A Woman of STEM!

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and as part of the celebration, I attended a dinner hosted by Equate Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University.

[Note: Click here to skip the personal epiphany stuff and go straight to the event recap.]

My personal celebration of women in STEM began earlier than that, however. In fact, it began when I woke up and saw the reminder on my phone. That was when it finally dawned on me that I am a “Woman in STEM”.

As I thought about my place within the STEM community, I realised that I am a poor advocate for the group. Not because I don’t believe that women are (more than) capable of excelling in STEM subjects, but because I have never truly considered myself a part of the community. My lack of connection with the community stems (pun slightly intended) from my background in the humanities, media, and culture, but also from my fringe status within the field of technology.

You see, I am nearly a year into my PhD within Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing, but I have struggled to think of myself as a “computer person” because I am investigating online reputation management—not computers. I suppose I can’t help but feel that my studies are about media, communications, and society, rather than computer-based.

Slowly but surely, however, I’ve been breaking through the (self-imposed) barriers and have been feeling more and more comfortable with the thought of being lumped with the computer scientists and technology folks—even though I still feel better connected to the fields of media and communications studies.

But I can find comfort in more than one place, right? After all, as a long-term expat I feel just as comfortable identifying with my home nation of America as I do with my adopted home of Scotland. And if I can (eventually) have dual nationalities, why can’t I have dual academic disciplines?

So, yes. I am a Woman in STEM. (Actually, I am a Multi-Disciplinary Woman. Which is empowering in its own right.)

By the time I arrived at the dinner, I was feeling more comfortable than ever with my place within STEM. And as I began to chat with the other guests, I realised more and more that we’re all from diverse backgrounds—some that are directly related to STEM subjects; some that are not.

And then when the speakers began to take the stage, I knew—without a doubt—that I was in the right place.

I digress…

The evening’s programme began with an address from Edinburgh Napier University’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Andrea Nolan (OBE), who spoke about the changing climate for women in STEM within the university—including the high number of female staff in the School of Computing.

Professor Hazel Hall

Professor Hazel Hall

Professor Hazel Hall then spoke about the university’s Athena SWAN bronze submission and the overall environment within Edinburgh Napier’s STEM subjects. She was rightfully pleased to point out that 21% of the university’s STEM professoriate is female—which bucks the trend of the UK’s benchmark of 16.5%. On the other hand, she noted that women are still under represented on some important committees.

However in keeping with the positive theme of the evening, we were reminded that there are mechanisms in place to help improve opportunities for not only women staff, but for current and future women students in STEM.

Linda Somerville, director of Equate Scotland, spoke next about the overall outlook for women in STEM. She shared some rather disappointing statistics, such as a recent survey by Prospect of over 2,000 women in science, engineering, and technical roles that showed 30% of women felt their careers had been hindered by their gender—a percentage that increased with age, as nearly 40% of women over 50 felt that way.

Happily though, Linda pointed out that Equate Scotland has been giving direct support to women over the years—the impact of which has shown 83% of women assisted feel more confident about their careers and 24% have obtained new jobs.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

The evening ended with a keynote address by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell who shared her personal journey from her time as a child in Northern Ireland, through her university studies at the University of Glasgow and the University of Cambridge, and her fascinating and varied professional life that included the discovery of pulsars.

Dame Jocelyn’s frank discussions of the harassment she endured during her studies and her feelings of imposter syndrome seemed to resonate with the audience—as did her experience as a “trailing spouse” whose career came second to that of her husband’s and to the demands of motherhood.

Keeping with the evening’s positive theme, however, Dame Jocelyn points out that her “succession of jobs, rather than a career” provided her with great opportunities in a number of fields—and helped her to develop an impressive career in the end.

There were three things Dame Jocelyn said that I felt really made the day a success:

  • It takes a long time to change society and society’s perceptions.
  • It’s OK to celebrate the differences between women and men.
  • We need to re-write women into history!

I hope that others in attendance found the evening as uplifting and positive as I did. It truly was a great celebration of Women in STEM and I’m looking forward to seeing the momentum continue.

Back to my own personal epiphany, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had on my walk home after the celebration.

Like many things, changing perceptions, norms, and attitudes takes time. But we are changing them. Step by step, little by little. Ada Lovelace made a difference. Dame Jocelyn made (and continues to make) a difference. Women and men like you are making a difference. I am making a difference.

The things we do today—the societal norms and expectations we challenge today—will impact the women and men who follow after us. I am excited about my role in creating a better tomorrow!

Happy (belated) Ada Lovelace Day!

[Watercolour portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). Image in public domain, accessed from Wikimedia Commons. Photographs of Professor Hazel Hall and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell copyright Frances Ryan, 2014]

Defining and organising the Internet

organising-the-internetIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, in part because I still haven’t figured out how best to use this space and in part because I have too many muddled thoughts in my brain to know what to share.

