Check out exciting October updates from the HB project teams
Just had to share the latest from Homeward Bound – we’re 53 days from departure, and things are getting exciting! Check out the project’s new branding too – totally inspiring!
Check out exciting October updates from the HB project teams
Just had to share the latest from Homeward Bound – we’re 53 days from departure, and things are getting exciting! Check out the project’s new branding too – totally inspiring!
That’s right… 99 days from today I will be boarding our vessel in Ushuaia, Argentina, and setting sail for the Drake Passage! How did it become so soon!? So much has happened over the previous six or eight months, I couldn’t possibly write it all here, but in brief, I’ve reached my fundraising target (thank you again to all of the individuals and organisations who helped me get there!), started working on a small project with some of the other wonderful women on board, learned a bit about setting strategies, and have already had valuable feedback about some of my own leadership traits as part of the emotional intelligence work we are undertaking. I have learned a lot already, and I can barely fathom how that learning will grow during the intense time on board. I can’t wait!
Today’s excitement is partially because I have finally booked my travel to Argentina. Ushuaia is a long way from Oban! Out of curiosity, I have just asked google Maps to chart me a route, but it only returns “no route found”. I’m sure with a little creative thinking I could find a way to get there by bus or under my own steam, but there’s just not time! Incidentally, this is a good opportunity for me to thank the UKs Natural Environment Research Council for helping fund my travel to and from Homeward Bound as part of their Leadership Training Bursary scheme for NERC fellows. Thank you!
Now where will be going? One of my fellow Homeward Bound-ers has plotted a fantastic map of some of the places we might visit (details are still being finalised, and weather dependent):
I’ll try to write a bit more about some of these places in the next few months, as well as about some of the other places we will visit, and about preparing for the trip.
It’s great to learn about the history of a place before you go, so I will do my best!
The week before last I found myself in Edinburgh on a beautiful sunny morning, walking to the National Museum of Scotland. As I made my way from Haymarket Station, past the University of Edinburgh, and up to the National Museum of Scotland, my mind wandered to all of the incredible inventions and inventors which came out of this fantastic city – the Stevensons and their lighthouses (engineering marvels!), James Clerk Maxwell and his radio waves, and even Prof. Steven Salter and his wave energy converters. How the Scots invented the modern world… indeed!
It was a fitting start to the day, as I’d been invited to participate in one of Accenture UK’s Girls in STEM events, run in partnership with STEMettes as a closing plenary speaker to an audience of 140 11-15 year old girls. I was a little anxious – the rest of the panel taking part in the day were an incredible bunch of women in science and engineering, doing amazing things. ClydeSpace’s Jennie Doonan, for example, has built things which are now in space!
Trying to keep the classic ‘impostor syndrome’ at bay, I met the other ladies on the “Women in STEM” panel, and some of the other Accenture organisers over coffee before the students arrived. What always occurs to me is that regardless of career level, events like this are real levelers… we are all just people, at various stages in our lives, trying to pursue the careers we love, and enjoy the lives we have outside of them. That, and everyone was incredibly friendly!A few minutes later, the noise levels in the hallway downstairs increased, and… you guessed it! Our audience had arrived!
As they filed into the auditorium, chattering merrily to each other, so did we… also chatting to each other. Bill Macdonald, Scotland Managing Director for Accenture UK gave a lovely talk, and showed the girls a brilliant video about where STEM subjects can take you. With and from Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (she spent 199 days in space!), lots of robots, and other cool science, I was feeling totally inspired already – and it wasn’t even 11 am!
The panel then took their place, and Bill invited a few girls up to ask the panel some questions. “What inspired you to do your job?” “What subjects did you take at school?” “What do you do outside of your job?”. But by far the best question of the day was: “What is the biggest mistake you ever made?”.
Some of these ladies had made some good mistakes! Designing a circuit, then ordering a batch of them, only to find they didn’t work was pretty good, but Jenni had accidentally pointed a huge satellite dish away from the satellites it was communicating with, bringing systems to a halt and leaving her (at the time) much more experienced colleagues wondering what on earth had gone wrong. She had to put her hand up and admit that she’d made a mistake. I know we all make mistakes, but that really brought it home to me – we all really do make mistakes, and sometimes really big ones! But we also recover and learn from them, and often end up more resilient and better off for them.
