Ada Lovelace Day: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder

Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.
This is a slightly updated version of a profile that has appeared on Geek Feminism and Hoyden About Town.
Marita Cheng was named as the Young Australian of the Year winner at the beginning of the year. She’s been involved in volunteering since she was a high school student, and in 2008, early in her undergraduate studies (mechatronic engineering and computer science at the University of Melbourne) she founded Robogals, which is an engineering and computing outreach group, in which women university students run robotics workshops for high school age girls.

Marita, while still in the final year of her undergraduate degree, is also an entrepreneur and has been previously awarded for her work as founder of Robogals, including winning the Anita Borg Change Agent award in 2011. In 2012 she travelled to several countries with the aid of the Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship to study “strategies used to most effectively engage female schoolgirls in science, engineering and technology.”

While I have heard of Robogals, I hadn’t heard of Marita specifically before she became Young Australian of the Year. One of the fascinating things about starting the Ada Initiative is slowly discovering all the other amazing women who work in technology career outreach and related endeavours. But it’s a little embarrassing, judging from her bio, to have not heard Marita Cheng’s name before the beginning of the year!

Further reading:

  • Marita Cheng’s website
  • Life is turbocharged for Robogals founder (a profile this past weekend)
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    Ada Lovelace Day: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

    Ada Lovelace Day: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer

    Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.

    Else Shepherd is an Australian electrical engineer specialising in communications equipment. She has co-founded multiple Australian engineering companies, including Mosaic Information Technology, a custom modems company, and Microwave & Materials Designs, developing microwave filters for mobile phones. She was appointed as the chairman of Powerlink, the state government-owned corporation maintaining Queensland’s high voltage electricity grid, in 1994, and has been a board member of the National Electricity Market Management Company (now known as the Australian Energy Market Operator).

    Shepherd won Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 2007, their most prestigious award, recognising an engineer with over 20 years of substantial contributions to professional engineering in Australia. As best I can tell, she is the only woman Peter Nicol Russell medallist. She is also a Member of the Order of Australia since 2003, and was the University of Queensland Alumnus of the Year in 2009. She is also a pianist and choral director.

    Shepherd has talked about her experience as a woman in electrical engineering with University of Queensland publications. She and one other woman graduated in 1965, the university’s first women graduates in electrical engineering. She was unable to attend Institution of Engineers meetings in the 1960s, because they were held at the local Men’s Club. She continues to promote workplace flexibility, having used part-time work during parts of her career to care for her two children.

    Further reading:

    Creative Commons License
    Ada Lovelace Day: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

    Ada Lovelace Day: Mahananda Dasgupta, nuclear fusion researcher

    7th October is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to blog about your heroines in science, technology, engineering and math.

    Mahananda Dasgupta is a professor in the Department of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University. Dasgupta’s research takes place at the heavy-ion accelerator facility and investigates quantum tunnelling when heavy nuclei collide. Her Pawsey Medal award in 2006 cites cutting-edge contributions includ[ing] precision measurements of unprecedented accuracy.

    Dasgupta moved to Australia from India for a postdoctoral position in the 1990s, and eventually was appointed to a tenured position in 2003. She became the first woman to hold a tenured position in the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the ANU in its entire 50+ years of existence! (I was very surprised to find this, the School must be enormous in terms of academic staff, it comprises nine research departments.)

    How do we retain that female workforce [in science]?

    By strong and meaningful mentoring, which doesn’t just mean a quick meeting once a month or web-based mentoring, but real mentors who encourage women or younger people to devise strategies about how best to use their time, and what roles to apply for to advance their career.

    Every person at that early stage needs support. We need to champion women scientifically – not “she’s a good person”, but “she’s an excellent physicist who’s done this great work”… Equally, the employers’ responsibility to provide childcare is very important… If we are expanding and building infrastructure – why are we not building childcare facilities?

    I was educated in India where, if a student is sharp, they’re encouraged to show it through participating in discussions or taking on extra-educational activities… It does strike me that in Australia we give a lot of kudos to those who excel in sports, but if you excel in studies you are a dork, particularly among other students… Sometimes, following talks I give in schools, students come to the carpark to ask me science questions, rather than asking them in front of the class… How do we get away from that? I believe that to make real long-term progress we must respect and encourage intellectual achievements.

    Mahananda Dasgupta, The Conversation: So seriously, why aren’t there more women in science?

