Friday, October 18, 2013

NEFG 2013

This time last week I was in Newcastle. In fact I was in the flat of a lovely woman, who before then I'd only known through twitter, with two other women I'd only know through twitter. I say "only" known through twitter, but the truth is, these women are some of my closest friends. There's a group of them who have been amazingly kind and supportive, who have made me laugh, have allowed me space to be myself and have taught me a lot about myself. And, perhaps more importantly they have taught me about feminism. 

So, a few months ago these twitter friends of mine began tweeting about this thing called NEFG. It turned out to be a "Feminist Gathering" in Newcastle. I had no idea what a "feminist gathering" was, but the fact that the majority of my amazing women twitter-friends were going was enough to convince me to get a ticket. I figured, no matter what happened that weekend, I would finally be able to meet these women and give them actual real life hugs. 

In the run up to the conference I realised that I was going to need somewhere to stay, and that I couldn't afford a hotel. In stepped the lovely F with an offer of a place to stay. I was very touched by this and as the weekend approached I got very excited. When I realised that B and P were gonna be staying too, I was beyond giddy. I knew I was going to get to meet C and J and L; it was going to be like some "reunion". That's really how it felt. Not that I would be meeting them for the first time, but that I was meeting them again. I have got to know these women very well over the last year on twitter. They have supported me, been there with a kind word and their ass-kicking boots when I needed them. So, meeting them felt kinda like coming home. (Yes, I know how corny that sounds, but it's true - so there!) 

I've never been to a feminist conference, in fact my entire contact with any sort of feminist community has been through social media (mainly twitter). So I had no idea what to expect. I knew that NEFG was going to be a woman only space. But I was not prepared for the affect this had on me.

I'm not entirely sure I can put into words the experience for me of the opening of NEFG 2013. There were around 100 women in a small hall. As people where getting settled the women of Midnight blue began drumming. The drumming was amazing, but for me what happened next was so powerful that even now I'm on the verge of tears thinking about it. The women in the room began to join in, first just clapping, then instruments were passed around and then voices joined. There was drumming and clapping and whooping and cheering. This immense and joyful noise. It was LOUD. It was in your face. It was connected. And every single person making that noise was a woman. This was what was powerful for me. A room full of women, being loud, making noise, raising their voices, demanding to be heard. No more sitting quietly, no more "decorum". No more "seen and not heard". These women were declaring their presence in the world. Declaring their right to make noise. And for me it was powerful. Hah! Powerful doesn't being to cover it! There was joy in that noise, but there was defiance too. And that "coming home" feeling multiplied ten fold. It set the tone for the whole conference. And it's left a lasting impression on me. I don't think I'll ever forget that experience. 

So, as the rest of the conference went on I attended key notes and workshops, all of which were very interesting (though to maintain anonymity for the women involved I am not going to give any details). But for me, something seemed off. See, I'm normally the chatty one. The one who asks questions, makes a comment, opens discussion. And for some reason on the first day at NEFG I was quiet. I tried to analyse why that evening, but I couldn't place it. It wasn't until I was driving home that I realised that it was because it was more important for me to LISTEN. I was surrounded by amazing women, some of whom were/are second wave feminists. The women who fought so that I can access free birth control, fought for the right to a safe abortion (should I need/want it), fought for my right to attend university. I don't need to talk to these women, I need to listen to them, to learn from them. And I did. (I was especially lucky as B is a second wave woman, and I got to spend two evenings with her as well as the two days of the conference. :) )

But I also realised that there was more to my silence. You see, I'm used to being the defiant female voice. I'm the woman that speaks first, that interrupts the men, that makes the noise, so that other women feel they can too. I am the loud, obnoxious woman, that defies the stereotype. At NEFG I didn't need to. I didn't need to be the first to speak, to break the deadlock, to interrupt the men. At NEFG there were only women talking. And it was actually quite nice to be able to sit back, relax and let others do the talking. 

Coming back to the "real world" this week has been hard. NEFG provided a safe space. A space with likeminded women, where I didn't need to explain why something is sexist or misogynistic. Where I didn't need to go into the debates about the need for feminism, or what we should focus on. Where I could talk about and share personal stories of abuse and pain caused by the world in which we live; without the need to justify or explain anything. It was AMAZING. It was freeing. But coming back to "normality" was like a slap in the face. It's been hard this week. To go back to that, to arguing with men who want to tell me how to do feminism. To be faced with victim blaming and male violence. To hear stories of sexism and to see objectification everywhere. This week it has been exhausting and made me heartsick for the sisterhood I felt at NEFG. 

