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January 10, 2012
News - Ada Lovelace Day at Spark… |
about 5 months ago
Stereotypes are powerful - but sometimes can be used both for and against the cause. My favourite example was reading a few pages in weekend edition of newspaper about female mathematicians - they were few of them in the university, they were told ‘pure science is not for women’, ‘women don’t/can’t get mathematics’ etc. (yeah, that’s still common here, on electronics faculty I heard a few years ago ‘girls come here to get husbands, we don’t need them’). When they came to mathematics conference in Italy they met a large group of fellow Italian female mathematicians and, surprise, they were told - ‘mathematics is such a feminine area, men rarely study maths, it’s not for them, they don’t like it’. Looks like Italian stereotype was rotated 180 degrees.
Stereotypes are so dumb… I know a few really good female mathematicians, one is my good friend, one achieved professor of mathematics in ‘60s. I don’t dare to imagine what she’s heard in her times. She was still teaching algorithms in college a few years ago.
A few years ago I took part in workshops on ‘how to get teenagers, especially girls, more interested in STEM’. One of the recurring themes was that teachers often can’t explain the idea in more than one way, because they understand it just in that one way. Example from my friend: she studied CS and when teacher was showing equations for FFT she tried to understand why there is Fast in FFT - equations were equivalent and while she tried, she could not understand that. She was stubborn, though, and she was going through book after book and finally she found an explanation - butterfly diagrams. Happy, she came to the teacher with the book in hand, ‘look, I finally understood, this is why Fast Fourier Transform is fast’. Teacher looked at diagrams, took a long while and said ‘you know, I can’t understand a thing from these diagrams’. As I see it, the more versatile teacher is, knows more examples and ways to show the principle, the more students will get it - both girls and boys. Probably statistics are not the same - maybe more girls understand one explanation, maybe more boys the other; if male teachers show just ‘ boys’ ‘ version, proportionally less girls get it, and while we’re at it, they loose a lot of boys along the way, too.
Ultimately, I guess you need a passion for the subject. Whether you have a great example home, or a favourite heroine in SF novel you read, or Limor Fried / Amazing Grace / Ada Lovelace, or a great teacher of any gender that can wake up your brain and ignite the passion - you win, whatever your gender. Great teacher and general encouragement can sustain and improve on that; dumb stereotypes and stupid people can slow you down (that’s what we need to fight against); just don’t let that passion die.
No public wish lists :(