My Hero: Marie Curie

Conveniently the topic for the next Scientiae Carnival, Role Models of Women Making History, dovetailed nicely with the next exercise for the Total Leadership process.  I found the examples in the book about Total Leadership hard to follow on from as they were both about family members that had overcome adversity and personal challenges. These stories are very interesting, but while I admire my family greatly and I know they have undertaken personal challenges, to me a hero is someone who has done something beyond every day living.  So I chose Marie Curie.

Teaching chemistry to freshmen undergraduates makes me realize how white male dominated it was especially at the beginning of the twentieth century.  A few women stand out in my mind as having been successes despite the system – Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin are two from the mid to late twentieth century that come to mind.  Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) succeeded as a chemist and physicist at an earlier time than these two and from within the system.  I admire her because she dedicated her life to science to such an extent that she left her home country, Poland, to do research at a better institution in Paris.  This was definitely unusual for women at that time.  When she found her scientific niche, she carried out her research at the highest level winning two Nobel prizes.  Every scientist dreams of winning one, but two is outstanding.

The first Nobel prize was the prize for Physics awarded in 1903 to Marie Curie, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel

“in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”

The second, the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was awarded

“in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.”

Marie Curie with her daughters

Marie Curie with her daughters

In addition to being a brilliant hardworking scientist she was also a wife and a mother.  Imagine Marie Curie, who discovered radiation, worrying about Pierre having holes in is socks or Irene getting enough fruit to eat*.

I connect to Marie Curie and see her as a role model because she gave her all to science despite the conventions and expectations of women at her time.

*I am sure she had governesses and housekeepers and was probably quite bourgeois, but still she did it.  She could have just stayed at home and done what every other middle class woman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was doing.


Wikipedia on Marie Curie

Susan Quinn (1995) Marie Curie – A Life, Heinemann, London


September Scientiae Carnival – Reflections on Summer



At the end of the summer, the Scientiae Labor Day BBQ  was held at Lab Cat’s place. After eating mounds of delicious food and drinking a few good drinks, our women scientists came together around the fire holding the last of the marshmallows over the coals for a last bite of smores and summer.  Ella Fitzgerald sang quietly in the background.

Hannah, at Twinkle Twinkle YSO, found an interesting mix of female presenters at her astronomy conference:

Gender balance for today’s plenary talks: 2 out of 9 are women. Not so good. Still, I was chatting with one of the organizers, and she said that the overall balance of plenary speakers was about 50/50, and they weren’t even trying for that, it’s simply how things worked out.

Still, she got to have some great times with other women astronomers.

Podblack Cat points out that it is not summer or Labor Day in the Southern Hemisphere but the end of winter but that has not stopped her traveling. Her own research “involves the impact of the Raising of the Leaving Age legislation (examples you can see here) and engagement and retention in schools.”  As part of this research she talks to many young people, giving rise to this interesting observation:

Funnily enough, I have yet to meet a young man interested in astronomy, but I have met at least five young women in both my job and in my research who are intrigued by the possibility of Australia succeeding in getting the Square Kilometer Array and what it might mean for the state!

Patchi, who blogs at My Middle Years, told us how she and her family were not ready to go on vacation when the time came to leave, but they left anyway.  Part of the problem was over planning of experiments especially as some had failed the week before.

As the departure date approached, the unexpected hit. More experiments came up, I lost a huge batch of cells because they didn’t differentiate. When experiments need to be planned two weeks ahead, it’s very easy to over-plan. How many experiments can I realistically get done in a week?

To cap it all, being in Florida, a Tropical storm came through:

I had every day planned by the time I heard the weather forecast. What a great time for a tropical storm! I figured I could work through it, it’s not a hurricane, right?

As far as I know this did not stop them from getting away.

Jokerine at hdrieoplus was not able to join us as she has taken a sabbatical.  Changes are taking place in her life and she needs time away from writing about science and her career as a woman scientist. Some quotes about this:

Things are changing. Things that seemed fundamental are changing. I certainly did not choose it and those changes are thus wreaking havoc on my little bubble of a world.

Though I think it would be interesting to explore my emotional world I am too afraid.

