Friday, May 29, 2009

A night to remember: Jane Goodall Speaks to Ottawa

This article was written by Rosalyn Seeton, CU-WISE Outreach Officer, Ottawa Carleton University EMBS chapter Vice-Chair, WIE member.

I was invited to attend Jane Goodall’s lecture “Reason for Hope” in Ottawa last April as a member of IEEE Ottawa Women In Engineering – a co-sponsor to the event.

Walking into the lobby, the buzz of anticipation and excitement that precedes a performance seemed greater than usual, as if everyone knew they were in for a once in a lifetime special treat. We found our seats, and were surprised to find a complimentary package of Fair Trade coffee in each, provided in honour of the special guest’s visit.

I felt a little surge of pride when IEEE WIE was thanked as a sponsor in the opening remarks and then, in no time, there she was, walking onto the stage with her stuffed monkey. She put him down on the table beside the podium and waited patiently for the standing ovation to subside before responding with a hooting greeting from the chimps.

She started off by talking about her childhood and first interests in worms, chickens, Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan. She spoke about her mother, who had to patiently explain to her that the worms had to live outside and couldn’t sleep in her bed. Her mother also reacted calmly when a very young Jane went missing for several hours because she was hiding inside the chicken roost trying to find out how the hens laid their eggs.

She went on to talk about her determination to get to Africa despite her humble background, an extraordinary goal for a young woman at that time, and certainly not something that many people would have thought possible given her situation. Nevertheless, she persisted, worked very hard, and managed to get to Africa. She talked about studying the chimps in the wild with her mother as a chaperone and once again she emphasized how much support her mother had provided in order for her to pursue her dreams. She spoke about going back to school eventually, skipping right into a PhD and being told that she had done many things wrong. She was told that she should not have named the chimps, and they certainly did not have personalities. She was not persuaded, and this would certainly not be the last time she would oppose traditional views. Her career is marked by groundbreaking discoveries, such as her observation that chimps created and used tools. The world had to catch up with her and recreate the definition of “man”.

She finished by talking about the Roots and Shoots program run by the Jane Goodall Institute and the work that needs to be done to save wildlife habitats and keep the world sustainable. She took questions from the audience and made sure that all the children were able to have their questions answered. After her talk she took the time to autograph books, have her picture taken, and have a few words with anyone from the audience that was willing to wait for the chance. With such impressive life achievements it’s easy to be awed by someone like Jane Goodall. Yet, thanks to her stamina and patience, she was able to communicate on a personal basis with many of us in the audience; it is at this point, speaking to her face to face that one remembers that she is just a regular person too and that each of us can make as much of a difference in our world as she has. Everyone leaving the theatre was excited by the hope and possibility that she exudes.

Heidi, Geek Girl Detective

Sunny summer days are not quite here yet, so for one of these rainy days, I suggest to you a novel, which I was lately recommended by one of my "geek" friends.

Warning: it was very hard to stop reading this novel, about:
Identity theft, password cracking,e-mail eavesdropping, network worms,computer sabotage, booby-trapped software,digital piracy, online kiddie-porn trafficking,cyber-stalking, revenge hacking,and cyber-crime cartels
The first and the second web comic books are now published, or you can buy a printed version.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Bechdel test

With the summer blockbusters coming in, I was reminded of this test...

A movie passes the Bechdel test if it satisfies the following requirements:
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

The last two movies I saw were Coraline (which passes with shining colours -- Coraline talks to her mom and the other residents of the apartment about lots of stuff), and Star Trek (that sort of barely makes it because two of the women talk about work. In one scene. Before getting distracted by a mostly naked man. Hrm.)

Think about the last few movies you saw. Do they pass?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A look at women leading the world as of 2009

So Hilary Clinton didn't become president this year... but Johanna Siguroadottir became Iceland's first female prime minister and Sheikh Hasina Wazed became prime minister of Bangladesh!

