Ada Lovelace Day 2010

1. What is your background in science and technology? What was your major in university and graduate school?

I am a mechanical engineer, with a specialization in thermal processes (the “fluids” part of mechanical engineering, not the “solids” part). In graduate school I did a MASc., in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, but in collaboration with the Faculty of Chemical Engineering. My area of research was waste treatment of toxic industrial wastes.

2. In what kind of position do you currently work?

Well, currently I’m on maternity leave, but my last job was in the investment banking industry as a business analyst for cleantech/green energy projects

3. In the elementary years girls are engaged with the hands-on science in their classrooms; however, the interest of many drops off during the high school years. Based on your own experience, what happened during your youth that created a positive environment for your science career? On a similar note, what could be done in schools to encourage girls to continue on in the sciences?

I did junior and high school in a school that specialized in exact sciences, where each student would have a “specialization”. Mine was Math. I think that motivated me to go into the sciences.

Schools should improve their vocational services for students. They should bring speakers from different industries so that students can hear about what they do, and ask questions. Also, a mentoring program could help.

4. What type of informal science learning (eg experiences in science museums) did you favour growing up?

We had wonderful vocational services in our school. We would go to a place where we could sign up for different activities, and see what professionals in those fields did. I did something related to agronomy (didn’t like it), something related to mechanics (liked it), and other things.

5. Are there new types of informal science learning that you think is or could be popular with girls?

Science competitions are fun and are a very good way to motivate both male and female students.

6. Females enroll in advanced science classes at the same rate as their male counterparts; however, many drop out. Why do you think that is? What could be done to keep girls in these programmes?

Perhaps it is a self esteem issue. Girls always want to be perfect, and if they don’t perform the way they think they should, they feel that they have failed. Boys, on the contrary, don’t care that much, so they are happier with lower grades.

Surprisingly, some professors (I’m talking engineering, which is what I know) favour boys more than girls, and that is very discouraging for girls. More female professors would help empower girls. Also, like I said before, mentoring programs work wonders.

7. Do you see any evidence of injustices and bias toward women in how scientific research is developed and structured, how data is collected, how experimental results are interpreted and how results are reported to wider audiences?

I believe there is. I’ve even heard distasteful jokes such as “not too bad for a woman”

8. What institutions in our communities can help to promote and sustain the interest of girls in the sciences?

In Vancouver both UBC and APEGBC, together with SCWIST, did a wonderful job organizing mentoring programs for female engineering students. Also, the Minerva Foundation for BC Women did a lot to empower girls.

9. Can you recommend any museums, science centers, zoos, aquaria or botanical gardens in your area where you feel innovative programmes encourage dialogue that inspires young female scientists?

I can’t think of anything specific. Perhaps also reading about the history of science. You’ll find a lot of brilliant women, not all recognized as they should (see the story of Lise Meitner, very sad in my view, but the worse thing is that this still happens today).

10. What are your thoughts about the following research findings?

• In some education settings girls are less likely to explore and invent and are more likely to collaborate with their fellow students.

This is socially conditioned by the role that girls and boys are expected to play

• While taking part in hands-on science learning and science fair projects girls focus on the human body while boys are drawn to computers and physical sciences.

Same as above, Girls are brought up to be more “nurturing” than boys

• In science competitions girls create projects based on research while boys are more likely to try experimental research.

Yes, and for the same reason, girls have also proved to be better wealth managers, investment bankers, etc.

• Gifted high school girls are more likely to engage with science enrichment experiences more often than

Perhaps they feel empowered?

• In naturally occurring conversations in the home, parents are three times more likely to explain science to boys rather than girls while they use interactive exhibits in science.

True, again, this is socially conditioned. It is our job to change it.

11. Which female scientists and/or technology experts have inspired your own educational and professional experiences?

A neighbour of mine, who studied Nuclear Physics. I was a child then, and thought that was very cool.

12. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?

In the work place there are many instances in which e.g. a woman brings up an idea in a meeting, and somehow magically the merit of her point goes to the man sitting next to her. It has happened to me before. My only advice would be to firmly, but politely (we are women after all ;-) ) correct the mistake ON THE SPOT. Often it is just an honest mistake from another man who couldn’t really process in his brain that the good idea had come from a woman!

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