To address both of those issues, I’ve decided to use a tactic that works for my personal blogging habits: I’m going to attempt at using this space to work through some of the confusion I’m facing. The hope is that the act of writing my thoughts down will help me to clarify them, but that it will also give me the opportunity to seek feedback from others.

So, here goes!

Two of my goals for the next week are to 1) source some simple definitions of a few technical terms and 2) create an organisational chart of the Internet (highlighting my main areas of research).

Both of these things will be used in my thesis to guide the reader in their understanding of my approach to the topic of personal online reputation management.

First, the terms I want to define. Initially, I want to start with the broad terms found in the middle of the organisational chart. Those are:

But I may also need to add other definitions such as blog, forum, comments section, etc.

Or maybe those belong in a table somewhere?

Or maybe in a glossary?

How do I decide what terms to define within the main body of my work and which to simply relegate to a glossary?

Now, onto the organisational chart. (Full-size PDF here.)

(Don’t worry: the cat won’t be on the final version, despite theories that the Internet is actually made of cats*.)

I am starting with cats “The Internet” then attempting to identify the main areas under that umbrella. For now, those are the World Wide Web; interfaces for email and SMS; and peer-to-peer file-sharing, FTP sites, and VoIP services.

I am only planning to expand on the sections I’m investigating, so will only be expanding on the World Wide Web category from there.

Under the World Wide Web, I have listed social media (Web 2.0); databases and organisational and informational websites; and static websites (Web 1.0).

And from there, I’ve placed social networking sites under social media.

Here are some of my questions:

What am I missing from each level?

How much detail do I need to go into?

Do I list examples on the chart on in the descriptive text?
(Example: Blogs under social media; Facebook under SNSs)

Am I completely off-base in my thinking?

Any thoughts and opinions you have to share would be greatly appreciated. And hopefully, I’ll have my head fully wrapped around this all by next week, at which time I’ll share an update.

Thanks for helping!

(Oh, and I suppose I should make a joke about how organising the Internet feels a bit like herding cats, too.)

* There’s a video about it and all! Please note that there may be questionable language used around the 1-minute mark.

Life in a digital fishbowl

2014.08.18.skeptics-talkI gave my first full-on public talk last night and am pretty excited about how it went. The talk, titled “Life in a digital fishbowl: Managing your reputation online”, was part of the 2014 Skeptics on the Fringe line up in the Edinburgh Fringe and was given to a nearly full house. (Thankfully, it was a rather small venue so wasn’t too nerve-racking!)

I was very excited to have been invited to speak and spent the last couple of months slightly anxious about how it would go. After all, this was the first time I’ve done something like this. Though whilst I felt rather awkward the whole time, I’ve been told by others that I didn’t seem nervous at all. (So either I’m going to be a great public speaker one day, or I’ve been told some kind tales to fluff my ego. Or both!)

I broke my talk into three sections: An introduction to my background and my research; some further insights and examples into issues of reputation, identity, and information; and a bit of homework in the form of some tips and tricks for monitoring and managing online information.

I tried to make it a bit relevant, though I’m sure I may have lost or confused one or two people, as I didn’t really know the best way to piece the different bits of information together. The key take-away was that there is more information online than you might realise, and that you are not necessarily in control over it! (Not in a completely scary way.)

I had a couple of supportive friends and PhD supervisors in the audience to lob (easy!) questions to me if no one else asked any. But—thankfully!—the audience seemed more than interested in asking questions of their own.

Overall, the experience was a great opportunity for me to think about how my research fits within my own field as well as society as a whole. Importantly, it was also a great opportunity for me to gain a bit of confidence. (Something I feel I’m lacking at this point in my research career.)

It also gave me the confidence to state my opinions on issues of online reputation management, so I will try to share some of them here with you.

Below are the slides from my presentation. There isn’t too much text, so they won’t really help to give an overview of the talk. But if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

(See write-ups from the Edinburgh Skeptics here or my supervisor, Professor Hazel Hall, here.)

[Photo Copyright Professor Hazel Hall]

iFutures 2014: Research into practice

2014.07.23.ifutures1I attended the second annual iFutures Conference in Sheffield yesterday. This year’s theme was “Research into Practice” and was very informative for me as a first-year PhD student. It was also an opportunity for me to present my poster “Online Reputation Management in a Digital World” for the second time.

The conference began with a keynote address by Professor David Bawden of City University London. His talk, “Information research: Still versus the practitioner?”, discussed the relationship between academics and practitioners and questioned whether communication between the two groups is flawed. Bawden continued on to talk about issues of publication and the differences (benefits and cautions) between publishing in academic journals, professional publications, and blogs.

After the keynote, there were paper presentations and a couple of Pecha Kucha-style talks. The topics seemed to centre on open access and information literacy—both subjects that I am keen to know more about. I found it especially useful to hear how the presenters are approaching their research at the different stages of studies, but I also found it useful to see a variety of presentation styles.