So, I want to give my most heartfelt and sincere thanks to the wonderful and amazing women who made NEFG happen (despite their heartbreaking loss). And I want to say thank-you to the special women who shared that weekend with me. It was beyond exceptional to meet the lovely and awe inspiring women that I know on twitter "in real life" and I count myself truly blessed to know that I have them as friends. And I want to thank my on-line feminist community, because when I was loosing hope this week, you reminded me that I'm not alone. That we can make a difference and that when women come together we are LOUD, DEFIANT, and IMMENSELY POWERFUL. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why should we focus on women in STEM?

So, the question posed as the title for this post prompted a twitter discussion between myself and a friend the other day. The discuss got a bit heated, which some could see as a bad thing, personally I see it as a consequence of debate between passionate people. What came out of that debate though, is that I've thought about this question a lot, I assumed that everyone understood why this is an important issue and why we should be focussing on it now, but it seems that assumption May be wrong. I've been thinking about how best to explain it, and so I approached my friend to see if he'd be ok with me writing a post on this subject. I want to make clear, this is in no way a continuation of some imagined disagreement. He's happy for me to write this, and I'm looking forward to coffee with him soon. There's no personal vendetta here.

 Right, so that's the disclaimer out of the way. :) 

Before I explain the why. I suppose I'd better explain the what. What is the women in STEM issue. For those that don't know STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And currently we have a problem in STEM subjects and careers. That problem is the low uptake of women. This is not just a recruitment problem, in fact you could argue it's not a recruitment problem at all. Since girls tend to like and do well in STEM subjects through high school. The women in STEM problem is being referred to as the "leaky pipeline" - at each further stage of education and career progression the proportion of women to men drops. It starts at A-levels, with fewer girls doing a-level in STEM subjects despite out performing boys at GCSE level. Fewer still continue to study STEM subjects at undergraduate level, and fewer at post-graduate. This trend continues through career progression, for example in academia, after PhD, fewer women become lecturers, then fewer become senior lecturers; on and on. Women disappear. Despite clear interest and aptitude in STEM subjects they vanish. But we don't know why. This is the women in STEM problem. 

So, the why? The question raised in the discussion was why are we (as scientists, engineers etc. those involved in public engagement, the media, institutions and the government) placing such an emphasis on this problem? 

For me, the answer here is self-explanatory but I'm going to try to break it down a little. According to the 2011 census roughly 51% of the UK population is female. A recent Guardian article reports that only 6% of engineers are female. So there a massive problem of under-representation. Women are half of the population, so we should make up substantially more of STEM than we currently do (even if we never reach half). This stands even without all the arguments about the benefits of having more gender balance in workplaces etc. but it is especially troubling when you consider that we are getting women in. 

Let me use my own subject as an example, because it's one of the rare ones with more female undergraduates than male. The undergrad population for Psychology is roughly 80% female. In fact males in a psychology classroom are a rare sight. As rare as females in some other STEM subjects. (I am not entering into ANY argument about if psychology is a science, it is. There is no argument). So you would imagine then that this gender balance continues throughout the career progression. (Again, I'm going to focus on academia, because that's what I know, but this holds for other arenas/career paths too). Well, you'd be wrong! As you move up the career ladder, the ratio of women to men drops. Until, at professorship level the men outnumber the women. This CANNOT be due to a lack of ability. The probabilities that the only people good enough to make it to professorship are the few male psych PhDs are slim. So what's happening? What is causing this drop off of women? Why are we losing women? It does appear that they are leaving, but again we have no idea why?

So, people have FINALLY started to notice this problem. The big STEM professional bodies, institutions, companies, and the government are noticing. People are beginning to see that we need to do some research, we need to address why these women are being lost and then find ways to keep them. For some of us, as women in STEM we are very vocal about this issue. We understand the need for role models and so we use whatever platform we have to get out there and say "I'm a woman in STEM, look at me, you could do this too!" We are involved in groups like @Science_Grrl and we contribute to discussions around this problem. We're the minority, the small few (probably weirdos) that made it. That stuck it out. And we'd like to know what makes us different. We don't want STEM to be seen as an old boys club. As something for men only, and so we push and shout. Amazing women have been doing this for some time and now, finally people are listening and taking notice. 