But it doesn't stop there. As of February 2009, 31 countries had woman vice presidents or deputy prime ministers. Surely this will encourage all of us women to support each other in becoming a vital part of world leadership. For more information, see the Pink Magazine's article: Meet the Planet's 15 Women World Leaders.

"Leadership is using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others." - Susan L. Colantuono

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Computer Science and Games: Just for Girls!

I just finished teaching a mini-course for grade eight girls last week. It was called Computer Science and Games: Just for Girls! The course's main topic was video games, but taught relevant computer science topics as well. At the end of the week, the students had a working video game that they could bring home with them and show their friends. How cool is that??

Several CU-WISE members were a huge help for this course, volunteering their time to help students with their games during our afternoon lab times. Thanks so much to each and every one of you. If you think you didn't end up helping that much, let me politely say how wrong you are! Even just being there as a real computer scientist or engineer was huge, because role models are much more important than you might think. You also showed them how you think and solve problems. Most of us didn't know the answers to their questions off hand, so we worked through them and figured it out together. This is such a valuable lesson.

I wrote a few posts about the course to my personal blog that you might be interested in. First, you may wish to take a look at the course notes to see what the girls learned about. The notes include links to all the cool videos we saw, the software we used, and other interesting websites. Then you may want to read my post mortem, where I share some of the survey results I gathered on the first and last days. There might be some things that surprise you...

If you were a volunteer and have any stories to share, please leave a comment! Or, if you were involved with any of the other mini-courses last week, or the Pathmakers lunch and tour, tell us about your experiences.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Happy Odd Day!

Odd Day is coming Thursday, 5/7/9. Three consecutive odd numbers make up the date only six times in a century. This day marks the half-way point in this parade of Odd Days which began with 1/3/5. The previous stretch of six dates like this started with 1/3/1905---13 months after the Wright Brothers' flight.

I celebrate pi day (3/14, or March 14th) every year with the math society, so I'm no stranger to mathematical holidays. But I'd never thought about odd days before! Seems like a fun thing to celebrate. Especially since, as women in science and engineering, we're often viewed as odd ourselves!

Rejoice in your oddness! Happy Odd Day!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Comic Style!

I found this through a post on Facebook, and loved it so much that I just had to share it.

Click for Ada Lovelace: The Origin

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Soft Skills Matter!

This article, found in the latest ACM CareerNews Alert, emphasizes the importance of soft skills in IT. I believe that, as women, we sometimes have an easier time with a selection of these, especially because we can be such social creatures. Others, like negotiation, we perhaps aren't so good at. Either way, it's well worth our time to practise, practise, practise! That means contributing to the CU-WISE blog by emailing us (wink, wink), speaking at CU-WISE events (or any other presentation opportunities), and so on.
Surviving the IT Job Market: How Soft Skills Give You an Edge (via Computerworld), April 21

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, explains how soft skills like public speaking, negotiation and persuasion are becoming critical to finding the right job. While IT employers have long touted soft skills, today's economic realities have made those abilities more valuable than ever. As a result, IT professionals who understand which soft skills are the most important have a distinct advantage over similarly qualified peers. From an employer’s perspective, these soft skills can help prevent or alleviate situations caused by poor morale or sinking productivity; help build consensus within an organization; and clearly communicate the value of certain projects to stakeholders.

Don't overlook leadership as a key soft skill just because you aren't occupying or seeking a management-level position. Stepping up to assume extra responsibility—such as taking the lead on a challenging project—is another ability that current economic conditions have made valuable. One option for improving your soft skills is to look for classes that can help you develop these abilities. Keeping in touch with members of your network and attending industry events can also keep your interpersonal skills sharp. One of the most powerful ways to develop your soft skills is to teach. Look to local continuing education programs, community colleges and mentor organizations for opportunities to share your knowledge of the IT profession and build your interpersonal abilities.