After the panel the girls headed off upstairs to start the activities led by STEMettes. In teams of five or six there were a few little ice-breaker competitions. Which team knew the most languages? I was amazed – one team had eleven languages! Eleven! What a diverse group of girls we had! They also had to make up rock band, complete with a name, hit single, and signature move – I wish I could remember more of the names, but they were mostly science-y and really good!
Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning also dropped in, and gave a fascinating, inspiring talk about all of the unsung Scottish heroes of science and engineering – all women. I didn’t know more than a handful of them – and definitely have a few more to look up! For me, it was nice to see the minister again, and I definitely support their initiatives to encourage girls and women in STEM in Scotland. Hopefully I can do more over the next year, looking forward to Homeward Bound and Antarctica in December.
With the winners settled, and tablet PC prizes given out… it was my turn. What could I say to top off what was already an inspiring day for STEM? A bit of inspiration, a bit of fun, a bit of my story, and a message to take home – I hoped! So up I got, in front of the audience, and went for it.
The time went so quickly – before I knew it I’d reached the end of what I wanted to say. Psychologists call it ‘Flow’ – when you are concentrating and fully engaged in what you are doing, and at your best and most creative. That’s how I felt talking about science, why I love it, and why I want to help more people to become involved with it. We don’t all need to become scientists, but encouraging more and better engagement with science can really benefit us all. It’s not scary, is what I wanted to say, though I was scared of math when I was at school (not any more!). Science takes you places and helps you to understand the world around you. Science, technology, engineering, and maths are so essential to modern life and so entwined with everything we do. We simply can’t afford not to be engaged. Science opens doors. And if I inspired even just one of those girls to step up to that door, turn the key, and open it, then I will have succeeded.
A brilliant day, and a huge thank-you is due to the organizers, Accenture Tech UK and STEMettes, all of the Accenture volunteers, the totally inspiring panel of amazing women in STEM, and all of the girls who came along. Let’s hope there are more like this to come!
“Shake off your mistakes, be bold, and keep going!” – Karen Lambley, Virgin Media UK
Yesterday I attended the Accenture Tech UK / STEMettes Girls in STEM event in Edinburgh. It was brilliant! We had about 140 11-15 year old girls come along to the National Museum of Scotland, where they had the opportunity to ask questions of a fantastic panel of women working in STEM, to hear about Scotland’s unsung female STEM heroes from Angela Constance MSP, and to learn a bit of coding in Java as they battled it out in the ‘Hackitzu’ game. I was invited along as the closing plenary speaker – not only to sum up the day, but to inspire and encourage the girls to meet the challenge of STEM head on.
It’s quite a topic to speak about, and I was honoured to be asked to take part, alongside some incredible women with amazing careers in STEM. To get some inspiration, I polled my colleagues working in marine science, as well as the women taking part in the Homeward Bound Project about how they got into science, and what they love best about their jobs. I thought I’d share what some of them wrote here, as it makes a wonderfully inspiring read!
What women in science love about their jobs:
“What I love about science is that I get to continuously learn about new things. Especially how the beautiful natural world works, and how I can use this knowledge to help look after the world – including people!”
“You get to discover and explore the world in ways few others can.”
“You get to be like a detective, exploring things potentially no one else has looked into – each finding fueling your curiosity to find out more and making you realise how little you still know – and contributing to solving some of the world’s pressing problems.”
“My work in particular means I get to see incredible phenomena from space, pretty much every day, and that never gets boring. Other than the work itself, getting to meet fascinating people and travel to many different places is a huge perk!”
“I love the freedom to pursue an idea that rings true to me, and being able to inspire others to join me on the journey.”
“Working in science offers you the chance to learn everyday, cultivate your knowledge and acquire experience in very diverse areas as statistics, presenting your work at conferences, team management, writing effectively, interacting with the public, motivating young audiences… it is very enriching!”
“Science is like one big voyage of discovery where we don’t yet know how much we don’t know – it’s an adventure.”
“You get to make things better and better. It’s science that allows you to figure out what is working best and what is helping or obstructing you to get to your goal. Whether that’s getting a farm to have better soils or to grow plants on the roof of a skyscraper. It’s not just a new idea but the process of monitoring and improving.”
“Science is about discovery; You will learn new things all your life, with science you can discover what these new things are and what they are made of; Science is about being able to ask all the crazy questions you have always wanted to ask, deep down we are all scientists.”
