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 Books: Beyond Coding, Prof Marina Umaschi Bers

Beyond Coding: How Children Learn Human Values through Programming, Prof Marina Umaschi Bers

Today, schools are introducing STEM education and robotics to children in ever-lower grades. In Beyond Coding, Marina Umaschi Bers lays out a pedagogical roadmap for teaching code that encompasses the cultivation of character along with technical knowledge and skills. Presenting code as a universal language, she shows how children discover new ways of thinking, relating, and behaving through creative coding activities. Today’s children will undoubtedly have the technical knowledge to change the world. But cultivating strength of character, socioeconomic maturity, and a moral compass alongside that knowledge, says Bers, is crucial.

Bers, a leading proponent of teaching computational thinking and coding as early as preschool and kindergarten, presents examples of children and teachers using the Scratch Jr. and Kibo robotics platforms to make explicit some of the positive values implicit in the process of learning computer science. If we are to do right by our children, our approach to coding must incorporate the elements of a moral education: the use of narrative to explore identity and values, the development of logical thinking to think critically and solve technical and ethical problems, and experiences in the community to enable personal relationships. Through learning the language of programming, says Bers, it is possible for diverse cultural and religious groups to find points of connection, put assumptions and stereotypes behind them, and work together toward a common goal.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

About the Author

Marina Umaschi Bers is professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development with a secondary appointment in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group. Her research involves the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote children’s positive development, and has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, CNBCCBS News, Wall Street Journal and The Economist.

She is passionate about using the power of technology to promote positive development and learning for young children, and spoke at a 2014 TEDx talk on the topic Young programmers – think playgrounds, not playpens.  She has also written several books, including Teaching Computational Thinking and Coding to Young Children (2021), Coding as Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom (2018), The Official ScratchJr Book (2015), Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground (2012), and Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom (2008).

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @marinabers

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

ALD22 Books: Holding The Knife’s Edge, Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati

Holding The Knife’s Edge: Journeys of Black Female Scientists, Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati

To be born in a developing country is like competing in a race with your arms tied behind your back. To be born a female is to compete with your arms tied behind your back and blindfolded. An African child faces many barriers to education, health and social welfare. Yet, despite all these hurdles, some children grow up to become industry leaders in fields that seemed beyond reach in their childhood.

Authors Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati follow the journeys of 14 award-winning and pioneering black women in Science, from their childhoods and education to their arrival in the upper echelons of various organisations, achieved through innovation, academic excellence, social intelligence, authentic leadership and tenacity. The humble rural beginnings of some of these women did not limit intellectual growth, but rather stimulated creative, out-of-the-box thinking, which has served them well in their respective industries and businesses.

The remarkable stories in Holding the Knife’s Edge: Journeys of Black Female Scientists tell of a deep hunger for knowledge, a determination and commitment to succeed, and a work ethic that ensures success. 

About the Authors

Dr Thato Motlhalamme is a wine biotechnologist and passionate medical bioscientist. She obtained a degree in Complimentary Medicine and a master’s degree in Medical Biosciences from University of the Western Cape and a PhD in Wine Biotechnology from Stellenbosch University. She is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Grape and Wine Sciences and has previously worked in academia as a tutor and junior lecturer and in the retail space as a health consultant. She has a passion for science and inspiring young women to choose careers in science.

Dr Evodia Setati is a microbiologist and professional coach. She is the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Woman Scientist award (Engineering and Natural Sciences) from the Department of Science and Innovation. She obtained a BSc Hons degree from University of Limpopo, a PhD in Microbiology and a MPhil in Management Coaching from Stellenbosch University. She is a chief researcher in Grape and Wine Sciences. Evodia mentors early career academics and young scientists.  

You can follow their work here:

Twitter: @holdingtheknife
Instagram: @holdingtheknifesedge