Click Here to View Full Article

Engineering Hot Again at Universities

From the ACM CareerNews Alert.
Engineering Suddenly Hot at Universities
Christian Science Monitor, April 24

Across the U.S., enrollment in engineering programs has risen to levels not seen in three decades. The economic uncertainty created by the recession appears to be one factor, as students and their parents look for dependable careers with steady incomes and relatively high job security. Moreover, some education experts detect a shift in opinion about the profession itself, as issues like global warming and stem-cell research make fields like chemical and bioengineering more relevant. Many students are bringing to engineering a heightened sense of social responsibility and a desire to go out and make a difference in the world.

Nationally, enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs rose 3% in 2007 and 4.5% in 2008, according to the American Association of Engineering Education. Meanwhile, enrollment in masters' degree programs rose 7% in 2007 and 2% in 2008. Despite the fact that more than 400,000 undergraduates were studying engineering at U.S. universities and colleges in Fall 2008, skeptics note that engineering remains a low priority for U.S. students compared to other nations. The U.S. ranks #22 globally in terms of the number of engineers produced on a per capita basis. The profession fell in popularity after the mid-1980s and has been struggling to recover ever since. With the economy in the doldrums, though, the lure of steady, high-paying jobs within engineering will help to accelerate this trend.

Interestingly, many students point to an evolution in the way that their peers now perceive engineering. They are drawn to the fact that engineering is a way to help people, save lives and contribute to society. Biomedical advances, including those suggested by stem-cell research, have made biomedical engineering one of the fastest growing disciplines, especially for women. The concern over global warming and energy development has also drawn more young people to chemical and environmental engineering. With that as backdrop, the article takes a closer look at engineering enrollment trends; explores how universities are updating their curricula to attract students; and examines the problems still hampering engineering schools, such as an inability to attract African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Click Here to View Full Article

Friday, May 1, 2009

Life can feel like a juggling act, here are some tips on how to keep it in balance

This blog is based on a presentation by Dr. Linda Duxbury, held at the WISE annual general meeting on April 29. Linda is a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University and a very prominent speaker.

Some surprising statistics from Canada

From 1991 to 2001, which gender's overall stress level increased by 16% and which by 3%? You will be surprised to know that it's not women's stress levels that increase by 16%... they've been stressed about the same for a long time now... it's the men. Why? Because more is expected of them now that women are more educated and make approximately the same salary. Also men now want to be more part of their children's lives.

From 1991 to 2001, overall stress has increased and the overall life satisfaction has decreased. More and more Canadians give priority to work.

The largest female labour market is in Canada, it's 47% female. That means Canada depends on women to work.

Young people tend to reject work promotions because they are afraid to lose their work-life balance

Elderly care is a big problem, for both genders.

Strategies to help keep your balance

- learn when and how to say no (women run on guilt). Say "no, sorry" and then shut up, or say you have a commitment you can't break. If you try to justify why you said no, it becomes a debate.
- focus on a maximum of 2 things at once and try to compartmentalize (either work or don't work, don't pretend you're working)
- whenever possible, lower your standards and don't be a perfectionist.
- delegate whenever possible, but lower your standards when you do so, and don't micromanage. For example, some men don't do things you want them to do because you don't let them do it their own way.

Relationships and family life

- women are known to use a lot of body language and men are known not to be able to read body language, so don't expect them to read your mind... explain, don't assume.
- be prepared to negotiate
- don't expect a solution to last forever
- don't be afraid to ask for help
- to reduce stress (and especially not bring it home), take time to exercise and do things that don't require you to think about work (like reading non-academic books).
- try setting some ground rules to prevent you from overworking yourself, such as never answering the phone during dinner... or even owning a blackberry.
- get a cleaning lady as soon as you can afford it

What NOT to do

- cut back on sleep
- trying to do it all
- never lower your standards
- use food, drugs, or alcohol to make it go away

Key take aways

- no-one can "give" you balance
- there is no "they", you're in charge of creating your future