ALD22: Dr Evelyn Gray, STEM Outreach Co-Ordinator

Evelyn Gray

This post was contributed by Chloe Rodgers and is an extract from her Highland Women in STEM project. 

Dr Evelyn Gray

Dr Evelyn Gray is STEM Projects Coordinator & Inverness Science Festival Coordinator at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She studied her BSc in Human Biology at Aberdeen University, and her PhD in Orthopaedic Surgery at Edinburgh University.

Gray was impressed by many of the good female role models at her university, who she felt displayed strength and tenacity. They supported her development, urged her to consider different opportunities and provided a ready ear when she needed it. She was taken under the wing of a female professor in anatomy, and inspired by the confidence of Dr Euphemia McGoogan, the head of cytology. She also found that other PhD students were supportive (such as Dame Sue Black).

After her studies, Gray took a lectureship in Dubai, where she had the opportunity to develop a general biological/science course for all students to take, no matter their area of study. The work was demanding, but gave her much needed experience in lecturing, science engagement and coaching. It opened her eyes to the cross curricular nature of science education, and made her consider new methods to relate the coursework to students’ own experiences. However, taking this lectureship meant that she missed out on research opportunities, and found it hard to reestablish herself in this area.

When asked what words of encouragement she could give to other women in STEM, Gray said:

“The one thing living in the Middle East and, to some extent, the Highlands, is that there are lots of opportunities for women. In these areas the job market is very open to anyone who has the skills set, or is willing to persevere, learn and develop the appropriate skills. Be open to a perpetual learning pathway. It may seem daunting, the idea of getting a degree or even studying for a PhD to be told you must keep learning. That is what life is about: a continuous learning experience, implementing that in your work life opens you up to so many future opportunities and you never know, you might find a new passion.”

You can follow her work on Twitter: @UHISTEM

Was there any particular individual who inspired you to do what you do?
I was fortunate at university to have many good role models, without any conscious bias I now realise many were strong willed women. The female professor of anatomy who took me under her wing, the PhD students (Dame Sue Black) that shared her office with me and encouraged my interest in bones, the head of cytology (Dr Euphemia McGoogan) whose confidence demonstrated inspired me to expand my horizons. All supported me in my development as a young student and as an early researcher, urging me to consider different opportunities and providing a ready ear when I needed it. Sometimes it is not about the answers but your own questions.

What advice do you have for other women to be successful in a STEM career?
My advice applies to anyone with a desire to be successful in a STEM career. Be open to the opportunities around you, do not assume become blinkered and only see one path to achieve your desire. In this modern age there are numerous routes to any career. Think about what interests you on the journey, choose your passion and follow it. A successful career should be in one you love, working in a subject you are enthusiastic about is not toil but a set of enjoyable experiences. There may be some negatives, but the positives will outweigh these. My advice is to stick with the heart’s desire, paying some attention to what the head says. Life is more enjoyable that way.

What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
Best career choice – a lectureship in Dubai. This offered an opportunity to develop a general biological/science course that all students, no matter their area of study, had to study for one semester. This was demanding but developed my lecturing, science engagement and coaching skills. Designing a course aimed at students from across the faculties was challenging but opened my eyes to the cross curricular nature of science education, covering the subject matter whilst attempting to relate a proportion of the course work to the students own interests and experiences.

What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made?
Moving to Dubai! Whilst I loved the challenge of the lectureship this took me out of the research world. After a break of 8 years I found it impossible to move back into this field. I remained in science engagement but feel that a career break for whatever reason in research makes it very difficult to re-establish oneself. I did enjoy my career in the Middle East but on reflection would have preferred to combine a research career with an opportunity to lecture, moving into lecturing and course development and out academic research was the worst career decision I have made.

What words of encouragement could you give to other women in STEM?
The one thing living in the Middle East and to some extent the Highlands is that there are lots of opportunities for women. In these areas the job market is very open to anyone who has the skills set, or are willing to persevere, learn and develop the appropriate skills. Be open to a perpetual learning pathway, it may seem daunting, the idea of getting a degree or even studying for a PhD to be told you must keep learning. That is what life is about, a continuous learning experience, implementing that in your work life opens you up to so many future opportunities and you never know you might find a new passion.

ALD22: Bertha Parker Pallan, Archaeologist

Bertha Parker Pallan

Bertha Parker Pallan

Bertha Yeawas “Birdie” Parker Pallan was the first female Native American archaeologist.