So, there is this focus on the women in STEM problem. Money, time, research, media attention, all directed at understanding why women leave STEM and what we can do to prevent it. I always thought this was a good thing, in fact, I couldn't see how anyone could see it any other way.

However, the argument I have been faced with is "we risk alienating other minority groups by focussing so much on women. If we tell people all we care about is women, then they'll be left thinking that we don't care about them. Like, what about people with learning disability or mental health problems?". 

OK, first - *screams*

Right, now that is out of the way, let me calmly break this down for you. I do not believe that anyone who is currently focussing on the issue of women in STEM is unaware of the general issue of under-representation of minority groups. We are all to aware that STEM is pale, stale and male. I personally am passionate about not only dealing with the women in STEM issue, but also in encouraging kids from disadvantaged backgrounds into STEM. And race is a HUGE problem in STEM too, though I'm not going to deal with that, because it wasn't raised.

WE CAN CARE ABOUT MORE THAN ONE THING AT ONCE!!!!! I'm not sure why this appears so difficult for some to wrap their heads around. But it is infuriating the frequency that this "what about this other thing" argument comes up whenever people begin to focus on issues faced by women. We are capable of understanding that there are many problems around recruitment into and retention in STEM subjects and careers. We are all intelligent, passionate people. We care about our subjects and we want to make it a better place for everyone. By making a bit of noise about one minority group, it doesn't mean we don't care about the rest.

WOMEN ARE 51% OF THE POPULATION!!! This is an important point to remember. Women are not a "minority" group. We make up half of the population and so should be represented accordingly across STEM. It is not unreasonable to focus on an issue that affects HALF OF THE POPULATION!

Lets put this into perspective: 2.4% of the UK population have some form of learning disability (source) of these 41% are women. So, in terms of alienating those with learning disabilities, we're talking about possibly, maybe, alienating  .98% of the UK population. That's right, less than ONE PERCENT!! So, we shouldn't focus on the women in STEM issue, which affects 51% of the population, JUST IN CASE less than 1% of the population feel alienated? Hmm, not seeing the sense here.

How about Mental illness? Well Mind regularly give the 1 in 4 statistic: that is that 25% of people will at some point during there lifetime suffer from some type of mental health issue. This is a larger and more substantial number of people, but again we need to take account of how many of these are women. Statistics here get complicated, since some MH diagnoses are more common in women and others in men. So, for simplicity, I'm going to say that half of those with mental health issues are women. So, again in focussing on the women in STEM issue, we MAY alienate 12.5% of people.

Even if we ignore co-morbidity (i.e. the overlap between those with mental health issues and learning disability) we are possibly, maybe going to make roughly 13.5% of the population feel like we don't care about them, in order to tackle a problem that affects 51% of the population. Personally, I don't think those are bad odds. I'm prepared to take the risk.

If you look at this handy diagram (not *exactly* to scale, since I drew it by hand, but I did try to make it at least somewhat representative) you can see what I mean. Those people represented by the purple areas, are the ones that could feel alienated and excluded as a consequence of the focus on women in STEM issue.

OK, so at this point, I'm probably sounding a little off. Like I don't care about those "purple" people. Well, that's not actually a true representation of my standpoint. I think it's a fair argument though, and I think we need to keep some perspective on the scale of the issues that we are trying to address. 

So, how do I see it? To me, it's like this. STEM is a medical patient, faced with numerous problems leading to ill health. Each of these medical problems results from a different illness, with a different cause. In order to cure the patient, we need to diagnose each illness, suggest and find an effective treatment and then deliver that treatment. We CANNOT cure the patient of all of these illnesses just by administering one pill. 

