“It’s our turn to make it blossom”: Aphra Bennett on attending ALD Live! 2016

Guest post by Aphra Bennett (aged 16)

ALD Live

Credit: Paul Clarke

In October, I had the privilege of attending Ada Lovelace Day and I was not disappointed.

This was the third year I have attended Ada Lovelace Day and I have watched it blossom every year, with more speakers, more people and bigger venues. That night, I was unsure what to expect because it seemed like in one year Ada Lovelace Day had blown up out of nowhere. I don’t know whether it was because it was at The IET’s Savoy Place, and I felt quite tiny surrounded by other extremely professional looking adults, or if was the fact that I felt like a mother with a child who finally realises her child has evolved into an adult. Don’t get me wrong – this is exactly what made me happy, the fact that Ada Lovelace Day was finally getting the recognition it rightfully deserved.

The first time I attended Ada Lovelace Day, I was convinced that I had to do some sort of job in STEM. I greatly admired all these women, with all these cool jobs. To some girls my age, a job in STEM is something we keep hearing about, but never actually consider because we just think ‘it’s just not for me’. Of course, when asked why ‘it’s not for you’, we don’t really have a clear definite answer, just ‘Oh, I’m not that good at maths’ or something along those lines that we have unfortunately all heard. Those statements are usually followed by an uncomfortable laughter or silence because deep down we all know that’s not a good enough reason.

Credit: Paul Clarke

Dr Kat Arney. Credit: Paul Clarke

However this isn’t our fault. It’s extremely easy to convince yourself that you are bad at any STEM subjects, because they are presented as these unattainable professions that only few with the correct IQ and brain capacity can participate in, and most of time usually with a male face attached. Of course, we all know that’s complete rubbish, but that’s just not how it’s presented to us. We think just because we weren’t able to come up with E=mc2 in our sleep, ‘it’s just not for me’.  Imagine where we’d be if all scientists with scientific breakthroughs had thought this! Where would we even be? Well, thankfully due to events like the wonderful Ada Lovelace Day, all these silly preconceived notions seem to disappear, and hope is found. Suddenly, you feel like you could be a scientist, an engineer, a technologist, a mathematician. It feels closer to home. And I cannot express how important it is that for just those couple of hours, sitting there listening to and admiring these awe-inspiring women talk about their work fields is enough for girls like me to believe that one day we could be the ones talking on that stage.

What that stood out for me was Dr Kat Arney’s talk about genes and the unlikeliness of them. It made you realise how much a single human being contains inside them.We walk around so oblivious to the fact that we are so intricate on the inside and there are so many things occurring just to make us who we are. This talk for me stood out because it made science more human that it already is. I don’t know about you, but when I was in biology classes, when discussing the human body, I made no connections to actual humans in the sense that I did not think once to myself ‘Oh wow all the people sitting in my class right now are alive and breathing because of what I’m learning today’. We treat the biology of our body like some separate entity from our actual selves. But this talk seemed to connect the biological human body to, I guess, the emotional part of the human body. Another particularly interesting talk was from Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, about the advancement in cancer research. It felt like a cure for cancer was a close and attainable goal, that could happen in my lifetime, and that in itself was inspiring and uplifting.

Credit: Paul Clarke

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani. Credit: Paul Clarke

Overall, I can honestly say that I never leave Ada Lovelace Day uninspired. I cannot express how happy I am that this event exists and how much it will increase the chances of women and girls of going into STEM. Because that’s the goal isn’t it? Why would we go further in human history whilst leaving behind half its population? Scratch that – how could we go further in history whilst leaving behind half its population? It sounds stupid if you ask me. We need women and girls in STEM because they are the future. Ada Lovelace imagined a future way beyond her years; now let’s imagine our own, where women and girls are at the forefront. Ada planted the seed, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day watered it, now it’s our turn to make it blossom.

Ep 7: Dr Julia Shaw & Dr Brenna Hassett

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Welcome to the Ada Lovelace Day podcast, highlighting the work of women in STEM. Each month, we talk to women from around the STEM world about their careers, as well as talking to women and men, about historic and modern women’s achievements, discoveries, and inventions.

In this episode

01:23 Psychological scientist Dr Julia Shaw explains why we shouldn’t trust our own memories, and how knowing that can help us develop a better relationship with our past.

28:16 Bio-archeologist Dr Brenna Hassett explores the lives and works of three pioneering archaeologists who have been instrumental in developing our understanding of prehistoric Turkey, Halet Çambel, Ufuk Esin, and Mihriban Özbaşaran.

Our interviewees

Dr Julia Shaw

Dr Julia ShawDr Julia Shaw is a memory scientist in the Department of Law and Social Sciences at London South Bank University. She is the author of the popular science book The Memory Illusion, which was published in June 2016, in the UK and will soon appear in 13 languages. She is a regular contributor to Scientific American, and her work has been featured in outlets such as the Discovery Channel, BBC, Der Spiegel, Russia Today and The Times.

