Monthly Archives: September 2012

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The Loss of Arctic Ice Contributes to Extreme Weather

This is an excellent video describing loss of Arctic sea ice. In 2012, more Arctic sea ice was lost than any other year of modern measurements. The implications of this may be farther reaching than we thought, as our weather patterns have a dependence on Arctic sea ice. A more in depth discussion of this video can be found at Nation of Change.

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Ultra-Fast Photography Shows Light Propagation

Dr. Ramesh Raskar has developed an absolutely incredible way to take photographs so fast that the propagation of light can be recorded.

Female Engineers Can’t Be Emotional

The women I know in engineering are strong, and pride themselves on being logical and levelheaded. In fact, I find it’s a common issue for female engineers to try and detach themselves from emotions. We chastise ourselves for feeling sad or upset. I’ve heard women tell me emotions are useless and annoying on many occasions.

Why is that?

There is a stereotype that women are more emotional and thus weaker because of their emotions. Even though this is ridiculous, and men have the same emotions, women are judged for it. Studies show that women presenting emotion are more likely to be seen as emotional, whereas men displaying the same emotion are thought to have a reason for it. This reminds me of one of my favorite comics that points out if a woman does a math problem the wrong way then girls suck at math, and if a male does it then it’s just him that sucks at math. If a female shows emotion, people jump to the stereotype. As I mentioned in a previous post, stereotypes can affect people and their interactions with others. The emotional stereotype is just one more stereotype that women in engineering are trying to overcome.

In addition to the stereotype, women are more often trained to think that showing emotion will get them called crazy. The Good Men Project has an excellent article on gaslighting called “Why Women Aren’t Crazy,” which discusses the conditioning of women to think they are crazy. In the field of engineering, there is an even larger bias against emotions due to the analytical aspect of engineering, so this acts as a double negative to women who show emotions on top of the already existing emotional woman stereotype.

To call a female engineer crazy is a strong insult and can devastate her career and the perception of her within the field. This insult essentially devalues women, their integrity, and their ability to think logically in a field dominated by logical problem solving. No one will want to work with you or associate with you if you are thought to be “crazy.” Sadly, it seems that emotions and the term crazy are associated together if you are a woman. So, if you show emotion, you are at risk of being labeled an emotional or crazy woman.

This “emotional woman” stereotype extends its tenacious tendrils into the depths of engineering beyond just an individual to devalue the work that women do as a whole. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard male students tell me, “women go into the offices of professors all the time and cry to increase their grades, it’s soooo unfair.” It’s funny, because I don’t ever recall hearing about any of my female peers crying for a better grade. The irritating part of this assumption about women is that it comes and bites us even when we are not showing any emotions at all.

Don’t Cry About Your Grade Little Girl

I got to experience the stereotype when I went to ask for a grade in a class during office hours. Generally, I am a very quiet and serious person. In fact, I have an excellent poker face, and during the years while I was taking classes I preferred to put this on during all of my office hours with male professors. I never wanted to be perceived as flirty or emotional, just serious.

The professor told me my grade, which was a harsher grade than I had expected. He seemed to be aware of the harshness of the grade, and before I had a chance to open my mouth to respond or ask why I was graded that way, he added in an uncaring and slightly demeaning voice, “Are you okay? You look like you are about to cry.”

My grade was just a grade. I was not going to jump for joy about it, but I was also not terribly upset. In fact, I really didn’t have much of an emotional response aside from wondering what I was graded down on. However, when I left the office I was speechless. His comment was so unexpected and out of the blue that I couldn’t even think of a response. Now, with more experience under my belt, I can think of plenty of comebacks to a rude comment like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same awareness then as I do now.

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Is there a way to stop the perception that women are more emotional than men? It seems this is something deeply ingrained in our culture. Completely shutting it off overnight is not an option, but talking about it might start the ball rolling for the future.

Proto-Planetary Cloud is Heading for Black Hole

A gas cloud, or proto-planetary dust cloud, surrounding a newly formed star is being disrupted by the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The star itself will most likely not be affected by the black hole. This finding is important because it shows that there may be planetary formation in a very chaotic part of our galaxy.

Current and Upcoming Exciting Space Exploration

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Image of Jupiter from NASA Cassini

There have been a few recent events that have sparked excitement about space exploration again. The new Mars rover is sending back many exciting images and collecting data about the Martian environment. We also got to hear about the plan for privatized asteroid mining.

These things are absolutely impressive, but I also want to point out some other upcoming things in space exploration that are pretty exciting.

There Might be Water on Titan

The Cassini-Huggens mission is still sending back data, and one of the more recent discoveries was regarding Saturn’s moon Titan. The moon was found to have very large tides deforming the surface. It is now thought that this deformation is caused by a body of water beneath the ice shell surface that may be up to 250km deep.

