1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Another talk issue - girls and STEM

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Steerpike, Sep 30, 2016.

    You guys were very helpful with respect to my talk to a branch of the California Writer's Club. That went really well.

    I'm going to be giving a talk to 5th and 6th grade girls about women in science, technology, engineering, and math (and the need for more of them). It's some time away, but I've been asked something that has raised an interesting issue - I've been asked to talk about why there are comparatively few women in these areas.

    Having worked as a scientist, and knowing people in science, engineering, computer technology &c., and based on many things I've read, it seems plain that sexism and misogyny is part of the issue. In some sectors, it can be a significant issue, and can present as outright harassment.

    In my mind I can envision these 5th and 6th grade girls being galvanized by the injustice of it. But I can more easily see them being discouraged by it. The brief outline I have so far is positive messaging, coupled with some accounts of women who did great things in STEM in the past and aren't generally recognized for it, or who faced significant hurdles because they were female. Those things are cast in a historical context, but nothing I have so far says "here's what you may have to battle if you go this route."

    If I was giving this talk to seniors in high school, or undergraduate freshman (whom I've taught courses for in the past and have experience with) it wouldn't be a question. These issues would be discussed. For 5th and 6th grade girls, even using age-appropriate context and language I'm leaning against it because it seems discouraging.

    What do you guys think? Anyone have experience with the age group in question?
     
  2. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    I have two sisters, six nieces, and they've always been taught to do their own thing... but it isn't enough.
    All the positive reinforcement at home is no match for a culture that still promotes gender placement... and btw, women are nearly as guilty as men for the current state of affairs.
    I'm listening to 'The Unknown Universe' on audiobook, by Stuart Clark Phd... there was an interesting aside in one chapter, about the women Edward Pickering hired to process astronomical data. The data had previously been processed by highly qualified men, and all but discarded as useless noise. It turned out that this data was going to change the way we imagined the universe.
    Give this a read... it might be a good lesson for young girls.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Computers
     
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  3. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    Edit: Also, girls of that age have an unholy attraction for glitter, and doing craft projects... so bring glitter and craft paper. Another thing, they now have glue sticks with the glitter mixed in, I know, it's amazing... that's science they might appreciate.
     
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  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you should ask the girls how many of them want to be scientists when they grow up. See what happens. As someone who works in STEM, I can tell you there are many places where sexism and mysogny do not exist. Not to mention, NSF fellowships admit to favoring females. At this point in the game, where a lot of affirmative action is taking place, it would be a little cliche and frivolous to point to "sexism and mysogny" in lab spaces as the main reason why there's a gender gap in stem. I think you should just ask them, how many want to be in science and why or why not.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be inclined to soft-sell it a little... like, ask them to imagine going into a room and seeing two groups - one's a group of all boys, and one's a group of all girls. And then tell them they have to pick a group to join. Probably most of them will pick the group of all-girls. And then you can say it's a common reaction and a lot of adult women make a similar decision. And then you can ask, what if there really were some girls in that all-boy group, but they were hidden in the back? And the group was doing some really cool stuff. If they knew there were some other girls there, and if they saw some of the cool stuff the group was doing, then maybe they'd want to join that group? Then you can say that's why you're there giving the talk - to help them see some of the women who've done great stuff in science, and to show them some of the really cool stuff that group is doing...
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds like your focus is almost entirely on how hard it will be and how unjust it might be, rather than how cool it could be? Am I misunderstanding?

    If the focus is instead in any way on why they might want STEM careers, some random thoughts:

    All of those words--Science, Technology, Engineering, Math--are not really words that fit nicely into a female identity in our society. That is of course the problem, but it's also one of the barriers to solving the problem. So it might help to step away from the generic and to present a variety of specifics.

    If I think of being a "scientist" I say "bleah". If I think of using classic breeding techniques to breed vegetables that are customized to specific geographic areas, that require fewer inputs, that would allow us to solve some of the water shortage problem, that would support the locavore movement, I say, "Well, yeah!" That's science, but "scientist" isn't the word that I primarily use. Carol Deppe, the person who sparked that (hobby-level) interest in me, has a PhD in genetics from Harvard, so she is by God a scientist, but I see her as a passionate artist whose art is made with plants.