Besides her teaching and research, she has delivered general business and police training workshops, has given guest lectures at universities around the world, has evaluated offender diversion programs, and works with the UK police to advise on historical sexual and physical abuse cases.

Julia has also written about women in STEM for the Scientific American, in Swapping Princesses and Ponies for Science. You can follow Julia on Twitter at @DrJuliaShaw, and watch her video on memory below or on YouTube. Photo: Boris Breuer

Dr Brenna Hassett

Dr Brenna HassettDr Brenna Hassett is a bioarchaeologist specialising in the archaeology of teeth. Her research examines evidence from growth disruptions locked inside dental enamel to understand patterns of human health in the past, and she has worked in a variety of countries including Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Thailand.

She is a founding member of the TrowelBlazers collective, which seeks to reset imaginations by bringing the contributions of women to the Earth Sciences to light. Their new Raising Horizons project will promote the work of women in the trowel-based sciences via a photographic and oral history archive (video below).

Her new book Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death is out from Bloomsbury Sigma in the UK in February 2017, and in North American April 2017. You can follow Brenna on Twitter at @brennawalks.

Thanks to our sponsor

This podcast is brought to you thanks to the generous support of ARM, our exclusive semiconductor industry sponsor. You can learn more about ARM on their website at ARM.com and you can follow them on Twitter at @ARMHoldings.

If you would like to join ARM as a sponsor of the Ada Lovelace Day Podcast, please email us.

Get in touch!

If you’d like to send us feedback about the show, or if you’d like to take part, please email us. We’re especially interested in hear from men who would like to talk to us about the women in STEM who have influenced them, especially those women who are less well known.


Episode edited by Andrew Marks.

Our links


Supporting women in STEM: Your ideas needed!

Digital ScienceALD Sponsor Digital Science held an event as part of their Ada Lovelace Day celebrations, Championing Success and Avoiding the Echo Chamber, looking at how we can support women in STEM. The event covered various issues, such as women and men working in STEM (and the leaky pipeline), how to encourage people to mentor, finding more role models, the media perception of women in STEM, and finally, how we can move to doing things, rather than just talking about them. There is a teaser video plus all nine talks and the panel discussion on their blog, and a variety of articles and contributions on the issues raised.

In her talk, Dr Suze Kundu suggested that we collectively make a plan to encourage people to do more, and Digital Science have put together an article of what we can each do to help bring about equality. The ideas so far include:

  • not making women feel different for being in STEM
  • using yourself as a role model in talks
  • getting support from men at the top
  • not being afraid to be yourself and embracing femininity (if you want to)
  • encouraging diversity to get rid of stereotypes

We are now asking for people to share their ideas for practical steps we can all take to support women in STEM, and have started a Google document for all your contributions. Please share your thoughts  there have been some excellent responses so far!

Raising Horizons to highlight women in earth sciences

Raising HorizonsOur friends the TrowelBlazers have launched a new project, Raising Horizons, to highlight the work of women in archeology, palaeontology and geology. In collaboration with Leonora Saunders, and supported by Prospect Union, 14 women working in those fields today will be photographed as a historic counterpart, to create a visual connection to the past and to celebrate diversity:

Raising Horizons is about revealing the real face of geo-science past and present, sharing its hidden heritage, and promoting 21st century diversity.

As well as celebrating individuals, Raising Horizons  also seeks to show that women in science aren’t isolated or alone; through mentoring, training and collaborating, they have always created networks of their own.

An education project designed to bring the past to life and to challenge stereotypes, the collection will be exhibited across the UK and online, demonstrating how the earth sciences are filled with female role models. “Raising Horizons is one way that – together – we can act to re-set imaginations on who geo-scientists are,” says TrowelBlazers’ Indigogo project, which goes on to say:

  • Backing Raising Horizons will create a valuable resource showcasing diversity in geo-science past and present.
  • Curated at exhibition venues around the UK and online, the project can reach broad audiences.
  • Producing interviews that will be the foundation of a future oral history archive.
  • By spotlighting the power of connections and networks, we can put a focus on forming new frameworks of support via future TrowelBlazers mentoring and training programmes and bursaries.

Raising Horizons now needs £10,000 to fund photography, and run exciting public events and talks. You can watch them talk more about the project (also below) and about women in science in their video.

You’ve got a little under 13 days to contribute to the project, which needs another £4,000 to meet its target, and you can read more about some of the women who will be featured on the Trowelblazers’ blog.


Increasing women in STEM: Just a woman’s issue?

