Monday, 10 December 2012

Our Strategy Day

The alarm went off at 8.00am which, although unusual for a Saturday, was not begrudged; it was the ScienceGrrl strategy consultation day. Today we would find out what people thought of us, what we should be doing and would start thinking seriously about our future. I knew we needed to ask people what they wanted from ScienceGrrl, but that morning, the thought of asking people face-to-face still felt scary. As I made my way through an eerily quiet central London, the usual worries surfaced. Would anyone turn up? Would the equipment work? Would we be coherent? Would we get useful input?

Mmmmm, ScienceGrrl Cakes.
As the other ScienceGrrl committee members arrived with pastries, coffee and juice (choice of ‘bits’ and ‘no bits’) my nerves were settled- with such a lovely bunch of people, what could possibly go wrong? We talked calendar sales, outreach activities, bank accounts, regional chapters and of course the strategy consultation. We had a battle with the printer (which we lost), a mad dash in the rain to collect calendars, cakes, USB sticks and badges from Louise’s apartment, and we were ready.

As people started to arrive the atmosphere was mounting, people were introducing themselves and tucking into our fab ScienceGrrl-branded cakes, more chairs were needed and everyone squeezed in. We had school students, undergraduates, post grads, teachers, and a decent haul of ScienceGrrls. We were ready to go.

The discussion began with the history of ScienceGrrl, we talked about why we needed a strategy and the results of the online questionnaire. We then took it in turns to introduce ourselves and explain why we cared about ScienceGrrl. The variety of motivations was really moving, and it was refreshing to hear people talking so eloquently, sensibly and passionately about gender issues in science careers. By this point we were already well behind schedule. To make up time I took the executive decision to cut the next two items on the agenda (they can’t have been important), and we delved straight the juicy group discussions.

In the first topic we explored the ScienceGrrl vision. People were asked to discuss how they would finish the sentence “ScienceGrrl sees a world where...” and to identify what the barriers were to achieving this vision. While some people struggled to remain wholly on-topic (let’s blame it on the excitement) we got some great feedback. Some choice quotes include:

“ScienceGrrl sees a world where access to science education is not restricted by gender, race, class, sexuality or culture”

 “ScienceGrrl sees a world unrestricted by stereotype”

“ScienceGrrl sees a world where female scientists are represented in the media”

Among the barriers, we identified: Culture in schools (particularly co-ed), childcare policies, lack of role models, culture of long hours, and a lack of good quality careers advice.

We then had a super-quick break for coffee, and moved swiftly onto the next discussion topic: ‘what can ScienceGrrl Do?’ As we gulped down our hot beverages, the conversation kept rolling on at pace. The ideas for ScienceGrrl seemed almost endless, they included: a mentoring programme, work experience, networking events, members forum, careers advice, awareness/ challenging stereotypes, delivering workshops, bringing people together ... and the list goes on (and on, and on).

As we began to wrap up, the momentum of the conversation seemed to be reaching its peak. It was a shame to have to stop, but I heard people continuing to talk, and swaping contact details as we were packing up.

And then to the pub! In true ScienceGrrl fashion we ended up finishing the day chatting over a well deserved glass of red wine. Cheers!! We discussed the next steps for the strategy, what we should include, and who else we should talk to. Look out for the first draft of the strategy in the New Year; we want to hear what you think before we vote on it at the AGM in February. 

Serious Strategizing...
Although the consultation day is over, the conversation hasn’t finished. You can join us on twitter, send us an email, or fill out our survey. We won’t stop wanting to talk about this stuff for a very long time.

A message from the Post Room

UPDATE: orders made with added first class delivery before 1500 on Wednesday 19th December will be sent out for delivery before 25th.

In the words of Europa, it's the final countdown. With 15 days to Christmas, orders for ScienceGrrl calendars, bags, badges and USB sticks are coming in thick and fast. Orders received by 2359 on Thursday 15th December should be with you before 25th. We're now also offering first class delivery in case you'd like to get your festive wrapping done in advance, or you need to send your order on to someone else.

From next week we will also offer to send out your order by special delivery, which we can guarantee.

As you can probably tell, it's a busy time at Crumble Towers with all this packing up and posting. And it wouldn't be done without the work of one amazing little helper: Loki the kitten.

I hit upon the idea of using cat labour when I figured that felines don't need to be paid the minimum working wage. I could make my pet kitten Loki work all hours of the day and night and not have to pay him a penny! Genius, I thought. Here's Loki ready for the day ahead:

So first thing Loki does is to print off labels for the orders that have arrived since the last mailout. This takes quite a while, since operating a computer is pretty hard when you're a cat.

Next, Loki will stuff the appropriate number of calendars and other goodies into our envelopes, taking extra care not to chew on them. Apparently just sniffing them is enough...

To pass the time while envelope stuffing, Loki watches old TV programmes. His current favourite is Thundercats.  Once all the envelopes are stuffed, and the labels stuck on, it's time to go down to the post office. Unfortunately, Loki isn't allowed outside because he's only 16 weeks old, so I have to do this bit.

At night Loki guards the calendars from would-be intruders, so that they're ready for the next mailout. Sometimes he falls asleep on top of them and I can hear him mumbling "I'll get you next time, Thor." Thor is the name of our next door neighbour's golden retriever.