    Dasgupta is active both in advocating careers in science in general, volunteering herself as a science careers lecturer at schools, and in speaking on behalf of women in science. In 2004 she was the Woman in Physics Lecturer for the year, and in 2011 she represented the Group of Eight universities (the eight universities that consider themselves Australia’s best research universities) at a Women in Science and Engineering summit at Parliament House. Her 2011 Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council calls upon her to increase the profile of Women in Science through outreach activities, and work towards advancing early career researchers as well as facilitate leadership pathways for senior women researchers.

    Recognition Dasgupta has received for her work includes:

    • the Australian Academy of Sciences’ Pawsey Medal in 2006, for outstanding work in physics by a scientist under 40
    • her election as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2011
    • an Australian Laureate Fellowship in 2011

    I can’t embed them in the post for licencing reasons, but David Hine has a couple of photos of Dasgupta with her experimental equipment: Dr Mahananda Dasgupta and Dr Mahananda Dasgupta and Dr David Hinde.


    Ada Lovelace Day: Fan Chung, leading mathematician

    7th October is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to blog about your heroines in science, technology, engineering and math.
    This is an expanded version of a post at Geek Feminism last year.

    “Don’t be intimidated!… I have seen many people get discouraged because they see mathematics as full of deep incomprehensible theories. There is no reason to feel that way. In mathematics whatever you learn is yours and you build it up—one step at a time. It’s not like a real time game of winning and losing. You win if you are benefited from the power, rigor and beauty of mathematics. It is a big win if you discover a new principle or solve a tough problem.

    Fan Chung

    Fan Chung is a leading mathematician, specialising in combinatorics and later graph theory. She is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at UC San Diego.

    I first heard of Chung in Paul Hoffman’s The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth; Chung and her husband Ron Graham were two of Erdős’s closest collaborators. Hoffman tells a great story about how when Chung had finished, and come first in, her PhD qualifying exams at the University of Pennsylvania, her eventual PhD advisor Herbert Wilf gave her a textbook on Ramsey theory to browse and she came back and explained that she’d improved one of the proofs. That was a core part of her PhD dissertation, completed in a week. Those kinds of stories are told about the best mathematicians.

    Chung has worked both in academia and in industry, having spent twenty years at Bell Labs and Bellcore in both information technology and mathematics before returning to the University of Pennsylvania, where she did her doctorate. After her time in industry she is deeply concerned with mathematical breadth, and is known for her “nose” for problems that cross several subfields.

    Many mathematicians would hate to marry someone in the profession. They fear their relationship would be too competitive. In our case, not only are we both mathematicians, we both do work in the same areas. So we can understand and appreciate what the other is working on, and we can work on things together-and sometimes make good progress.

    Fan Chung, describing her relationship with husband Ron Graham

    If my count is right, Chung’s publication list shows 79 papers co-authored with Ron Graham. I’ve always admired stories of professionally companionate marrages: even Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne can’t compete on those numbers.

    Chung’s website has a copy of a chapter about her in Claudia Henrion’s Women in mathematics: the addition of difference. Among other things it talks about her move to the United States from Taiwan for her graduate work, and her thoughts on having a child while at graduate school.

    [Graduate school] is a wonderful time to have a child. You don’t have to attend classes; you only have to write your thesis.

    Fan Chung

    Hrm, yes, well. Perhaps I will give that advice in 20 years time. Perhaps not…


    Ada Lovelace Day: from my subscriptions

    Here’s a big assorted hunk of tasty soft-centered Ada Lovelace Day goodness, brought to you care of the ridiculously large list of weblogs I poll:

    How Not to Do Ada Lovelace Day

    This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

    I’ve seen a couple of ways of observing Ada Lovelace Day that seem to be missing the point a little. Here’s what it would be great if Ada Lovelace Day ended with: the end of invisibility of women in science and technology. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of us. And yet, when people are asked to name prominent scientists and technologists, many are capable of coming up with a list entirely of men’s names, and even when asked especially for women’s names some people draw a blank. A blank. From hundreds of thousands of possibilities.

    There are a few examples of posts that don’t help with this, and which in fact contribute to the invisibility of women by suggesting that the author couldn’t think of even one specific woman and the work that she does:

    • a general non-specific celebration of women: “I want to salute all women in science and technology! Yeah!”;
    • doing no more than naming a woman and highlighting her as a woman you’ve heard of in science or technology; no hint of what she does or why you admire or remember her in particular; or
    • highlighting a woman or several women for facilitating your own work in tech with their non-technical activities. The most obvious example is “thanks to my significant other, for allowing me to spend time on technical hobbies.” It’s absolutely good to acknowledge the shoulders your own work stands on, but it doesn’t advance the goal of ending the invisibility problem if you choose to use Ada Lovelace Day to do it.

