that women are (more than) capable of excelling in STEM subjects, but because I have never truly considered myself a part of the community. My lack of connection with the community stems (pun slightly intended) from my background in the humanities, media, and culture, but also from my fringe status within the field of technology.
You see, I am nearly a year into my PhD within Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing, but I have struggled to think of myself as a “computer person” because I am investigating online reputation management—not computers. I suppose I can’t help but feel that my studies are about media, communications, and society, rather than computer-based.
Slowly but surely, however, I’ve been breaking through the (self-imposed) barriers and have been feeling more and more comfortable with the thought of being lumped with the computer scientists and technology folks—even though I still feel better connected to the fields of media and communications studies.
But I can find comfort in more than one place, right? After all, as a long-term expat, I feel just as comfortable identifying with my home nation of America as I do with my adopted home of Scotland. And if I can (eventually) have dual nationalities, why can’t I have dual academic disciplines?
So, yes. I am a Woman in STEM. (Actually, I am a Multi-Disciplinary Woman. Which is empowering in its own right.)
By the time I arrived at the dinner, I was feeling more comfortable than ever with my place within STEM. And as I began to chat with the other guests, I realised more and more that we’re all from diverse backgrounds—some that are directly related to STEM subjects; some that are not.
And then when the speakers began to take the stage, I knew—without a doubt—that I was in the right place.
The evening’s programme began with an address from Edinburgh Napier University’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Andrea Nolan (OBE), who spoke about the changing climate for women in STEM within the university—including the high number of female staff in the School of Computing.
Professor Hazel Hall then spoke about the university’s Athena SWAN bronze submission and the overall environment within Edinburgh Napier’s STEM subjects. She was rightfully pleased to point out that 21% of the university’s STEM professoriate is female—which bucks the trend of the UK’s benchmark of 16.5%. On the other hand, she noted that women are still under-represented on some important committees.
However, in keeping with the positive theme of the evening, we were reminded that there are mechanisms in place to help improve opportunities for not only women staff, but for current and future women students in STEM.
Linda Somerville, director of Equate Scotland, spoke next about the overall outlook for women in STEM. She shared some rather disappointing statistics, such as a recent survey by Prospect of over 2,000 women in science, engineering, and technical roles that showed 30% of women felt their careers had been hindered by their gender—a percentage that increased with age, as nearly 40% of women over 50 felt that way.
Happily though, Linda pointed out that Equate Scotland has been giving direct support to women over the years—the impact of which has shown 83% of women assisted feel more confident about their careers and 24% have obtained new jobs.
Dame Jocelyn’s frank discussions of the harassment she endured during her studies and her feelings of imposter syndrome seemed to resonate with the audience—as did her experience as a “trailing spouse” whose career came second to that of her husband’s and to the demands of motherhood.
Keeping with the evening’s positive theme, however, Dame Jocelyn points out that her “succession of jobs, rather than a career” provided her with great opportunities in a number of fields—and helped her to develop an impressive career in the end.
There were three things Dame Jocelyn said that I felt really made the day a success:
It takes a long time to change society and society’s perceptions.
It’s OK to celebrate the differences between women and men.
We need to re-write women into history!
I hope that others in attendance found the evening as uplifting and positive as I did. It truly was a great celebration of Women in STEM and I’m looking forward to seeing the momentum continue.
Back to my own personal epiphany, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had on my walk home after the celebration.
Like many things, changing perceptions, norms, and attitudes takes time. But we are changing them. Step by step, little by little. Ada Lovelace made a difference. Dame Jocelyn made (and continues to make) a difference. Women and men like you are making a difference. I am making a difference.
The things we do today—the societal norms and expectations we challenge today—will impact the women and men who follow after us. I am excited about my role in creating a better tomorrow!
Happy (belated) Ada Lovelace Day!
[Watercolour portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). Image in public domain, accessed from Wikimedia Commons. Photographs of Professor Hazel Hall and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell copyright Frances Ryan, 2014]