I do not need to rush things. Summer is turning into Fall is turning into Winter. Winter is a time for reflexion and I will use this time.

Alice, co-blogger at Sciencewomen, reflects on her summer now that classes have already started.  Her summer had a mixture of successe, the lucky thing went to Europe including visiting London, Cambridge and Oxford [no British biases here] and failures, but it also put an end to her two body problem:

I gotta say, though, the thing I am most thrilled of from on my summer vacation is my husband getting a good job in the same town as I. This is going to immeasurably improve my second year, and hopefully his life too. 🙂

Barn Owl, at Gaudalope Storm-Petrel, reports on her excitement for the Olympics and for sports in general.  Sadly her colleagues and advisors do not always share her enthusiasm for participating or spectating:

I *love* sports-as a participant, and as a spectator. Always have, and probably always will. And I’ve received vocal criticism about my athletic pursuits and interests sporadically, ever since I had the unmitigated gall to play City League soccer, starting my first summer in grad school.

She loves the Olympics because:

I still love the diversity of experience and talent that characterizes the Olympics, and since I have friends and colleagues from many different countries, I often find myself rooting for the Australian swimmers, or the Spanish cyclist, or the Japanese gymnast. The Olympic events make a lovely discussion point for friends separated by oceans, but connected by the internet.

Rivikah considered writing her thesis at speed over the summer but ended up changing her mind so that she could have a more enjoyable time even if it would take longer to finish. She sums it up very well –  a lesson for many of us more experienced folks:

[…] sometimes putting my work away and coming back to it later is the most productive thing I can do.

Samia, at 49 percent, is excited about the internship she ended up taking at the EPA.  The experience there has reinvigorated her enthusiasm for science and for returning to University.

I really could not have predicted all this shit would happen in the space of three months, but it beats summer school fo’ sho. I learned a lot about analytical chemistry I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else, and the money has been nice. My internship is over on September 30, and I can’t wait because class and extracurriculars are important to me.

Over at Faraday’s Cage is where you put Shroedinger’s Cat, Cherish proves once again that making plans dooms you to failure.  For example, number 8 on her plan:

8 – Move in slowly over the month of August. which doesn’t open until Sept. 1st.

Still she is excited about moving and starting her PhD.  Luckily she has good friends to stay with until her apartment is ready.

Summers are a good time to learn about work and life balance, as Jane of SeeJaneCompute found out. Including one I strongly agree with, but took me several years to realize:

I need a couple of weeks to decompress after all of the end-of-the-year stuff before I can really get down to doing serious work. (A vacation would be a really good idea at this point.)

We all sent virtual hugs and best wishes to ScienceWoman (Alice’s coblogger) and Minnow, as she struggles with marital issues as her husband is going through what we British people quaintly call a nervous breakdown.  Life can seriously suck sometimes. She is not looking for advice but:

[…] I’m telling you this because I consider many of you friends. […] I’m telling you this because if I’m going to blog at all about my life (which was an original purpose of the blog), you’re going to need some context.

The comments to this post are also heart warming as many regular readers delurked to wish her well and other women told their similar stories.

In the meantime Amanda, a Lady Scientist, reminds us that science researchers do not really get time off during the summer:

I didn’t get much a vacation this summer. I spent the first three quarters of it frantically working to have something to present at Major European Conference.

She did get to visit some cool places. Britian once again and yeah, Stonehenge tourist trap and road island pisses off the Brits too:

I was rather disappointed with this place. I thought that it’d be in the middle of nowhere and perhaps I’d have to answer about the airspeed of a swallow in order to see it. However, it was sandwiched between two major highways and there were a. lot. of. people. So, not quite the mystical experience I thought it’d be.

No summer for ScienceGirl from Curiosity Killed the Cat.  Too busy traveling and being an intern:

This summer has been anything but restful. 15,000 miles traveled.

Wow, that’s a lot!

A laptop proved to Acmegirl‘s best friend this summer.  It allowed her to get work done where ever she was. This allowed her daughter to take more interesting courses at summer camp.

I left quite early almost every day for a whole month and even took the time to shuttle Thing 1 to a dance class she wanted to take in the afternoon. I did a lot of work on my laptop at all different times of the day and in all kinds of different places. Sometimes I went in to the lab on the weekend.