    So that's where I'd go--research and present information about women who are following their passions and changing the world, and who happen to be doing that with skills and professions that, oh by the way, fit in the STEM bubble.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Love this idea.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's precisely what I want to avoid, though I do want to make the point that STEM needs more women. I'm focusing primarily on women in science and the cool things they've done, and secondarily just on cool areas of science that might emerge in these kids' lifetimes. I don't know that I even want to talk about obstacles to women at all, or whether I want to mention it in a way that will motivate them. The focus is not intended to be on how hard it will be, my only dilemma is whether I want to even mention gender-related obstacles in the first place or just encourage them to check out how cool it all is.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with this point entirely, but I like the general idea of focusing on their goals and aspirations and not getting into roadblocks.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Great link - thank you. I'm sharing stories like that with them.

    Don't think we'll have an opportunity to do crafts or anything like that, though. Time will be limited.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would focus on the women in science, and I would also suggest talking to women (as you are here) as to which things seem most cool, and what description makes them seem cool. I'm sure that I'm engaging in stereotyping here, but I suspect that a stronger focus on societal impact, rather than how difficult or shiny or high-tech the accomplishment was, will be of more interest to girls.

    In whether to talk about obstacles to women, I might keep it to trying to get them to identify with the female scientists, etc. that you're talking about, rather than going on to talk about obstacles.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    STEM doesn't need anyone, huh? Sure--losing half of the talent of the human race isn't going to hurt even a little tiny bit.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I was in the "Ph.D. world" for quite some time, and I work with scientists and engineers all the time. The good thing for purposes of this conversation is that no one in the Ph.D. world will be astonished to learn how much weight is given to anecdotal evidence in cases like this.

    https://hbr.org/2016/09/what-it-will-take-to-keep-women-from-leaving-stem
     
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not with today's lack of funding. Many fields are currently saturated. Unfortunately.
     
  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    can you point where exactly in that link is it mentioning mysoginy?
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's really not all that relevant. The fact that there's a limited number of positions doesn't mean that they should all be occupied by men.

    And, yes, yes, you're going to argue that there are no barriers against women in STEM. Just as at least one poster in another thread seems to have trouble believing that we haven't fixed poverty, you seem to have trouble believing that we haven't fixed discrimination against women.

    Society hasn't fixed poverty, it hasn't fixed racism, and it hasn't fixed discrimination against women. The fact that you apparently realize that fact for the first two, but not the third, is weirdly inconsistent.
     
  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I go by what I see. There's a significant number of women in STEM, especially at the PhD and Masters level. There are however very few minorities (foreigners don't count obviously). And many people at the PhD level have parents who are professionals. So, yes, I see classism, and I see racism. Do I see sexism? Not sure. I certainly see sexism being corrected. That means that at your age level, sexism might still exist. But for millennials, it'substantially less.
     
  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hope you get to look at my post above, but I wanted to respond to something else here. I absolutely agree that nothing should all be occupied by one group of people. The reason why I said "science doesn't need anyone," was to make a point. Telling women STEM needs more woman is not what STEM needs. What STEM needs are smart people who are willing to work hard and risk failure. Every demographic deserves the opportunity, but let's not kid ourselves that affirmative action HELPS a field. If you have two people applying for a position, and the one with lesser qualifications gets the position to fill a quota, that doesn't help the field. It certainly may help an underrepresented demographic, and guess what, I personally think that's great and I am glad to see that, but it's not actually helping the field.
     
  19. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    Focusing on what's hard is probably the worst thing to do. Telling people to take the harder path normally doesn't work, especially since STEM isn't the most rewarding field. Instead, getting people enthused about it seems like the best idea. Here's a list of scientist you could talk about:

    And, while many people forget about the engineering part of STEM, it is probably the one that's most helpful in terms of getting a career and doing well.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Was anyone talking about quotas or affirmative action? I didn't see that being discussed at all.
     