Voyager 1 and 2 are Still in Operation

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 and are still approaching the edge of the solar system. Their power is expected to last until 2020. These spacecraft are currently in the heliosheath. Voyager 1 is expected to reach the heliopause, or the edge of the solar system within its lifetime. However, there is still debate going on about whether this will be soon or several years from now. It’s an unknown, and the Voyager 1 spacecraft will hopefully be giving us the answer of where the edge of the solar system lies in the near future.

ESA Plans a Mission to Jupiter’s Moons

While Jupiter is a terrifyingly giant ball of gas in which no life form that we know of (yet) could exist, Jupiter has several moons that may potentially harbor life. ESA has recently approved a mission to Jupiter’s moons called JUICE (Jupiter Icy moons Explorer). The mission will investigate three of Jupiter’s moons that are thought to have water—Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system, and is thought to have an internal ocean underneath its ice crust. Europa and Callisto both have ice, and Callisto is known its heavily cratered surface.

NASA has a satellite on its way to Jupiter

As you are reading this JUNO is up in space preparing for a gravity assist maneuver from earth to propel it to Jupiter. The spacecraft will start its journey in October 2013, and will arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The purpose is to study what lies below Jupiter’s clouds. It will certainly be telling to see what drives the complex dynamics seen from the outside of Jupiter.

Why Women in Engineering Need Mentors (And the Lack Thereof)

What is Engineering Anyway?

During my time in high school I was drawn to the science classes. There were no engineering courses, or at least nothing that would have given me insight into what the heck engineering entailed. I thought it was something that was for nerdy guys who spent a whole bunch of time in their basements, mysteriously gifted with the ability to connect wires and understand green 1011110000s flowing across the screen like in the Matrix. I was certainly not born with these innate basement lurking gifts.

It was a family friend who introduced me to what an engineering degree might involve. She was about 4 years older than me, and when my family when to visit hers, they convinced her to give me a tour of her college. She was studying chemical engineering and introduced me to a world I would have had trouble gaining information about otherwise.

I was shown labs for all sorts of chemical experiments ranging from ovens that burned material and tested the output to biology labs where I was shown results from gel electrophoresis. It was fascinating, and not even close to what I had assumed engineering would be. Without someone already in the field guiding me through, I probably would not have chosen to go into engineering.

A recent article written by US News discusses the necessity of women already in college reaching out to high school women. Seeing women who are already in the field of engineering may be inspiring. Furthermore, a mentor figure can give a better idea of what exactly the field of engineering is.

The “Natural” Engineer

There is no doubt that part of the reason more women don’t go into engineering is because they don’t know what it is. But beyond that, there are other factors that may be causing women to drop out or not even pursue it in the first place. In a study done by Heyman et. al. 2002, it was found that women were far more likely to believe that engineering is a fixed ability. This is a serious problem for more than one reason. For instance, we are training women to believe from a young age that it’s the men who build things. This can be seen in children’s advertising. So if you have been raised to be good at certain things (playing dolls and baking as opposed to building things) and you believe that engineering is an ability that you either have or don’t have, then you probably wont choose to go into engineering.

A ‘B’ is failing

The women that do pursue engineering have usually made an identity by being naturally good at math or science. So, when the first hard class comes along, it’s a challenge to what they thought they were naturally good at (Heymen 2002). If you already believe engineering is an ability you are born with, then struggling with a course may be proof that you really aren’t inherently good at something and you should drop out.

Having a mentor or an older engineering student can be very helpful for new engineering students. It’s especially important to have someone to tell you “hey, getting a B in a class is okay, everyone struggles with this.” We need new engineering students to stick with the path and not be deterred at the first challenge because they believe they just don’t have the inherent gift.

Where Are All the Mentors for Women

Women in general have expressed a lack of mentors in the working world. NPR did a great piece on this problem and discussed a linkedin article where only 1 in 5 women felt they had a mentor to guide them through the working world. This may be a bigger problem in some areas than others.

In my personal experience, finding a mentor in engineering can be difficult with the lack of existing women. As sad as it is, there are still professors and TAs out there that use their authoritative positions to lure in young women to “mentor” and then try to take the relationship a step further. Sadly, while these occurrences do not happen as often, the implications are far reaching. It makes men afraid to be categorized as one of these jerks, it makes women uneasy to approach men as mentors, and finally the women who do experience these jerks have a completely changed perception of their value. One recent example of this situation was when I was at a conference and I heard a male grad student go up to a male professor and say “Hey, we should grab a beer later.” If I were to do that, I would be very concerned about the connotations associated with asking that kind of question, and I’m sure the person I would ask it to would be as well.

There are definitely great male mentors to men and women out there. The issue, as I stated above, is that if men are less likely to want to mentor a female student, and there are very few women in the field to begin with, then we have a problem.

Mentoring for the Future

If we want to attract more women into engineering fields, and reduce the number of women that leave engineering early on, then it is important that we increase mentors for women. A person to person connection can be very helpful in changing the perceptions associated with engineering and what exactly is required to pursue a degree in engineering.