What I'm saying is that there are different reasons why women, those with learning disability, those with mental health issues, people of colour, those from lower SES backgrounds etc are not represented in STEM. We need to analyse these issues individually, in order to understand the specific obstacles faced by each of these groups in order to remove them. We can't fix these problems just through recruitment, or outreach. We can't stand there and say "STEM is awesome, woo!" and expect the problems faced by these people to vanish. We have to tackle these issues individually. That doesn't mean though, that we can't tackle them simultaneously. In fact, most of us are. Like I said earlier WE CAN CARE ABOUT MORE THAN ONE THING!!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Let’s put Psychology into Science Communication

It is evident that something is going terribly wrong in communication between science and the public. The consequences are clear and severe; yet scientists seem unsure how to address this. There are some great science communicators out there, and I urge you to find them (reading Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” is a great place to start). But my purpose here is to demystify the scientific process, and to explain its necessity. Science communicators go to great lengths to describe what makes “good science”, which research is reliable, which findings we can trust. But what they are all missing is the “why”. When a scientist says that we need to follow the scientific method to ensure a fair test, Jo Public asks “why?” When we tell the public that anecdotes are not evidence, they ask “why?”

To the public our rules are arbitrary, overly complicated and set up to exclude. We make science the preserve of an educated few. We exclude the public by our language, our rituals and practises. We turn the argument away from “good science/bad science” to “us and them”. In Psychological terms we set up “in-group/out-group” thinking. This type of thinking does not foster sharing of knowledge. The groups become increasingly closed. Until anything presented by one group is dismissed by the other. We need to go back to basics, start over and explain “why”.

The first step in this process is to explain to Jo Public that s/he is not a rational person; that the brain takes shortcuts in processing information. In order for the public to understand why we need the scientific method, we need Psychology in our science communication. Our brains are bombarded with information every waking moment. I don’t mean this in the digital sense, but literally. We receive immense amounts of visual input through our eyes; our ears constantly pick up sounds in our environment; our sense of touch provides information about temperature, air movement etc. We receive all of this information simultaneously and constantly. This is a huge amount of data for our brains to process, and yet we haven’t even begun to consider the social information we receive from other people in our environment. The sheer amount of information would require super-computer processing capacity, however evolution found another way. Our brains come pre-programmed with short-cuts in information processing. Our brain filters the incoming information, so that it only needs to fully process the important (or “salient”) information. These short cuts (or heuristics) are VERY effective, and since they're subconscious, we are unaware of their influence. We cannot control them, nor can we prevent their influence on our thinking. All of our knowledge of the world is filtered and biased by these heuristics.

Firstly there is the “Confirmation Bias”. This heuristic is the most dangerous when considering oneself to be a “rational person”. The brain is wired to seek out evidence that SUPPORTS our beliefs and to IGNORE information that refutes them. This is useful, because it means that we are not constantly re-evaluating our belief systems. It is dangerous because you cannot EVER assume that you have assessed the evidence and come to a reasoned conclusion.

The second bias that we need to educate the public about is the “Availability bias”.  Basically, the easier something is to remember the more likely it is to be considered in decision making. Let’s take the MMR example – sad and desperate parents were paraded in front of us on the TV, in the papers, and therefore always in our mind. The emotive content of the stories, the crying families, the impassioned parents convinced the vaccine changed their child; these make those stories more memorable. When considering whether to give their child the MMR parents think about the “evidence” and what they remember is those sad families. What we remember, is what we consider to be the evidence. So, they don’t vaccinate.

Furthermore, the human brain is wired to see cause and effect in EVERYTHING! This is the default position for the mind, when one event follows another, the brain decides that the first event CAUSED the second. This is what happened to the parents in the MMR press. This assumption that two events are related when not all the other variables are known is called an “illusory correlation.” To highlight this consider the “fact” that when Ice Cream sales in New York increase, so does the murder rate. So, Ice Cream causes murder? No, there is another variable that links them, heat. As the temperature rises more people buy Ice Cream and more murders are committed. When you control for heat, the relationship between disappears. In the MMR and Autism case, you need to control for age of diagnosis. 

Scientists use the "scientific method" to ensure that their conclusions are not influenced by these kinds of biases. We insist on controlled tests, so that we can limit the possibility of "illusory correlations". We use large samples and statistical significance testing to ensure that we are not blinded by the availability bias. And, as scientists, we set out to DISPROVE our theories. Yes, I said that right, we test to see if we can falsify our claims. This helps us to avoid the confirmation bias. 

Our strict rules, the language we use and the practises we use are all set up to make sure that we can be confident in our conclusions. They are not there to exclude people, they are not there to make things difficult or to act as a gate-keeper. They are important. As scientists we need to get better at explaining that. 

