Monday, 10 December 2012

Our Strategy Day

The alarm went off at 8.00am which, although unusual for a Saturday, was not begrudged; it was the ScienceGrrl strategy consultation day. Today we would find out what people thought of us, what we should be doing and would start thinking seriously about our future. I knew we needed to ask people what they wanted from ScienceGrrl, but that morning, the thought of asking people face-to-face still felt scary. As I made my way through an eerily quiet central London, the usual worries surfaced. Would anyone turn up? Would the equipment work? Would we be coherent? Would we get useful input?

Mmmmm, ScienceGrrl Cakes.
As the other ScienceGrrl committee members arrived with pastries, coffee and juice (choice of ‘bits’ and ‘no bits’) my nerves were settled- with such a lovely bunch of people, what could possibly go wrong? We talked calendar sales, outreach activities, bank accounts, regional chapters and of course the strategy consultation. We had a battle with the printer (which we lost), a mad dash in the rain to collect calendars, cakes, USB sticks and badges from Louise’s apartment, and we were ready.

As people started to arrive the atmosphere was mounting, people were introducing themselves and tucking into our fab ScienceGrrl-branded cakes, more chairs were needed and everyone squeezed in. We had school students, undergraduates, post grads, teachers, and a decent haul of ScienceGrrls. We were ready to go.

The discussion began with the history of ScienceGrrl, we talked about why we needed a strategy and the results of the online questionnaire. We then took it in turns to introduce ourselves and explain why we cared about ScienceGrrl. The variety of motivations was really moving, and it was refreshing to hear people talking so eloquently, sensibly and passionately about gender issues in science careers. By this point we were already well behind schedule. To make up time I took the executive decision to cut the next two items on the agenda (they can’t have been important), and we delved straight the juicy group discussions.

In the first topic we explored the ScienceGrrl vision. People were asked to discuss how they would finish the sentence “ScienceGrrl sees a world where...” and to identify what the barriers were to achieving this vision. While some people struggled to remain wholly on-topic (let’s blame it on the excitement) we got some great feedback. Some choice quotes include:

“ScienceGrrl sees a world where access to science education is not restricted by gender, race, class, sexuality or culture”

 “ScienceGrrl sees a world unrestricted by stereotype”

“ScienceGrrl sees a world where female scientists are represented in the media”

Among the barriers, we identified: Culture in schools (particularly co-ed), childcare policies, lack of role models, culture of long hours, and a lack of good quality careers advice.

We then had a super-quick break for coffee, and moved swiftly onto the next discussion topic: ‘what can ScienceGrrl Do?’ As we gulped down our hot beverages, the conversation kept rolling on at pace. The ideas for ScienceGrrl seemed almost endless, they included: a mentoring programme, work experience, networking events, members forum, careers advice, awareness/ challenging stereotypes, delivering workshops, bringing people together ... and the list goes on (and on, and on).

As we began to wrap up, the momentum of the conversation seemed to be reaching its peak. It was a shame to have to stop, but I heard people continuing to talk, and swaping contact details as we were packing up.

And then to the pub! In true ScienceGrrl fashion we ended up finishing the day chatting over a well deserved glass of red wine. Cheers!! We discussed the next steps for the strategy, what we should include, and who else we should talk to. Look out for the first draft of the strategy in the New Year; we want to hear what you think before we vote on it at the AGM in February. 

Serious Strategizing...
Although the consultation day is over, the conversation hasn’t finished. You can join us on twitter, send us an email, or fill out our survey. We won’t stop wanting to talk about this stuff for a very long time.

A message from the Post Room

UPDATE: orders made with added first class delivery before 1500 on Wednesday 19th December will be sent out for delivery before 25th.

In the words of Europa, it's the final countdown. With 15 days to Christmas, orders for ScienceGrrl calendars, bags, badges and USB sticks are coming in thick and fast. Orders received by 2359 on Thursday 15th December should be with you before 25th. We're now also offering first class delivery in case you'd like to get your festive wrapping done in advance, or you need to send your order on to someone else.

From next week we will also offer to send out your order by special delivery, which we can guarantee.

As you can probably tell, it's a busy time at Crumble Towers with all this packing up and posting. And it wouldn't be done without the work of one amazing little helper: Loki the kitten.

I hit upon the idea of using cat labour when I figured that felines don't need to be paid the minimum working wage. I could make my pet kitten Loki work all hours of the day and night and not have to pay him a penny! Genius, I thought. Here's Loki ready for the day ahead:

So first thing Loki does is to print off labels for the orders that have arrived since the last mailout. This takes quite a while, since operating a computer is pretty hard when you're a cat.

Next, Loki will stuff the appropriate number of calendars and other goodies into our envelopes, taking extra care not to chew on them. Apparently just sniffing them is enough...

To pass the time while envelope stuffing, Loki watches old TV programmes. His current favourite is Thundercats.  Once all the envelopes are stuffed, and the labels stuck on, it's time to go down to the post office. Unfortunately, Loki isn't allowed outside because he's only 16 weeks old, so I have to do this bit.

At night Loki guards the calendars from would-be intruders, so that they're ready for the next mailout. Sometimes he falls asleep on top of them and I can hear him mumbling "I'll get you next time, Thor." Thor is the name of our next door neighbour's golden retriever.

So remember: you still have plenty of time to order your ScienceGrrl goodies before Christmas. We have a first class delivery option that means even if you leave it to next week, you'll get your order before 25th.

Festive greetings, everyone. Now, where's my mug of mulled wine gone?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hopefully, with the help of groups like ScienceGrrl, this can change

Here's the second of our guest blogs from a female A-level science student, Becky Maggs. Thanks very much to her for her honesty - we're honoured that she's found ScienceGrrl an encouragement and inspiration.