Parker Pallan was born in 1907 to Beulah Tahamont, an Abenaki actress, and Arthur C Parker, an archaeologist and anthropologist who belonged to the Seneca tribe. It is said that she was born in a tent at one of her father’s digs. Although she accompanied her father to excavations, her early introduction to archaeology ended when her parents divorced in 1914.

After being rescued from an abusive marriage by her uncle, Mark Raymond Harrington, she joined him at an archaeological dig that he was directing at Mesa House in Nevada. He hired her as a cook and expedition secretary, and she rapidly learnt excavation techniques. In 1929, she discovered the pueblo site of Scorpion Hill, which she excavated and documented on her own. Her finds were displayed at the Southwest Museum, now the Autry Museum of the American West.

The following year, she worked at the Gypsum Cave excavation, located in the desert outside Las Vegas, although she became ill after exposure to large amounts of cave guano. Parker Pallan’s work involved cleaning, repairing and cataloguing finds, but in her spare time she explored the caves. Because of her petite stature, she was able to squeeze through small gaps into caves that were inaccessible to the rest of the team.

In one of these caves, she discovered 10,000 year old human tools alongside the skull of an extinct giant ground sloth, Nothrotherium shastense. This was the earliest record of human habitation in North America at the time, and was described as “the most outstanding anthropological find ever made in the United States.” It was also a find that attracted further institutional support for the expedition.

From 1931 to 1941, Parker Pallan worked for the Southwest Museum as an assistant in archaeology and ethnology, publishing a number of papers based on her research. She was also able to document the culture, traditions, history, and folklore of a number of Indigenous peoples, including the Maidu, Paiute, Pomo, and the Yurok tribes.

Her third marriage, to actor Iron Eyes Cody, led her to co-host a TV program on Native American history and folklore, as well as act and work as a consultant on Indigenous representation in Hollywood, advocating for and supporting Indigenous actors.

In 2020, the Society for American Archaeology created a scholarship in her name. The Bertha Parker Cody Award for Native American Women is awarded to Native American, Native Alaskans, and Hawaiian women who are undergraduate or graduate students in the fields of archaeology or museum studies.

Further Reading

ALD22: Shraveena Venkatesh, Marine Conservationist

Shraveena Venkatesh

This post was contributed by Chloe Rodgers and is an extract from her Highland Women in STEM project. 

Shraveena Venkatesh

Shraveena Venkatesh is a PhD student at The Rivers and Lochs Institute University of the Highlands and Islands, currently researching the impacts of fisheries and aquaculture on aquatic environments and their inhabitants. She is also exploring potential applications for environmental DNA (eDNA) – nuclear or mitochondrial DNA that an organism sheds into the environment. She obtained her MSc in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Ghent University in Belgium, and took her original BSc in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry at Christ University in Bangalore.

She first became interested in marine animals aged 12 years old, spending much of her time at the beach. Venkatesh collected shells and examined crabs, pondering about other species in the ocean. Documentaries and books about marine animals strengthened this interest, and led to her pursuing her BSc. During this time, she developed an interest in conservation and exploring the effect of humans on marine environments and organisms.

Venkatesh’s PhD journey has allowed her to collaborate with many other PhD students and researchers, several of whom are also women like herself. She has found this a very rewarding and inspiring environment to be part of. When asked how she thought girls could be encouraged into STEM careers, she said:

“I think young girls should be inspired to read more and to be curious and critical. They should also be encouraged to play with more active toys at a young age, rather than passive ones that are traditionally considered more suitable for girls. As a society we need to resist stereotyping genders and assuming the characteristics or abilities of people based on their gender. Other women, successful in STEM, could be inspiring role models to young girls. Encouraging girls at school when they are interested in STEM subjects could give them the motivation and confidence to learn more and to persevere at succeeding in these fields.”

You can follow her work via her website, Twitter or LinkedIn.

When did you first become interested in your subject area?
I developed an interest in marine animals when I was about 12 years old. I spent time at beaches collecting shells, following crabs and wondering what other animals lived in the vast oceans. I watched a lot of documentaries about marine life and read a lot about the most charismatic marine animals too. While doing my bachelor’s and master’s degree this passion of mine strengthened. I also formed an interest in conservation and in the impacts of human activities on marine environments and organisms.