If the public can be educated about how the mind works, then they can take the first step to understanding scientific discourse. They can begin to see that the rules of science are not arbitrary. The key to better science communication is to remember that you are communicating with humans. Therefore an understanding of human thinking or Psychology is essential. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Happy Father's Day, Gary!

This post is for Gary. I've been ill this last week, and so am totally unprepared for Father's Day. This is my small way to express how much I respect, love and am grateful to Gary for the Father he chooses to be.

Gary, literally chose to be a father; he didn't become one due to an accident of biology, he made a conscious decision. A decision informed by what he believes it means to be a father. You see, he used to say he was too selfish to be a parent, but that view in itself showed what a good parent he would be. He sees being a parent as a full-time job. It's not something you can be half-assed about. It requires sacrifices, compromises and commitment. When Gary made the choice to be a father, he literally and consciously decided to change his life to fit my child.

Gary is without a doubt the best father I could ask for for my son. He has been there through the night-terrors and nightmares. Through the sleep-walking and tantrums and trauma. He has held his son in the wee small hours and whispered words of love and comfort. He has stroked his son's hair, wiped his tears, fought away the monsters under the bed. He has made our son feel safe.

Gary has always been there, with a hug, and a smile or a stern word and discipline, when either were needed. He's been there to pick our son up when he fell down. He was there at the hospital when our son had surgery, he was there by his bedside when he was sick.

Gary is there to play peacemaker when our son and I are butting heads. He reasons with us both, calms the situation and brings back the harmony. He tells me when I go too far, because I loose my head in frustration. He's there to warn our son when he's pushing the boundary just that little too far. He understands us both, knows what we need and when. He sees the similarities between us, and how this makes us clash sometimes, and he deals with it. He NEVER walks away.

Gary is there to have fun with our son. Oh, the fun those two have! The shared jokes that no-one (not even me) understands. The silly stories, the laughter, the silly made up games, the shared passions, the shared interests. The relationship they have, it's like something out of a movie. It's that perfect, that right. Old friends and new ones comment on how alike these two are. "Your son is so like Gary". He is, I know why. Because Gary has been the best role-model my son could ever want. He shows our son how to be a man, what that means, all the responsibility, all the work and all the fun. And he shows our son that this can be done, whilst also being true to yourself.

Gary LOVES in capital letters. He doesn't do half-measures. I don't think he knows how to do anything else.  He loves our son, in a way that is PERFECT. In a way that accepts our son for who is, that is proud of him for being different, that shows him who he is is amazing.

But, being a good father isn't just about loving your child. You see, part of being a good parent, is showing your child how to be a good partner. Our son knows how much Gary loves me. He sees him treat me with love, compassion, and kindness. He sees Gary treating me with respect, being proud of my achievements, being proud to have a strong-willed and independent wife. Our son sees the care that Gary gives when I'm sick, or hurt. He sees the way Gary talks me down when I'm climbing the walls. He sees Gary react calmly, when I lash out verbally because I'm stressed. He sees the little looks, the small gestures of affection. Gary doesn't only show our son how to be a man, and a father, he shows him how to be a husband.

I could ask no more of this man for my son. So I say to you, stuff biology! THIS is what makes you a father. If you do these things, then I wish you a happy Father's day.

Gary, thank-you! You are without a doubt the best Father anyone could want for their child. Thank-you for choosing mine. We LOVE you right back, in capitals. :)

C & C

Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Feminism and "privilege"

I've always believed in equal rights for women. When I was little, I had the fortune to have a wonderful man in my life who taught me I could be anything I wanted to be. He embraced my tom-boyish nature, and when I said I wanted to be a Mechanic (like Kylie's character in Neighbours) he let me help him "service" the cars on weekends. For a man of his generation my Granddad was amazingly not sexist. The only thing he wouldn't let me do because I was a girl, was go down into the mines where he worked with him. He told me that it was no place for a girl to be, and now I'm older I think it's because he didn't want to expose me to the other men that worked there. When, at 11, I told him I wanted to marry a millionaire, he smiled and told me "you can make your own millions". I grew up thinking that girls could do ANYTHING that they wanted to.

Because of this, I think, as a teenager I didn't really see the need for feminism. As far as I was concerned EVERYONE knew women could do whatever men could. Even when I became the victim of horrendous "slut-shaming" I didn't see the sexism. So, the process of identifying as a feminist was a slow one for me.

