I was interviewed by Newsweek on the inequalities embedded into the way people imagine colonising other planets. I discussed how the language we use about ‘colonising’ Mars whitewashes the history of colonialism on Earth:
‘“Language is one of the ways in which we shape our social reality,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told Newsweek. That means using terms like colonise carries real risks. “The history of colonialism has taught us that there is no democratic way to colonise other lands,” she said. “It is about profit, and profit always marginalises minorities.”’
Read this insightful article featuring other experts, here.
I’m featured in the first episode of Making New Worlds, a podcast inviting experts from different fields to discuss the ethics of colonising other planets.
The issue we discuss is not about scientific space exploration (collecting data about other planets), but whether it is ethical for humans to settle in Mars or other planets. My responses represent sociological considerations about the inequality that is inherent in colonialism. The quotes below are excerpts from me; listen to the entire podcast in the link.
Astrophysicist Professor Vera Rubin, USA National Medal of Science awardee who confirmed the existence of dark matter, died on 25 December 2016.
One of the things I want to highlight especially for this post is the wonderful job Professor Rubin’s institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, did in their press release. They focus on Rubin’s scientific discovery using plain language, but they were bold in also highlighting her gender equity work in science, by calling her an “ardent feminist”. This is so important because women’s advocacy for gender equity is scientific work that is unpaid; it is undertaken on top of research, teaching, and grant work; and goes largely unacknowledged.
Physics and astronomy are amongst the least diverse sciences in the USA (with biology being relatively more diverse). In 2012, only one PhD in Astronomy was conferred to a Black American scholar and two to Latin Americans; in Physics two were to African Americans and three to Latins.
Here’s my latest for STEM Women on how a sexist shirt worn by Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor is connected to everyday sexism in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and why this matters to broader gender equality efforts in science.
On STEM Women, we did a series of posts on women who are pioneers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math). I wrote a piece about Evelyn Boyd Granville, who was only the second African American woman to gain a PhD in Mathematics in the USA, in the early 1940s. I especially loved reading all her personal recollections of the sacrifices that her mother and aunt made to put her through university. It seems a moot point to say that parents play a pivotal role in their children’s success. This is not so simple when we understand the empirical evidence of how institutional and social forces can limit parents and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Parents don’t always know how to support girls into STEM careers, and more importantly, they don’t always have the resources or knowledge about where to seek additional help. This is especially pertinent for the careers of minority women in STEM. Continue reading STEM Women in Mathematics: Evelyn Boyd Granville
On STEM Women, we’ve been writing about women in STEM to celebrate International Women’s Day. Below is what I wrote, and what a joy it was to reflect on the life and work of Evelyn Boyd Granville. She was only the second Black American woman to gain a PhD in Mathematics. We didn’t include this in the original post below, but I especially loved reading all her personal recollections of the sacrifices that her mother and aunt made to put her through university.
Granville was raised in a single parent home by Julia Boyd, her poor working mother who wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s education. This was a very brave move given that in the 1940s, there were few educational or work opportunities for women in science, let alone for minority women. Granville recalls:
I saw black women – attractive, well dressed women – teaching school, and I wanted to be a teacher because that’s all I saw. I was not aware of any other profession… I did not receive a scholarship the first year at (Smith College), and I was told later that they didn’t see how in the world a poor child as I could afford to go there.
Granville faced much discrimination along the way, not just in finding work despite her obvious brilliance, but in other ways that should have impeded her progress. For example, she was not able to find accommodation in New York when she moved there to undertake her postdoctoral work.
Here is a great feature on Eileen Chollet who has a PhD in astronomy but left academia due to poor work options as a working mother. She now works as a researcher in Defence. While she relies heavily on her academic skills, particularly statistics, she also finds that her education gave her with highly marketable skills in public speaking and “social skills.” She taught while she was carrying out her PhD, and these public communication skills have served her well.
Eileen’s discussion of the difficulties she faced in academia struck a chord with me. She found that her skills were more valued outside the academy as competition for postdocs is fierce, and the hours and pay for junior academics make this career path difficult. Continue reading Leaving Academia