  21. CrusherBrooks
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    "it seems plain that sexism and misogyny is part of the issue" from personal anecdotal evidence and feminist propaganda, it is evident.

    STEM has affirmative action.
    STEM has women-only student associations and such. At my faculty every girl who joins is automatically a member.

    I've never seen, overheard, or otherwise noticed any of my female colleague students being negatively impacted by being a girl. They have a higher probability of getting their grade increased at exam reviews especially if they cry, they get preferential treatments in project topics, the lab assistants are much nicer to them, they have faculty promoted social events with free food and drinks... The dean of our faculty is a woman, and so was the previous one...
    I've heard (in the "Fiamengo File", a YT video series by StudioBrule) affirmative action has shut down chemistry departments in the UK because they were forced to to attract a surplus of female students who weren't originally that interested in chemistry and dropped out at such a rate that they had to shut down.

    STEM isn't easy. It's a taxing career which, on average, requires significant personal sacrifice especially since a fairly large % of engineers and programmers end up in start ups or overbooked laboratories. Women bear children, men cannot. The average age of child wish is lower for women then it is for men. This discourages the commitment to be debugging your codes at night for years on end. STEM deals with technology, it is inherently low on social interaction. The women who can deal with these issues make it in STEM. The women who don't want to don't choose the career. Many of them don't want to, so that's why they're underrepresented in these fields.
    As far as I'm aware, the only thing preventing women from entering STEM are their fields of interest. The lab can be a lonely place, there's been girls in my faculty who admitted to taking up smoking just so they could have some social interaction during their smoke breaks (during MSc and PhD thesis). Just some more anecdotal evidence.

    Additionally STEM may be on its way to being a safe haven for boys because of all the aggressive feminism going on on social faculties. If you get to sit behind a computer and program all day, you don't run the risk of getting sued for stare rape.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know how bad the situation is in the US, but I guess my advice is, don't patronize the kids and do treat them as individuals, not just as 'girls'. I believe disinterest in STEM comes down to poor pedagogical tools rather than invisible barriers, but since you are addressing the latter I guess I'd be careful not to leave the impression that little girls who like Disney princesses and nursing babies are the wrong kind of girls, the kind society doesn't need or want. Society likes and wants both and everything in between. :)

    We didn't have anything like this when I was 10-12yo, but it sure would've been nice. I was often the only girl in a male group because I chose subjects that interested me while my female friends joined more "acceptable" activities, some out of real interest, some just went where the rest went. Maybe encouragement to think outside the gender boxes would've persuaded some of them to learn wood and metalwork, for example. Then again, it's even worse for boys over here. Girl does metalwork = cool. Boy knits = social suicide. Girl likes physics = wow! Boy likes literature = pussy! :bigmeh:

    Anyway, good luck. What you're doing matters. :agreed:
     
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  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You wouldn't count your blatant contempt for women as a negative impact?
     
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  24. nataku
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    nataku Member

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    Essentially I believe it is because back before the 90's when women's equality truly gained steam these fields were generally man's jobs and as such it wasn't until the 90's that women actually began to get employed in the sciences fields or in mechanics for that matter. It has little to do with how things are now and all to do with how things used to be.
     
  25. matwoolf
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    Transcript, California High School

    'Hey guys, my name is David Breath.

    I am here today to tell you ladies, you can achieve. Yes, the sky is literally your oyster going forward in the competitive marketing. Specifically I am talking science, laboratory, opportunity to work the high bench, sample stools from across America. Now how does that equality program sound to you, any questions?

    No one, no questions? SO, you don't want to be rocket drivers, astroturf layers, computer room technicians?

    What, some kind of pony club. Chicks don't know you're born. Math is music to my ears. Pay attention, and stop whispering. Girl, I can see you there on the back row. It's not big nor is it clever. Tell everybody what did you say?

    Manboobs!

    I'll fetch the teacher you little shits. I hope, I hope you all fall unemployed and pregnant before the age of eighteen, no sixteen. Any questions?'
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2016
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