“Systems thinking applied to world I care about, creating opportunities to help people, nature, our planet.”
“I love that every single day is different, and every single day I’m learning something new. Every day is what you make it and you can never be bored as a scientist.”
“I love science because its fascinating and every new piece of the puzzle we uncover leads us to understanding just a little bit more about the world we live in. I love it because it doesn’t yield its mysteries with the press of a button and we have to think, really hard and long (years not hours), to earn this reward. If you are prepared to commit to the challenge, you will be repaid in ways beyond your dreams.”
Advice for those wanting to take up careers in STEM subjects:
“My main piece of advice during their studies was to talk to their lecturers and demonstrators about how they got where they are and not to be afraid to ask for help or work experience. Most people want to help you succeed so grab opportunities with both hands!
“The one key thing that got me where I am, is the support of inspirational people – school teachers, university supervisors, mentors I meet at events like the one you’re doing. These are the people that have given and continue to give me the confidence I need to be a scientist. I can also say that being a mentor is something people love (I know I do – just signed up to be a STEM ambassador), so the girls you’re speaking to should never be afraid to chat to people in science about their interests.”
“When I was that age, I was bonkers for animals (well, I still am, actually), but the only career path I knew about was becoming a veterinarian – and at that time, the math and science scared me off. I desperately wanted to be like Jane Goodall or be a dolphin trainer, but nobody could tell me how I could do either of those things. What I didn’t understand at that age was that science was the route to those careers. (In my mind, science was old white men in lab coats.) So, I often ask kids if they want to work with animals, or if they’d like to work in a zoo or aquarium, or if they dream of helping to save a species from extinction, (or if they want to build robots, or cure diseases, etc.) I then tell them that they’ll need to do well in their science classes, and pursue a degree in science if they hope to have any of those careers.”
“Always keep your sense of wonder and never stop asking questions! Also thought that the girls could start e.g. from being citizen scientists in their area (see for instance http://bit.ly/1lQbJQe) and test if they like it.”
“I would like to see us say over and over again until the point has been made – that the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours – distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the very process of compression that makes it possible to lift it from the doorstep and read it in about an hour.”
-David Broder – US Political Reporter (from Fiona Fox’s blog at the Science Media Centre, Aug 20th 2015)
Food for thought. Very realistic food for thought about the swiftness and urgency of the media cycle – though perhaps a bit more pessimistic than necessary, in my experience.
Since the start of 2016, I’ve been on an exciting media journey around my involvement with the Homeward Bound Project, as the press-release for my meeting with Angela Constance MSP was released and picked up in several outlets, including the National, the Times, and BBC Scotland radio. And it keeps going. I go to a sewing group on Thursday evenings, mostly with a group of women who are a good deal older than me, and I was (embarrassingly!) the celebrity of the night, as they’d seen me in the Oban Times.
It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, starting with liaising with the fantastic people in the Scottish Government’s media team (thank you!), all the way through to speaking to journalists, and giving the bigger picture as people begin to pick up on the story. The press release went out between Christmas and New Year – a good time for stories like mine, as the news cycle tends to be a bit quiet, and it’s all happened from there.
While my story wasn’t specifically ‘science’ (e.g. not related to a new discovery or finding), I am a scientist, and while I would say I’m quite a personable scientist, it’s still sometimes quite painful to see your words in print or hear yourself on the radio. And when the facts aren’t quite 100% accurate, it makes the perfectionist geek that is the scientist inside me a wee bit agitated. But it’s been a really positive experience overall, and I’d encourage more scientists to get out there and share their stories, if for no other reason to inspire more people with the wonder and awe that is science.
So I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over the past few weeks, in the hope that it might help more people get their science out there.
The positive bit is that I’ve had some really wonderful feedback from each piece pupblished. Of course I haven’t read the comments sections on the online articles – and I’m not going to take any of those comments personally if I do. It’s been a busy time, and a little overwhelming (I’ve got a day job too!), but absolutely worthwhile. So get out there and share your story or your science – who knows where opportunities may take you!
On December 14th I took the early morning train from Oban to Glasgow, and then across to Edinburgh to meet Angela Constance, MSP, at Our Dynamic Earth. Ms. Constance is the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, and has recently been working to promote women in science. She is particularly keen to encourage a more diverse pool of candidates for top government science positions such as the Chief Scientific Advisor and the Scottish Science Advisory Council. She says:
“Having women in senior, visible roles helps to show girls and young women that choosing science can open up a range of career possibilities.”