I also found the student presentations interesting because I often feel out of place in the information science and informatics realms because I can’t help but think I’m a media person because of my previous educational and professional backgrounds and because I’m studying social media. I think the more I hear from others within my discipline, the more I will see the connections between my research and that of other information and informatics researchers.

But I digress…

In the afternoon, we broke into two workshop sessions. I chose to join the session “Disseminating your research to maximise impact” run by Sheila Webber of the University of Sheffield. The session gave a good overview of ways to disseminate research and looked at issues of sharing the right information on the right platform. Whilst some of her talk was review for me (issues of managing your reputation) there were some great take-aways that I hadn’t considered. Webber has made her presentation available on SlideShare, so be sure to check it out.

Finally, the day ended with a closing address by Professor Nigel Ford of the University of Sheffield. Like the keynote speaker, Ford spoke about the connections and tensions between academics and professionals in the dissemination of research. He also used several cosmology analogies to discuss the linking up of scattered points within research. It was very interesting and I truly appreciated how his talk looped back around to points made at the start of the day.

My favourite knowledge tidbits from the event were:

  1. Discussions about the divide between academics and practitioners
  2. Views and opinions about open access for academic research
  3. Learning more about what other PhD students are researching

2014.07.23.ifutures2On a fun, personal note, I was very flattered when I noticed that one of the posters had some similar design elements to mine. The author said she’d found my poster online when searching for inspiration and that’s why she had those similar elements. (Yes, this did wonders for my ego!)

I was also very pleased with the compliments on my poster tube—and then had to laugh when others were trying to determine which plain, brown tube was theirs at the end of the day. (Another ego moment, I admit.)

And I can’t forget a great big thank you to the organising committee for all of their hard work in setting up the day’s event. I was really pleased with the entire day and will look forward to seeing next year’s event come together!

Want to know more?

– Check out the conference proceedings here—and be sure to give special attention to my poster abstract!
– Find Tweets from the day’s conference using the “ifutures” hashtag here.

[Photo of me with my poster is copyright Leo Appleton, one of fellow PhD students in the Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation.]

Poster parcel pizzazz

2014.07.19.poster-pizzazz1I’m heading to the iFutures: Research into Practice Conference in Sheffield early next week to present a poster. It’s the same poster I presented at the SICSA Conference in St Andrews in June, but I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to share my research plans once again.

I’ll share a review of the conference afterwards though. This post is all about my poster parcel and my need for a bit of pizzazz. (Sorry, this isn’t an academic post, it’s a PhD life post!)

I didn’t have time to get a poster tube before the St Andrews conference and spent the entire train journey panicked about it getting dented and dinged. (I might be a bit fussy about these things.) So I knew without a doubt that I would need a better transport system for my next trip around the block.

As a “starving student” I couldn’t bring myself to buy a nice cloth or leather poster carrier. No, my budget would only extend to a generic poster tube.

But I’m creative and resourceful, so I wasn’t going to settle for just a plain tube. No, my ego would bow to that.

I thought about printing some of my swirls then découpaging them onto the tube, but I didn’t have decoupage on hand or the glue to make it with. Then I thought about drawing on it or just covering it with stickers, but that just seemed too… boring.

So, I wrapped it with yarn and added a row of star stickers to the top end. I also “extended” one end since the lids on either end dipped in, meaning the “perfect” sized tube wouldn’t allow for both ends to be sealed completely. (If you’ve used a cheap poster tube, you probably know what I’m talking about.)

Here’s how I did it:

First, I extended one end. To do this, I carefully glued the lid to one end without fully closing it. I used a sort of epoxy goop that was lying around the house to do that. I then took three strands of wool and began wrapping them around to hide the lid—using the epoxy to secure the wool at this point. (Are you following this?)

Once I went about an inch around the tube, I realised the epoxy would be too messy and switched to a heavy duty double-sided tape to secure the rest of the wool. I worked my way around switching out colours until I was about an inch and a half from the top.

Then I punched a hole in the tube to bring the wool inside. From there, I looped it through two holes I punched in the top lid (with some slack) then back to the initial hole in the tube to tie it off. This provided me with a lid that can’t be lost! (You can never be too careful, you know!)

One of the reasons I tied the wool off like this was because I feared it would unravel if I wrapped it all the way to the top. And that’s where the star stickers came in—as a way to decorate that last little bit of tube.

And there you have it—a poster parcel with a bit of pizzazz!

(Here’s what I started with, if you wondered.)

  • Total cost: $£1.82
    • Tube: £1.49
    • Tape: £0.33
    • Epoxy: Free (spare from housemate)
    • Wool and stickers: Free (from a box of craft stuff given to me from a friend)
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Total happiness: 100%