When I finally did begin to see the inequality around me, I still didn't want to say I was a feminist. By then, it had become somewhat of a "dirty" word in the liberal group that I was in. "Feminist" meant "man-hater", I associated it with the people who had chastised me for choosing to be a home-maker when I could "be so much more". "Feminists" went around being angry all the time and using silly, unnecessary words like "patriarchy". I saw them as oppressors, just as much as the sexist men. These were the "rad-fems", angry, men-hating lesbians who shunned me because I didn't choose a career.

Slowly, I began to see that there was another side to feminism, a side that embraced all choices. Where it was recognised that women could choose to be home-makers, could like men and still believe that we needed to argue against sexism. I began to identify (and still do) as a neo-feminist. The group I thought I belonged to was the "liberal feminist" group. I didn't perceive a huge chasm between us and the rad-fems, I figured we're opposite sides of the same coin. Until twitter.

Recently on twitter I've got to know some incredible women, some of whom are *gasp* rad-fems. These women were warm, and friendly and passionate  They engaged in discussion with me, and very quickly earned my respect. They sometimes said things that I disagree with, but that's life. I have amazingly close friends who disagree with me sometimes, I don't see this as meaning that we can't be friends.

So I was horrified to see these women take a barrage of abuse from so called "lib-fems" over stupid arguments about "privilege" and "intersectionality". Let me break this down for you, so hopefully you can see how I think we fit together:

There are a number of groups currently fighting against inequality in society (for the sake of simplicity here I'm going to use the term "patriarchy" as short hand). These groups include, but are not limited to, Rad-fems, LGBT groups, race equality groups, sex workers and the lib-fems. All of these groups are fighting the same war: to destroy the "patriarchy" and achieve equality. Since they represent different groups, they have somewhat different objectives. They are different regiments in the same army. Each with a specific target. Sometimes, their targets are aligned and this allows for them to work together. Sometimes they are too focussed on their individual targets. This is OK, it happens in a war. But what is needed are the "go-betweens". A group that can see the shared issues, can help to remind these different regiments that we are all on the same side, in the same war. This for me is where the lib-fems should stand. It is our job to act as facilitators of communication. We are the ones that are meant to keep these disparate groups talking, not shut down the debate.

As lib-fems we can and often do, argue for all of these groups. At least that's how I see my "brand" of feminism. I will argue for inclusion and equality for trans* women, for women of colour, for gay men and women, and even for sex workers. I acknowledge that all of these groups are fighting the same oppression. But I can also see how the rad-fems fit in here. We wouldn't be able to have our liberal attitude where it not for our rad-fem grandmothers, aunts, sisters. They fought a long hard battle to give us the privilege to be liberal. They are still needed, because whilst us liberals are facilitating communication between all oppressed groups, someone needs to keep fighting sexism.

If you liberal-fems who have been attacking women on twitter want to talk about "privilege", lets talk about yours!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

How Twitter changed my life!

I know, I know, some of you are already rolling your eyes at the title alone, but it's true. Bear with me here and let me explain. I started using twitter as @urbantangerine, as a way of sharing my photography. I followed photographers and I learned a lot. But then I noticed all the science and Psychology people there too. I was finding amazing articles, research and people. For a while my twitter became like some sort of split personality and I realised that I needed to seperate my two passions. I kept my @urbantangerine account, but decided I would use it only for photography. For my science/psychology side I created a new twitter account: @psycho_claire. This is where the magic happened.

I ticked away quietly, following some cool people, some of my heroes of Psychology and science.I was still getting the same cool research papers, contact with the same awesome researchers etc.I interacted with some and found that twitter gave me a space to be ME. I could use this new platform as a sounding block for my ideas and the 140 character limit forced me to be creative with clarity. I really had to THINK about how to say something, and in doing that I consolidated my knowledge.

But, then something really amazing happened. This last year, Twitter really did change my life.

I saw the birth of @Science_Grrl following *that* awful EU video "Science: It's a girl thing!" I followed them immediately. I watched as they went from creating a calendar to a powerful new voice encouraging girls to do science. I was gutted to not be able to attend their first AGM. But a fellow Science Grrl I know did. She returned enthused. I attended a meeting between 4 of us local to Preston, and we decided that we were going to form the Preston chapter of @Science_Grrl. We even have a meeting with the founder very soon. (The entry for this in my diary has a smiley face next to it, that's how excited I am by this!)

