Academic Sexism

This is my latest post for STEM Women, which covers the recent Op-Ed in the New York Times claiming that there is no sexism in academia. There’s been a really great response from scientists speaking out against this article, particularly on social media. The issue is to really get the message out to the rest of the public that gender inequality in science is important and ongoing.

Continue reading Academic Sexism

STEM Women in Physical Sciences: Mary Somerville


I wrote this for STEM Women about Mary Somerville, the woman who made science so popular that she inspired the word “scientist”!

The word “scientist” was coined by Philosopher William Whewell in his 1834 review of Mary Somerville’s On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. While Somerville was obviously not the first person to practice science, it is a double delight that this term was invented to describe not only a woman in STEM, but also in praise of her public communication of science in beautiful and engaging prose. So in a sense, Somerville was not the first “scientist” but she was also the first science communicator to reach a broad public audience! blogs has published a wonderful review on the enduring impact of Somerville’s opus, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. It was an internationally best selling book that pre-dates Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by 25 years.

Continue reading STEM Women in Physical Sciences: Mary Somerville

Maria Gaetana Agnesi: The Witch of Agnesi Curve

Two STEM women on Google Doodles this week! Biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to win Science Nobel prize (in 1964), was on UK’s Google Doodle on Monday. Today we have mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. The committee of the Académie des Sciences wrote that Agnesi’s work embodied “skill and sagacity.” ( I pusblished the following on Agnesi’s work on STEM Women. Continue reading Maria Gaetana Agnesi: The Witch of Agnesi Curve

STEM Women in Mathematics: Evelyn Boyd Granville

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

Honouring 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. 

Keep reading to learn more about this phenomenal woman! Continue reading Honouring Evelyn Boyd Granville

Women and the Nobel Prize for Sciences

Two women appear on the back of the Nobel Prize medal. Yet less than  3% of Nobel laureates have been women! Only one woman social scientist has been awarded a science Prize (in economics). Not to mention the fact that most of the winners have been White and predominantly from Europe and North America.

As part of our celebration of women in STEM ahead of International Women’s Day, I wrote about the gendered nature of these awards for STEM Women.

Continue reading Women and the Nobel Prize for Sciences

I Joined the Team at STEM Women

A couple of weeks ago, I joined the STEM Women management team. Our goal is to improve the visibility and participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We have a number of exciting initiatives coming up, including a series of fortnightly Google+ Hangouts (broadcast on our YouTube). This includes Hangouts with women talking about their careers in STEM; discussions with organisations about practical programs that address women’s inclusion; analysis of topical issues impeding progress and how to move forward; as well as conversations with men about how they can help support women and how we can address gender inequality together.

Earlier today, I co-hosted the first of our new fortnightly interview series, and Rajini womaned our social media live. We chatted with Professor Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist specialising in microbiome research and editor-in-chief of the open-access journal PLoS Biology. Jonathan was a fantastic guest who spoke candidly about the need for male academics to be more proactive in addressing inequality. He gave some practical examples of how women’s participation in science can be bolstered by simple measures, such as by: offering childcare as part of academic conference services; through diversity training for hiring panels; and providing better mentorship for young women in science. Continue reading I Joined the Team at STEM Women

Social Science and Agent-based Modelling

Philosopher of Social Science, Daniel Little, provides a nice overview on some of the problems with agent-based modelling and how models might be improved with a more nuanced understanding of historical relations between social actors. Little encourages social modellers to go beyond the economic rationalist principles which dominate this field. He sketches how sociological insights might improve computational models of human behaviour:

“So maybe the great centers for complexity studies around the country would be well advised to begin including anthropologists and cultural sociologists within their research teams. And maybe the result will be a fertile marriage of modeling with greater cultural specificity.”

Correlation is not Causation

This is a nice illustration of a basic mathematical principle that the general public does not always understand when they are presented with statistics. The media in particular do a poor job of conveying the simple fact that correlation does not equal causation. (See a larger image here.)

Source: SEO Blog via Ria.

Gender differences in maths abilities varies in different countries

Writing for Sociological Images, Philip N. Cohen reports that the stereotype that men are innately better at maths than women is not supported by the evidence. He uses data from an international study by Jonathan Kane and Janet Mert, published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Cohen writes:

The main message I get is that gender ability in math differs so much across social contexts that any conclusion about “natural” ability is untenable. Also, gender equality is good.

Cohen writes:

In the Czech Republic there is no difference in either the means or the distributions for boys versus girls, and the average ability is high. Bahrain shows a much greater variance for boys versus girls — which is sometimes used to explain why to many top achievers are men — but women’s average is higher. Finally, in Tunisia the girls have a higher variance but a lower mean. Where’s the natural ability story?