What do you love about your job/course?
My favourite thing about doing a PhD is that I learn something new and interesting every single day. It’s been a very exciting and rewarding journey so far. In the office and lab, there are other PhD students and researchers working on various subjects, each bringing a different perspective to our daily discussions and conversations and teaching me something new. Several of them are intelligent, capable, young women, successful in their fields, which makes it a very inspiring environment to be in.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently? (STEM related!)
Orcas’ brains have limbic systems, like humans do. This means they can feel and process complicated emotions which affects their behaviour.

What do you think could be changed to better encourage more girls into your line of work/a STEM career?
I think young girls should be inspired to read more and to be curious and critical. They should also be encouraged to play with more active toys at a young age, rather than passive ones that are traditionally considered more suitable for girls. As a society we need to resist stereotyping genders and assuming the characteristics or abilities of people based on their gender. Other women, successful in STEM, could be inspiring role models to young girls. Encouraging girls at school when they are interested in STEM subjects could give them the motivation and confidence to learn more and to persevere at succeeding in these fields.

ALD22: Professor Irene C Peden, Electrical Engineer

Irene C Peden

Professor Irene C Peden

Irene C Peden is an electrical engineer who was the first woman scientist to live and work in the interior of the Antarctic, developing techniques for studying deep glacial ice using radio waves.

Born in 1925 in Topeka, Kansas, Peden graduated from the University of Colorado when she was 22 with a degree in electrical engineering, although she was often the only woman in her classes. She worked in industry as an engineer from 1947 to 1954, but returned to education to get a masters and PhD from Stanford University, becoming the first woman to get a doctorate in electrical engineering from them. She joined the electrical engineering faculty at the University of Washington in 1961, again the first woman to do so. She served as president of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society, and was awarded their “Man of the Year” award. She was promoted to a professor in 1971, associate dean in 1973, and associate chair of the department in 1983.

She visited the Antarctic in 1970 to investigate the electrical characteristics of glacial ice, becoming the first female engineer or scientist to carry out research there. Because of the US Navy’s prohibition on women travelling alone to Antarctica, she had to find another woman to go with her but the New Zealand geophysicist who was supposed to join her failed her physical. Instead, a Christchurch librarian Julia Vickers, who was also an alpinist, took the job.

Three years earlier, the US Army Cold Regions Research Laboratories had drilled a 2.16km hole in the ice, and Pedersen lowered a probe 1.67km into the hole to study how very low frequency radio waves travelled through the ice. Her instruments also measured the electrical properties of the ice.

Because of the Navy’s scepticism of women, Peden was told that if she didn’t produce and publish robust scientific results, they would not allow other women to travel to Antarctica. Peden’s experiments were successful, and she expanded her work to measure the thickness of the ice sheets, and used very high frequency radio waves to discover structures under the ice. In 1979, she spent the whole winter at the South Pole, again the first woman to do so.

In 1993, she was named the National Science Foundation’s Engineer of the Year and was included in the American Society for Engineering Education’s Hall of Fame. A line of cliffs in Antarctica have been named after her by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names.

Further Reading

ALD22: Professor Danielle N Lee, Behavioural Ecologist

Danielle N Lee

Professor Danielle N Lee

Danielle N Lee is a biologist whose research focuses on the connections between ecology, evolution and animal behaviour. From South Memphis, Tennessee, she earnt her bachelor’s from Tennessee Technological University in 1996, her master’s from the University of Memphis, and her PhD in biology from the University of Missouri-St Louis.

Lee’s research focuses on the extent to which the African giant pouched rat, Cricetomys ansorgei, exhibits behavioural syndromes, and the potential role of genetics in these behaviours. She has worked in Tanzania, collecting data on female rat biology, which is currently understudied. She also studies the behavioural differences between small rodents in urban and rural settings in the St Louis Metropolitan region.

Lee is also well known as a science communicator who specialises in outreach to the African American community and increasing the participation of under-served communities in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). She co-founded the National Science & Technology News Service, a “media literacy initiative to bring more science news to African-American audiences and promote science news source diversity in mainstream media”.

In 2009, she was honoured as a Diversity Scholar by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. In 2013 she was given the STEM Leader Award by the Kansas City Black Family Technology Awareness Association. She was one of EBONY Magazine’s Power 100 in 2014, a 2015 TED Fellow, and a White House Champion of Change in STEM Diversity and Access.

Further Reading