    Ada Lovelace Day is about women’s own work in science and technology. Contribute to women’s visibility with specific names and with examples of work you admire deeply or use every day or can’t imagine how to do in such an elegant way as she did.

    Let’s spin this around! Commenters, which woman in science or technology is more visible to you today as a result of someone else’s Ada Lovelace Day entry? Did you discover a new heroine? Or find that someone’s achievements were twice as big as you’d ever heard? Link us up!

    Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Betty Allan

    This is much more of a quick post than my post about Skud, but a call to highlight Australian women pioneers in science and technology reminded me of idly flicking through a CSIRO internal publication a year or two back and discovering Frances Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Allan.

    The CSIRO is Australia’s government research organisation. Allan was CSIRO’s first statistician. John Field has written a lot about her at CSIRO’s first statistician, Miss Frances Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Allan:

    … The first of these [early biometricians at CSIR, the first three of whom where women] was Frances Elizabeth Allan. On return from Rothamsted, she took up duty with CSIR on 29 September 1930, seventy-five years ago.

    Over the next decade she championed and demonstrated the usefulness of biometrics – the application of statistics to biology, often now called biostatistics – throughout the organisation and beyond. Her work was highly valued; she devoted her energies to helping other researchers rather than establishing her own scientific reputation. She is remembered by those who knew her as kind-hearted, considerate and easy to work with.

    Allan’s marriage and therefore, by law, her retirement, occurred at more or less the same time as the formal establishment of a Biometrics Section in CSIR, forerunner to the present-day CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences. Allan’s legacy is a CSIRO Division which employs scores of statisticians from Australia and overseas. These people are working on problems and conducting research with an impact that Betty Allan would certainly be proud of.

    It’s already easy to forget that women were required to retire from many jobs upon marriage as a matter of law until well within many people’s living memory (mine, for a small number of women in Australia). It was still the case at the time of the publication of The Female Eunuch, and, in Australia, it was occasionally required until the passing of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Act in 1986.

    Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Kirrily Robert

    This is a profile of a woman in technology for Ada Lovelace Day, 24th March. Everyone is invited today to profile a woman in technology or science.

    Skud (two photos)
    Creative Commons License
    Skud (Two photos) by Kirrily Robert, Erica Olsen, Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

    I’ve run across Kirrily Robert in any number of capacities. Originally it was in 2001, presenting at about the work of her then employer, e-smith. She and I and several other people went to a LinuxChix BoF. We’ve only met one other time in person, I think, and she performed the essential service of introducing me to Ackland Street St Kilda and mentioning that there are very rummy rum balls to be had there. (Very large ones too, it turns out, about the size of a fist. Don’t buy two.)

    I admire Skud for her generalist interests and her leadership. In a decade or so of following her blogs and occasionally contributing to her projects, there’s been Perl hacking, Perl community, fandom, social media, geek feminism, geek etiquette, Freebase…

    One of Skud’s specialties is seizing expertise by the throat. She writes and talks about whatever is interesting her constantly, learning and teaching at the same time and thereby making herself central to the community around it. I also admire her embrace of generalisation: of focussing on breadth as well as depth.

    It’s hard to write about generalists without making it sound like a second prize, so I want to address that specifically. Firstly, I don’t think depth versus breadth of interests is a zero sum game. Certainly there’s a trade-off at some point, but I think geek culture creates a quite artificial separation between the intense take-all intense interest and expertise and those other people in second place, with their shallow fiddling around. (I suspect geeks have inherited this from academia.) The people I know achieving the most at the moment are all in some way generalists and Skud is at the forefront. Skud is an uber-geek. There’s nothing she’s interested in that she’s not geeky about. If I ever want to unashamedly get my teeth into Perl, Freebase, knitting, Age of Sail fandom, or historical household arts, I know where to go.

    I’ve obviously been closely involved in the Geek Feminism project, which is why I’m choosing to write about Skud this year. No other person in technology has influenced my life and time so much recently. Skud’s big success in founding this was that she took the intense reaction to her OSCON keynote and built upon it. Considering the amount of venom around both the general topic of feminism and specifically feminist claims that geekdom’s individualist utopia might still be systemically difficult for women, it’s really really hard not to throw a stone and then run and hide for a few years. And I’m really really pleased that someone didn’t, and I think this is typical of Skud: she creates, builds and unifies. Watch and learn!