You can find more details of Ms. Constance’s statement here .
This is quite inspiring! Since I’ll be taking part in the Homeward Bound Project over the next year (see previous post!), it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make contact the Scottish Government. Homeward Bound‘s main aim is to support women, specifically with credible scientific qualifications, to significantly improve their clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability. In doing so, the project will empower women in science to take up leadership roles globally, and to more proactively contribute to a sustainable world.
After a few weeks, the SAMS communications department managed to set up a meeting, and I found myself on my way to Edinburgh with Neville, my toy macaroni penguin by my side. The trip was not without excitement – thanks to Neville, I met Richard Paterson on the train, better known as ‘the nose’ in the whisky industry, who told me the story of whisky left behind on Elephant Island by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his expedition team in 1909 – more about that in another post!
Having already met one industry legend, I was full of energy walking to my meeting with Ms. Constance – was it nerves? Or was it just the coffee? Turned out I needn’t have been worried. Ms. Constance was lovely, and very chatty, as were all of the staff from Our Dynamic Earth and the Scottish Government communications team. We discussed the Homeward Bound Project, the expedition to Antarctica, and coping with cold weather (Ms. Constance has been to the Arctic, and I grew up in Canada). Most importantly, we discussed how to inspire more girls to take up science and other STEM subjects, as well as the need to reduce the attrition rate of women throughout their science careers.
After about 10 minutes of discussion and a few photographs, we each did a short interview for the Scottish Government communications team, and then Ms. Constance had to head off to her next engagement. On my way home, I kept thinking… ‘I should have said this’… or ‘why didn’t I say that?’. It was my first meeting with a minister, and I’d prepared well. I’d picked my three points to get across, and I managed to mention at least two – not bad.
There is always room for improvement, but the Scottish Government communications team did a fantastic press release, which was picked up by three newspapers (two National!), two radio stations, and local online press. It’s always a little uncomfortable to see yourself pictured and quoted in print, but I’m proud of the coverage – in general I think the papers did a good job. Of course, not everything was exactly as I said/intended (see Times article title!), but I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes with the press. For anyone who has seen some of the articles, I’d like to confirm that I am not ‘born and bred’ in Glasgow, nor was I ‘brought up there’. I do have Glaswegian family though! I certainly learned a thing or two about talking to the media, and the difference between what goes out in print and in a radio interview. Certainly, I won’t be reading the comments sections under the articles! I’ll write more about my experience with the media in another post later.
BBC Radio Scotland will be possibly be broadcasting the story tomorrow (Tuesday January 5th) in their news bulletins at 6:30am, 7:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm and 5:30pm – so tune in!
In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the other coverage for anyone interested:
‘Scots marine scientist selected to join Antarctic expedition‘ in the Scotsman, 29th December, 2015
‘Female scientists overlooked, says explorer’ in the Times (Scottish News) 31st December, 2015. Not quite the title I’d imagined, but not a bad article overall – Homeward Bound is, indeed, a ‘ground breaking’ expedition!
‘Scots scientist Dr. Raeanne Miller is heading for the Antarctic to take part in a women-only expedition’ (the photo in this one isn’t great!)
‘Scot Heading to Antarctic’ on KingdomFM online and on the air, 3rd January 2016, includes a short interview.
And the original Scottish Government Press Release: ‘Scots scientist heading to Antarctic’
Finally, I am looking to pull together funding for the project, to a sum of about £9000. I’ve already contributed £1000 of my own savings, as I really believe in the good this project could do to empower women in science. I’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign at www.gofundme.com/HomewardBound2016 – check it out! I’m working with some fantastic artists already, and hope to be adding more to the ‘rewards’ page for those who donate soon!
I guess it’s time that I put up a little post about my adventure for 2016…
What if balancing the gender voice at the leadership table was one of the most effective ways to influence environmental sustainability and reduce human impact on the global environment?
Women are underrepresented globally in leadership positions and change has been incredibly slow in recent decades, despite increasing dialogue and process/systems changes. This under-representation comes at a time when women leaders could be making a tangible difference in contributing to a more sustainable world. They are the back bone of the not-for-profit, disability, and education sectors. They are emerging in all universities as significant percentages of graduates, they take up significant percentages of our workforce, and they provide the most unpaid community work. They do most of the work in our homes. They are more trustworthy with money and they excel at all but 4 of 16 well researched leadership capabilities.