This on it's own is pretty amazing! I'm part of an initiative that wants to show that science is not a gendered subject. That it is fun, creative, and most of all INCLUSIVE.

But the story doesn't end here. You see, I then came across a colleague from a different school in my institution. There was some banter happening on Twitter over the NSS and who could get the most students to complete it. I joined in, that being the sort of person that I am. What began as banter quickly became something more, as this colleague and I shared our ideas and experiences. We had what is known as a "tweet-up" (don't blame me, I didn't create the name). At this meeting we enthused about our respective subjects, bounced around ideas for cross-disciplinary working, and how we could enrich our students experience. These are now all works in progress, as we bring together the people needed to achieve our goals. Also in this meeting, my colleague suggested I check out the discussion group she was part of on Twitter on a Wednesday evening.

At first I was hesitant, I'm from a different discipline and I wasn't sure if the discussion would be relevant, or if I would have anything useful to add. So I lurked around the #eswphd hashtag for a couple of weeks, watching the discussion. I cannot remember now what the first discussion I joined in with was about, but I know that I felt welcomed, and that I found I really did have stuff to say. Although we're not from the same subject backgrounds, as academics and PhD students we share similar experiences.  I've taken a lot from the #eswphd tag, new ideas, new friends, and another way of getting my voice heard. (Including this blog post, which is going to be hosted on the new eswphd website).

And then there is @TheWomen'sRoomUK. I was around for the birth of this campaign too. In reaction to terrible gender ratios of experts on BBC Radio 4 programmes (and now other media outlets, programmes etc) a group of vocal women began a database of female experts. Their aim was to provide a place where journalists and other media types could find female "experts". I supported this from the outset, and watched as their voice grew and more women signed up. But I didn't sign up myself, not for a long time. Mainly because I didn't think I was an expert in anything. Then @TheWomen'sRoomUK began to tweet about what  constitutes "expertise", and I realised that I do have this in a number of areas; not least of which my PhD research. So I signed up, I'm on there and if you're a journalist looking for someone to talk to, check out my profile and my expertise categories.

I began to follow more like-minded women on Twitter, through watching who interacted with the Women's Room account. I found other voices who were trying to be heard, and I think I've grown as a feminist because of it. I've realised that some things I may have been OK with, for other women are unacceptable (check out #everydaysexism if you want to see how sexism still thrives in our "forward thinking" society, caution if you're a feminist this could cause depression and/or rage).

Then, The Women's Room tweeted that they were looking for "guest tweeters". Women to tweet from the account for a couple of hours. With some trepidation I answered the call and volunteered. When the time came on Good Friday for me to take over the account I was terrified. Suddenly I would be talking to thousands of people, not my safe little on-line world. Could I do this justice? Did I really have anything to say? Would people really be interested in my thoughts and opinions? Who the hell was I to be talking to all those people? All of this was going through my mind as I signed in to the account... All I can say is the experience was AMAZING! People joined in with discussions, they were interested in what I had to say, and having a platform to discuss my ideas with so many people was awesome.

So what? Right? Who cares? I got to do some cool stuff, got involved in some cool initiatives and got to chat with a bunch of people I don't know. How is this "life-changing"?

Let me tell you how....

I've always had stuff to say, had an opinion, enjoyed debate and mostly wanted to DO something about all the things I see wrong with the world. I have 3 main passions in my life: Science, Equality and photography. My @urbantangerine account covers the photography, it works fine for me. What my @Psycho_Claire account has done is allowed me to champion my two other passions. It's given me a platform for my public engagement with Science work, it's hooked me up with other people who are trying to do this too. It's let me engage in debate about Equality and what that means for us in the UK now, and for women the world over. It's given me new ways of working, thinking, experiencing. Suddenly, I can DO. All that energy, all that potential finally has an outlet.

You may still think I'm talking rubbish. You may still think that I'm some sort of Twitter loving weirdo. But let me tell you, as a girl who was bullied, who was told her voice wasn't worth hearing, who was made small and scared and shy - Twitter is amazing!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Goals for the year

I'm a wee bit late in getting this post out here, since it is essentially my "New Years Resolutions" post. But in typical me style, I've been caught up in other stuff and failed to make the time to sit down and write.