Credit: University of Exeter

Credit: University of Exeter

by Sarah Hearne

Universities around the world have recognised that there is a dearth of women in STEM. In various countries actions are being taken in an attempt to address this. In the UK and Ireland the Athena SWAN scheme has proven popular and is starting to have an impact. Buoyed by its success, Australia has recently begun its own scheme, modelled on Athena SWAN, called SAGE (Science Australia Gender Equity). Currently a pilot scheme, it involves universities and scientific research organisations from around the country who have two years to develop an Athena SWAN Bronze Award application.

I have attended various “Women in STEM” events over the years, the most recent of which was the formal launch of the launch of my university’s Athena SWAN program. All of these events have been insightful, inspiring and educational. And all these events have been predominantly attended by women. Even in this most recent event, where the good attendance by men was noted, they accounted for a mere 20% of attendees1.

Beyond the low interest by men in increasing the number of  women – and by extension, increasing diversity in general – in STEM, I have noticed a concerning theme: Men seem to feel the need to justify their interest. It’s not enough to care that 50% of the human race are being systematically disadvantaged due to nothing more than their gender, they rationalise their support through some ‘personal’ connection to the issue. Commonly, they cite the fact that they have wives, daughters, or granddaughters that are or will be affected. Every man who has explained the source of their interest has begun with something along the lines of ‘now I have daughters I see how big a problem sexism is and I want to make things better for when they get older’.

This is a noble sentiment and one that should be applauded, but what concerns me is that I’ve not once seen a man stand up and say that their interest comes because they have a son. Where are the fathers concerned about whether their sons will have just as much involvement in their own children’s lives as their partners, or who worry their sons will feel pressured to take a job that is high paying but unfulfilling, simply because men are supposed to be the breadwinner. I certainly have never heard a man stand up and say they’re interested in diversity simply because it affects them in some way. Or that they have obligations outside work that mean they can’t work late, or need to unexpectedly take time off, or simply want a work-life balance that may not be tolerated when you’re on the top rungs of the career ladder.

Until men start seeing this as an issue that affects them just as much as women I don’t see how we are going to make any meaningful changes. Men are limited just as much by societal constraints and expectations as women, just in different ways. Men are expected to work instead of look after their children, which means that they miss out on many important events in their child’s life. It means that they feel unable to take career choices that may be rewarding but are not seen as ‘masculine’ enough. It means that their mental health suffers when they don’t feel they meet society’s expectation of what it means to be a man, but because ‘real men don’t cry’ they suffer in silence, the result of which is that men are far more likely to commit suicide than women.

Another issue that comes from assuming this is a ‘women’s issue’ is that the emphasis is placed on getting women into traditionally male roles. I am all for this, but I am also all for getting more men into traditionally female roles. By solely focusing on getting women into ‘male’ fields we are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) saying that this is where the worthwhile jobs are to be found. Don’t be a nurse, be a doctor. Don’t be a PA, be a manager. Without a commensurate push to get men into traditional women’s roles all we are saying is that women who want to be successful should be more like men. And this leads to yet more problems…

Credit: Cydcor

Credit: Cydcor

Anyone who is interested in sexism in the workplace will know of all the ways women ‘jeopardise’ their careers. They only apply for jobs when they meet all the criteria, unlike men who will apply when they only meet some; they are timid negotiators so end up with lower salaries than men who are more aggressive negotiators; they don’t speak up in meetings, perhaps because they are interrupted more, so their ideas are not heard as often. The solutions given are, whether explicit or not, to essentially ‘be more like the men’. Improving these skills is not necessarily bad advice, but the reasoning behind it is. It’s saying that the male way is the best way and if you want to be the best then you need to be like a man. But why? Why do we think that men have got it right about everything? Why not challenge this assumption and see if it stands up to scrutiny?

Getting women into STEM subjects is, to a large extent, a pilot study for a bigger project which is to increase diversity in all its myriad forms and in all fields of endeavour: gender, race, sexual orientation, physical and mental diversity. It is hoped that if workplaces can ‘crack the nut’ of sexism then the lessons learned and the schemes implemented will apply just as well to these other areas. However, by focusing on a uni-directional flow of women into male-dominated fields we are only looking at half the picture. To create true equality of opportunity we need to include men. We need to ask why there aren’t many male PAs, male nursery school teachers, male care-home assistants, male nurses and what we can do to make these roles more attractive to them. For one thing, if all the women are off working in STEM who’s going to do the jobs they’ve left? But, more seriously, working out how to get women into well-paid prestigious roles is the easy bit, getting men to work in ‘women’s’ jobs is the hard part. If we can work out how to fix that problem, then we may be onto something.

1 I counted 16 men and 65 women. My counts may be off by one or two people due to my view being blocked but I was sat at the back so had as good a view of the room as was possible as an audience member.