And they are in a profound minority globally in executive decision making roles which shape our future.
Within the academic community, and evident significantly in science, the prejudice is further exacerbated by the approach to promotion through research results/academic papers, given some women’s careers are necessarily interrupted for a period of time to have children (which are for all of us, not just for women).
The project’s aim is to support women, specifically with credible scientific qualifications, to significantly improve clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability, to enhance our opportunities to take up leadership roles globally and so more proactively contribute to a sustainable world. In doing this, we could all help create a greater focus on the concept of ‘global home’ – with integrity, a drive for results, an ability to motivate others, a deep care for relationships and a measurably effective will to collaborate towards this shared ambition.
My part in the project is just the beginning. Over 10 years, we want to build a global collaboration of 1,000 women who have a scientific background, supported into leadership roles, encouraged to stay, helping to shape policy and decision making, networked to each other, each in their own way fighting for change, all collaborating for a shared vision.
In December 2016, we will be making a journey to Antarctica. At sea for 20 days, we will focus on leadership, strategy, polar and climate change science, and planning for the future change we wish to embody as a result of the trip. You can find out more here: http://homewardboundprojects.com.au/.
The project is largely self-funding, with buy-in from all of those participating who believe in the project’s vision. Over the next year I will be trying to raise £9000 to participate in the project, so watch this space!
Oh… and you can watch my application video here (makes me squirm every time!):
The UK’s flagship research vessel, the brand new RRS Discovery, will be moored in London this week to celebrate NERC’s (Natural Environment Research Council) 50th anniversary. It’s a really exciting event, and all the details can be found here.
Perhaps most exciting of all, my lovely other half and I will be ‘science busking’ on the South Bank on Saturday afternoon between 11:00 and 14:00. We’ll be doing some fun scienc-y activities and chatting about the science we do – marine renewable energy, oceanography and more. So stop by for a chat if you’re in London – we’d love to see you there!
Last week I attended the Scottish Renewables Marine conference in Inverness, and left totally inspired. While the talks and networking with the great and good were as expected, it was the winners of the Junior Saltire Award who wowed me.
Both the primary school and senior school teams had designed and built working wave energy converters on a budget of £50 – each of which demonstrated their worth in the FloWave Test Tank at the University of Edinburgh.
The team from Daviot Primary School impressed the crowds with their pendulum-style wave energy converter, with each student giving a bit of the presentation about how it worked.
The students from Alness Academy also showcased their wave energy device, as well as a handful of their other inventions – which included an ROV! They had also developed a tidal turbine, and were asking about how to prevent fish and other animals from going through it – something we’re constantly asking ourselves here at SAMS. Future renewable energy engineers? I hope so! Check out what Energy Voice had to say about this team here.
Both teams were highlighted for their success by Fergus Ewing MSP on his website.
Throughout the event these students had the largest crowds of any of the stands – no doubt inspiring the wave energy industry with their enthusiasm. The passion for creativity and innovation was so evident in these students – the future in science and engineering is bright!
Just a few quick snaps of our fabulous stall at the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival two weeks ago.
The SAMS undergrad students did a fabulous job entertaining the crowds with the roving science trolley – can you guess how many badges are on the lab-coat? Hundreds of I (heart) UHI badges must have been given out!
Our stand was colourful, and busy! The backdrop are panels made for the Oban Festival of the Sea by local schoolchildren. Jim’s got the noise tank ready to go, with a soundtrack of underwater recordings of a tidal channel environment, marine animals (porpoise, seals, whales, etc), and man-made sounds (ships, a tidal turbine). Helen kept the smaller ones busy making ocean-themed festival headbands and bracelets. Mine had sparkly jellyfish on!
Helen and I both perfomed in the UHI Verb Garden. Helen did a fabulous job with her clarsach and storytelling. The audience wasn’t quite as young as it could have been, but she encouraged the tired teenagers up to the front, telling them to ‘act their shoe-size’. I performed the next day, giving a ‘TED’ style talk likening the music festival to the increasingly noisy ocean-sounscape. Of course, after a day of hard work, we had time to see some of the headline acts – the Kaiser Chiefs were brilliant!
We’ve got lots of food for thought for next year’s activities – hopefully UHI and the Belladrum Festival will invite us back!