Aptly that is my first goal for the year:

1) Write more - I like writing. I mean really like it. I like the head space it gives me, I like the therapy of putting my thoughts down "on paper" and the order that brings. I rediscovered this recently when working on my first "official" academic paper. It's part of the scientific process that I really do LOVE. The clarity and purity of writing to communicate complex ideas is something I cherish. During my undergrad degree, I wrote all the time, and back then I would NEVER have believed if you'd told me I would miss the assignments. But I do, I miss having a reason to write regularly. Being a PhD student means that other things get in the way. There's all the recruitment, and data collection and administration and project management and......... you get the idea. So, as the new year began, I decided that my number one goal this year is to write more.
It turns out that some of my fellow PhD students decided that they were making this same resolution. So, together we founded a writing support group for PhD students (you can follow us on twitter @writewaymore and we're on facebook as Writeway). Since we started this, we've encouraged each other and managed to be more productive. So I guess it's working.
I also need to count ALL forms of writing in this goal. This means including blogging in my "writing" category. I want to use this blog as a form of diary/journal. It will document my journey through my PhD, the ups and downs. I always find writing things down therapeutic  It helps me organise my thoughts and see the problems/issues/whatever more clearly.
If you're interested, then these posts will be here for you to read. But in truth, these posts are for no-one but me. I imagine that they'll be random and bizzare, because that's how my thoughts are.
I'm also going to include my Urbantangerine photography blog as writing. It's a different kind of writing again, with a very different purpose, but it reflects another side of who I am.

Which leads me into my next goal for the new year:

2) Be ALL of me - I started this post by saying that it was late because I got "caught up". Well this is something that I am aiming to change this year. I'm obsessive. This is often a good thing, but sometimes my obsession becomes everything. This is particularly true of my research. I constantly feel like I'm not doing enough, which means I'm constantly stressed out. It also means that I feel like I can never take a break. This got so bad recently that I've not been looking after myself, and have ended up sick. Still, I did not stop obsessing and I spent the first half of this week feeling guilty because I couldn't go to work OR do PhD stuff. So much so that Gary decided he needed to do something that would help occupy my mind, but allow me to rest. He gave me a photography challenge (check out the blog post for it here). That's how my photography started, with Gary dragging me away from the desk and putting a camera in my hand. So, this year I'm going to allow time for all my obsessions.

Leading us nicely into goal 3:

3) Shoot more - I LOVE photography. I love the creativity, the vision, the fact that it engages a whole different skill set and perspective of the world than my research. Stick a camera in my hand and my worries disappear. Suddenly all I'm thinking about is the images around me, about how to capture the light, the colours the emotions I can see. This is what photography means to me. I love doing it for it's own sake, but I also love sharing it. I have two weddings booked so far this year and a newborn shoot to get done. So I intend to spend more time with my camera.

So far all of my goals have been about me, but my next goal isn't:

4) Play more - I have an amazing little family. I'm lucky in that my son shares interests and passions with me, and I need to remember this more often. It's a privileged position for a parent with an adolescent, to have one that you can connect with so easily. This is also true of Gary, we share passions and interests and actually still enjoy spending time together. So this year I intend to spend more time having fun with my favourite boys.

My next goal seems in some ways a little stereotypical:

5) Look after my health: This isn't about improving my fitness or losing weight. I have a number of chronic medical conditions not least of which is terrible frequent migraines. Getting stressed increases their frequency and I end up in a horrible cycle of being ill, losing time, getting more stressed, being more ill. My doctor has increased my medication, but there are also some things I can do. For one, sticking to my goals above will help reduce my stress. But also, regular moderate exercise has been demonstrated to alleviate migraines. I have found this to be true when I've been doing Pilates regularly, but recently I "haven;t had the time" (see goal 2). I need to start making the time for exercise, and to view it in the same way I view taking my pills each day. I HAVE to find a better way of managing my health, because if I continue like this, I will NOT achieve success in my life.

Finally, I thought I'd share the goal that Gary set for us as a family this year:

6) Take over the world - I guess this is pretty self explanatory. However, joking aside, for me this goal means taking control of MY world. Being proactive to get things back on track, and getting in charge of things again.

So far this year, I've succeeded in some of these goals and failed in others. But it's still early, there's a lot of year to go.