There are a few subjects I’ve been thinking of a lot since I started this blog: women in science and the connections I’ve been making between science and music. Both of these have large personal connections to me. The first is pretty obvious. The second is that my boyfriend is a composer. So to learn what he does (and because learning new stuff is awesome!) I started a self-study about classical music, including my slightly stalled out efforts to teach myself music theory (I reached the point where I needed both a piano and the ability to play one). When I embarked down this trail I started off thinking a lot about the physics and mechanics of sound and music, but as I met more people involved in the field and began to see how the popular and academic cultures of both music and science, especially physics, were a lot alike for women.
Both are fields where stereotypes pretty much loom over the popular imagination of who is a physicist and who is a composer. Honestly, two and a half years ago the first mental image when I though “composer” would either be Mozart from “Amadeus” or Beeth-oven from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It’s the old, white man stereotype agin, except this time with more dead people!
So it’s not surprising that recently on the internet, I’ve seen many great blog posts from women composers that echo many of my thoughts and feelings on being a lady physicist (“woman physicist” makes me feel kind of old and “lady physicist” seems cooler and like it could be a title in some sort of scientific nobility). I could probably write way too much them, so here are a few that have been making the rounds. While reading them, one of the most striking things to me was that you could pretty much replace “composer/musician” with “physicist” and each article would be virtually unchanged.
Tuesday nights are Ladies’ Night, at least in my department. For the past give years, the women graduate students have been organizing weekly get-togethers so we can bond over a few beers. For me, these nights have been invaluable because I’ve made new friends, gotten great advice about courses, research, and careers, and had a lot of interesting discussion about women in physics (and astronomy, too!). We’ve talked about professors, weddings, drag queens, gynecologists, which (if any) professors in the department we consider handsome, post-docs, having kids, board games and lately we’ve let some of the guys from the department in on our fun.
Good thing I don’t have any nieces/nephews/offspring because they would have been pushed aside for my new favorite kid. Meet Sylvia Todd, hostess of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, who was recently profiled in the New York Times. She’s an 11 year old who loves electronics, crafts, and science. Her parents help her put together a really fun web series where she demonstrates how to make different projects.
Here’s her most popular show: how to etch copper to make both jewelry and circuit boards. This puts my childhood Perler bead and paint by numbers projects to shame.
Sylvia also does a really great job of explaining some of the engineering and scientific principles behind her projects. Check out this video where she makes a strobe light and a finger flute for an Arduino. I just watched it with my lab mates and we all learned something new about circuitry. Also, she uses puppets to explain different parts of the circuit. PUPPETS! And they are super cute and hand drawn and also very funny.
At 11 years old, this girl is already a fantastic role model. If I have kids they better turn out like her!
During my senior year of college I needed an interview suit. So I went shopping for one and looked at store that, to 21 year old me, said “business woman”. I ended up getting a brown suit (I wanted something different than black because everyone wore black, but now I look at it in the back of my closet and wonder what I was thinking) from Anne Taylor. At the time I thought it was a great ensemble that proclaimed “I am a serious adult”. But looking back, I realized that it looked like I was a young-looking 21 year old trying to dress like a middle ages lady.
Over the years my fashion sense has changed. Thankfully it’s not what it was in high school (plaid bondage pants, anyone?) or in undergrad. As I’ve tumbled through grad school I’ve gotten a better sense not only of my personal style, but also what my personal style is in a variety of settings and a much better idea of how to dress myself well and in a flattering manner. I know now that when I feel like I’m dressed well I am more confident and this is something that I plan to use to my advantage in talks, interview, and later throughout my career.
Because I do reflect on my personal style and how I present myself as a physicist, I often get frustrated when the discussion turns to advice on how to dress or when I’m around a lot of other physicists and observe what they are wearing. My biggest problem is that for women in academia, I feel like there is an attitude that dressing professionally means you either look like a frump or look very generic.
The other day I was lamenting the lack of physics related crafts/jewlry/art up on Etsy. There’s a lot of chemistry and biological sciences themed shops, but not so much for physics. Then today I discovered Stark060 Jewelry, an Etsy shop that just opened making jewelry for women in the STEM fields. Stark060’s founder has a background in chemical engineering and is beginning graduate studies in material sciences, so he definitely knows what he’s doing!
Take a look at some of my favorite designs:
Force diagram earrings
Carbon nanotube necklace
And Schrodinger’s Equations earrings