This led to a much more relaxing summer and allowed her to take a real vacation with NO WORK!

Another grad student without a summer off, Mrs Whatsit is lucky enough to have an advisor who understands that time off is important.  Advisor has obviously learned what Rivikah told us earlier:

Fortunately, my advisor is of the “vacations are good for the brain” mentality and, as such, rarely complains when we want to take one (within reason, of course). I thought he might make an exception in my case since I am supposedly close to graduating and the sooner I get out of there the sooner he can stop paying me. However, when I sat down in his office and said, in a perfectly serious tone of voice, “I need to take a break or I’m going to shoot someone,” he simply said, “Okay.” I must have the look of a woman on the edge.

So Mrs Whatsit crams all her summer fun into a ten day period, including eating yummy food at Iowa State Fair – mmm,  I love funnel cake.

For me, summer was good.  I had time to relax and hang out with friends and family.

This summer was particularly good as for the first time in many years I did not have to worry.

As male organizers of tech conferences appear to be incapable of finding good women speakers, Liz Henry told us that they were offering training for women to become better speakers. But wait, perhaps the problem is not that women do not know how to present their stuff:

I’d like to question the idea that women don’t know how to speak at conferences. Wait, I thought we were the communicators, the ones with the social skills, the teachers and professors, used to being heard by an audience.

Pat at Fairer Science is also did not get much of a vacation as her husband broke his neck. Ouch.  This gave her a good insight into how to make sure you get the best care possible at a hospital.   One of the tips:

While in the hospital, check and recheck everything. “What is this medication?” “Why are you giving it to me/him/her?” (Sometimes there are assumptions like “Well of course you are on pain medication so therefore you need….”; but if you’re not on pain medication; then you don’t need the other stuff; but unless you ask you’re going to get it.)

She also recommend the breakfast pizza at Mass General.  So if you are passing by at the right time…

Get well quickly,  Tom!

Finally, Zuska called as she could not make the BBQ because she is in Western PA visiting her Mom.

At the end of what had been a lovely day, we cleared up to Nat King Cole reminding us those lazy, hazy summer days of the past.  Finally,  with the cicadas singing, we went on our way planning to stay in touch and meet again next month at Deliberate Pixel‘s for tea or something.  Information on how to contribute is here.  As my Dove Promise just said:

Life is all about making memories.

Thank you for all your memories – old and new friends.  I really appreciate you playing along with my plans for Scientiae this month.

Oh yeah top image was stolen from here.

Summer Time

This Gershwin song totally describes summer.  Summer is the time to kick back and relax.  I can recharge my batteries, sit under trees to read and knit, visit friends and family,  go to music festivals and attend conferences.  This summer was particularly good as for the first time in many years I did not have to worry.  I have a great new position and I have no need to get research done. I was able to enjoy myself, get some new experiences and work towards my new position.

I do miss doing science and one of my biggest regrets is that my writing on science, especially for this blog, has been practically nonexistent.  Last year I could hardly bear to look at New Scientist let alone read a journal article.  A few months ago, I started reading about science again, especially food chemistry but also general science.  I intend to start posting snippets of science information when they come to my attention.  They shall be one paragraph posts without much commentary.  Hopefully they will inform you of what I found interesting, and get me started writing about science again.

This weekend is the last week of vacation for many people and summer ends for me with the beginning of a new position at a new college and so I have to start thinking about the next semester.  Gulp – I start teaching on Sept 2.


August Scientiae and Call for Posts for September

One problem with transitioning between my two homes of Britain and America is that I totally missed writing for this month’s Scientiae, which was all about being in transition.  These excellent posts, written by more organized bloggers, were cleverly put together by Faraday’s Cage is where your put Schroedinger’s Cat. Great Hosting, Cherish!  It is a pity that I missed it as I have lots to say about transitions; not only the US/UK transition but also I am starting my new job in September.  Less than an month now, gulp.   Luckily, I can still enjoy the rest of the summer which in my reckoning, summer being July and August, is only half over.