So remember: you still have plenty of time to order your ScienceGrrl goodies before Christmas. We have a first class delivery option that means even if you leave it to next week, you'll get your order before 25th.

Festive greetings, everyone. Now, where's my mug of mulled wine gone?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hopefully, with the help of groups like ScienceGrrl, this can change

Here's the second of our guest blogs from a female A-level science student, Becky Maggs. Thanks very much to her for her honesty - we're honoured that she's found ScienceGrrl an encouragement and inspiration.

"There's a lot of pressure for everyone at A-levels. This isn't helped when you're the only girl in a class full of boys. I'm eighteen, and taking maths, chemistry and physics, and I'm writing about what it's like. 

The reason I take these mainly male-dominated subjects is because I really enjoy them. And I mean really, like go to lectures outside school and tutor other students, like it. I think this is the one thing that kept me going where all my other female peers gave-up. I used to be in a 20-strong class, with 2 other girls. It's now gone down to half that size, with only one girl left. Me. I wouldn't say anyone was sexist as such, but I'm definitely treated differently than my male-counterparts.

I get congratulated a lot by women I meet, expressing their surprise, and a well-meaning 'good luck', which is less than reassuring. What's even worse is when you hear this from people who've gone the same path as you, and who now work in unrelated areas. Like the school librarian for example. When taking out some school books, she said 'it's so nice to see a girl in science'. I made the compulsory noises and smiled. She then went on to tell me about how she did the same subjects. Some background on my librarian, she's a moody woman who goes around telling people of her past opportunities. This is not how I want to end up! What does she aim to do, provide a role model for me? 

I've also got to be a bit more careful about what say or do. I made a dirty joke the other day, and after a minute of silence, the whole class burst out laughing and the teacher said 'Trust the only girl in the class to bring the tone down'. Then the next lesson, when doing a class experiment, a peer gave me something to clean, and someone else, rather loudly remarked 'Have you actually just told the only girl in the class to do the cleaning up?'. Cue everyone turning round to gauge my reaction. This makes things difficult for me, as if I act too calmly about it, it will become routine, but if I over-react, I become the stressy girl. I just blushed and carried on. These are just examples of how things affect me, normally the physics class runs normally. 

The main thing that gets me about these STEM subjects is that I know many girls who would do better than me in the subjects, and could easily be top of the class, and yet have chosen to do English and Humanities, where they haven't actually graded as well. The girls who do take these subjects often drop out early on, despite the fact that they are getting good grades. 

Hopefully, with the help of groups like ScienceGrrl, this can change".

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mission Discovery & ScienceGrrl

We're very excited about the projects that we will be able to invest in using the proceeds from the sale of the ScienceGrrl calendar 2013. We currently have a consultation open to help guide what we should be doing, but have already committed to one particular project - we'll be funding a team of 6 (4 girls, 2 boys) from a school in Tower Hamlets to attend the Mission Discovery summer school at King's College next summer. One of the teachers at the school we are working with has described this as a 'once in a life-time opportunity'.

I asked Mission Discovery to provide a blog outlining the wonderful experience that awaits these young people, and they kindly sent me this:

"ScienceGrrl is to support a team of four girls and two boys at next year’s Mission Discovery at one of the world’s top 30 universities, King’s College in London. Mission Discovery will enable young people to work with and be accompanied by former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Ken Ham, former Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre Jay Honeycutt, Lead NASA Astronaut Trainer Michelle Ham and a range of NASA and biomedical scientists. The Mission Discovery programme is organised by the International Space School Educational Trust. (

During the week-long programme, the young people will work in teams to come up with an idea to be carried out in space. The best idea will be selected, built by ISSET and launched to the International Space Station (ISS). The winning experiment from last year’s programme is an investigation on the effectiveness of antibiotics in space, which will be carried out on the ISS in April and May 2013.

Fantastic role models: A Presentation from Lead NASA Astronaut Trainer, Michelle Ham

It is great for us to support Mission Discovery as it allows young people to develop a range of skills such as NASA leadership and team building, how to be creative, encourages them to fulfil their dreams and ambitions and teaches them how space exploration benefits the earth. The programme also highlights the environment of space, the experience of being in space, what makes a great experiment and much more. The whole programme is orientated to inculcate the NASA “you can do it” spirit.

Girls have done remarkably well in the Mission Discovery programmes. The winning team in last year’s programme included boys and girls from Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, Gumley House Convent School in Middlesex and Hampton School, also in Middlesex. Whilst the top prize at the first Mission Discovery at Imperial College in London went to the all girl team pictured below.

The programme has amazingly received 100% positive feedback. Here are some of the comments we’ve received:

It was great to learn from all those experienced people, and it was a nice surprise that our experiment won…thanks for an amazing experience!!” Emily Yeomans
Working with all the experts was so inspirational and such a unique experience - nothing else even comes close” Serena Yuen, age 17
The week was simply incredible, I learnt a lot whilst enjoying it at the same time. Thank you to everyone involved.” Sara Rasul, age 14

Mission Discovery was, by far, the most comprehensive, interesting, and educational endeavour I have been involved with.”
Mike McCulley - Former NASA Astronaut and President of United Space Alliance.
I really wish there had been a programme like this for me to attend when I was in high school.”
Michelle Ham - NASA Lead Astronaut Trainer