This brings me neatly to September’s Scientiae.  As I am host, I get to chose a theme and it is that favorite of all school teachers “My Summer Vacation“.

Even for those not in education or with children, September means the end of summer so this Scientiae gives one more chance to look back over the summer to relive some enjoyable experiences, or assess how well we achieved our goals.  Did we get everything done we had hoped?  Did we have fun? Did any one go some where exotic or exciting?

You can write about anything to do with summer – for example, pick your best experience this year or talk about what summers and vacations mean to you in general.  Feel free to use a post you have already posted;  this year I have read some great summer vacation posts.  As always, you are free to ignore the theme and write about anything to do with women in science and your posts will still be considered for Scientiae.

Please submit posts in the traditional manner by 8 am (EST) August 30th 2008.  I am going to laboring over Scientiae over Labor Weekend [sorry couldn’t resist] and I want it up by Sept 1 as I start teaching again Sept 2 [yah] and will not have any time after Labor Day.

I cannot wait to read your posts!

Note: Partly cross posted at Scientiae.

Changing Views

For the next Scientiae Carnival FlickaMawa asks us to discuss our changing views of ourselves. In particular she wants to know if we have changed over the last decade or less. Well, I am going to stretch this out a little to when I was a teenager.

I am going to start with FlickaMawa’s name. I keep reading this as FlickaMama, and I have to make an effort to remember that it is not. One reason for this is that I am dyslexic. Probably very mildly compared to some people and I have to all intents and purposes overcome it.

As a young teen I could not spell for toffee. Apparently I always spelt girl – ‘gril’ and the end of my parents’ street name (___field) would drive me nuts. Nope, I could not even spell my address without sweating about it.

Unlike many dyslexics, I love words. I love to read and one of my ambitious back in the dark ages was to write. Eventually, I could not cope with my bad spelling any longer. So I decided that any word that I was unsure of, I was going to look up in a dictionary. Any word and any level of uncertainty. I probably spent a day or two looking up the word “friend” fifteen times. What is it with all these words containing ie? I still have problems with recieve receive.

Over a number of weeks I noticed an improvement. Over a number of months my parents did. I no longer needed to look most words up. Finally my Mum, a remedial English teacher, stated that I was cured of dyslexia, which she had never met in her professional life before.

That was until I started learning foreign languages as an adult. Then it all came tumbling back. Additionally, I took a botany course which required me to learn all those scientific names. Do you know how many letters some of those plant names have? Part of the final grade was based on spelling them correctly in the certifying exam. Perhaps if you change “ae” with an “ea” or miss out the “e” entirely, you get a completely different plant? I would have got a better score if it was not for my misspellings.

So I have lots of sympathy when FlickaMawa says she has to learn equations for her qualifying exams.

Scientiae Posted

February’s Scientiae posted at Fairer Science. I’ve been out of the science loop for a while as personally and professionally I needed a break. I am slowly coming back. Some of the stories published last month and highlighted at Scientiae, help me with the fact that I am not ready to tell mine.

Visit Fairer Science and enjoy; get angry and act!

Growing Up in a Sorority

Sororities get a bad rap. While this may be partly justified, any professional sorority gives undergraduate women a safe environment in which they can be a leader and learn responsibility. While I tend to avoid anything that smells even slightly cliquey, I do help advise a professional sorority. I enjoy this because I love watching my young women grow in personality, learn how to take on responsibility and how to delegate.

I enjoy working with my co-advisors as while they come to the sorority with different perspectives, we are in agreement of supporting our young women and helping them grow. We all know that life is not perfect and, hopefully, help the sorority women realize that they cannot be friends with every member of the sorority. Individuals are going to prefer other individuals and that might not mean you. We also try to avoid cliques from forming or at least taking over sorority events.

I see my role as advisor as the tight rope around a boxing ring or the net under a tightrope. I might not be able to stop the fights but hopefully I can stop them from falling before they get unnecessarily hurt. Growing up is about taking risks, stretching your body and your mind and learning about your own limitations. It is also about learning when to say “No” politely and firmly and NOT taking on responsibility when you do not have the time commitment.

Hopefully, I help my young women learn to make the appropriate decision for their circumstances.