"There's a lot of pressure for everyone at A-levels. This isn't helped when you're the only girl in a class full of boys. I'm eighteen, and taking maths, chemistry and physics, and I'm writing about what it's like. 

The reason I take these mainly male-dominated subjects is because I really enjoy them. And I mean really, like go to lectures outside school and tutor other students, like it. I think this is the one thing that kept me going where all my other female peers gave-up. I used to be in a 20-strong class, with 2 other girls. It's now gone down to half that size, with only one girl left. Me. I wouldn't say anyone was sexist as such, but I'm definitely treated differently than my male-counterparts.

I get congratulated a lot by women I meet, expressing their surprise, and a well-meaning 'good luck', which is less than reassuring. What's even worse is when you hear this from people who've gone the same path as you, and who now work in unrelated areas. Like the school librarian for example. When taking out some school books, she said 'it's so nice to see a girl in science'. I made the compulsory noises and smiled. She then went on to tell me about how she did the same subjects. Some background on my librarian, she's a moody woman who goes around telling people of her past opportunities. This is not how I want to end up! What does she aim to do, provide a role model for me? 

I've also got to be a bit more careful about what say or do. I made a dirty joke the other day, and after a minute of silence, the whole class burst out laughing and the teacher said 'Trust the only girl in the class to bring the tone down'. Then the next lesson, when doing a class experiment, a peer gave me something to clean, and someone else, rather loudly remarked 'Have you actually just told the only girl in the class to do the cleaning up?'. Cue everyone turning round to gauge my reaction. This makes things difficult for me, as if I act too calmly about it, it will become routine, but if I over-react, I become the stressy girl. I just blushed and carried on. These are just examples of how things affect me, normally the physics class runs normally. 

The main thing that gets me about these STEM subjects is that I know many girls who would do better than me in the subjects, and could easily be top of the class, and yet have chosen to do English and Humanities, where they haven't actually graded as well. The girls who do take these subjects often drop out early on, despite the fact that they are getting good grades. 

Hopefully, with the help of groups like ScienceGrrl, this can change".

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mission Discovery & ScienceGrrl

We're very excited about the projects that we will be able to invest in using the proceeds from the sale of the ScienceGrrl calendar 2013. We currently have a consultation open to help guide what we should be doing, but have already committed to one particular project - we'll be funding a team of 6 (4 girls, 2 boys) from a school in Tower Hamlets to attend the Mission Discovery summer school at King's College next summer. One of the teachers at the school we are working with has described this as a 'once in a life-time opportunity'.

I asked Mission Discovery to provide a blog outlining the wonderful experience that awaits these young people, and they kindly sent me this:

"ScienceGrrl is to support a team of four girls and two boys at next year’s Mission Discovery at one of the world’s top 30 universities, King’s College in London. Mission Discovery will enable young people to work with and be accompanied by former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Ken Ham, former Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre Jay Honeycutt, Lead NASA Astronaut Trainer Michelle Ham and a range of NASA and biomedical scientists. The Mission Discovery programme is organised by the International Space School Educational Trust. (

During the week-long programme, the young people will work in teams to come up with an idea to be carried out in space. The best idea will be selected, built by ISSET and launched to the International Space Station (ISS). The winning experiment from last year’s programme is an investigation on the effectiveness of antibiotics in space, which will be carried out on the ISS in April and May 2013.

Fantastic role models: A Presentation from Lead NASA Astronaut Trainer, Michelle Ham

It is great for us to support Mission Discovery as it allows young people to develop a range of skills such as NASA leadership and team building, how to be creative, encourages them to fulfil their dreams and ambitions and teaches them how space exploration benefits the earth. The programme also highlights the environment of space, the experience of being in space, what makes a great experiment and much more. The whole programme is orientated to inculcate the NASA “you can do it” spirit.

Girls have done remarkably well in the Mission Discovery programmes. The winning team in last year’s programme included boys and girls from Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, Gumley House Convent School in Middlesex and Hampton School, also in Middlesex. Whilst the top prize at the first Mission Discovery at Imperial College in London went to the all girl team pictured below.

The programme has amazingly received 100% positive feedback. Here are some of the comments we’ve received:

It was great to learn from all those experienced people, and it was a nice surprise that our experiment won…thanks for an amazing experience!!” Emily Yeomans
Working with all the experts was so inspirational and such a unique experience - nothing else even comes close” Serena Yuen, age 17
The week was simply incredible, I learnt a lot whilst enjoying it at the same time. Thank you to everyone involved.” Sara Rasul, age 14

Mission Discovery was, by far, the most comprehensive, interesting, and educational endeavour I have been involved with.”
Mike McCulley - Former NASA Astronaut and President of United Space Alliance.
I really wish there had been a programme like this for me to attend when I was in high school.”
Michelle Ham - NASA Lead Astronaut Trainer

Monday, 26 November 2012

All hail Suzi, Queen of Science Blogging

Here at ScienceGrrl HQ, aka Crumble Towers, we would like to thank the Good Thinking Society and Soho Skeptics for awarding Suzi Gage on behalf of ScienceGrrl the joint-first place prize for people who can write good and do other good stuff too. ScienceGrrl is delighted that this award goes to our month of April. Like Simon Cowell to Olly Murs, Alexandra Burke and that cute one who Cheryl Cole clearly fancied but was basically too old for it to not be weird, we feel we have nurtured Suzi to the point at which she was able to connect meaningfully to her readership, make Ben Goldacre's favourite data analysis tool seem mildly interesting and use apostrophes correctly.

We we would like to thank our mums, dads, agents, the people who printed our awesome calendar, which you can buy here at the lowlow price of just £12, the staff at Caledonian Road Post Office and producer Louise's pet cat Loki, who has a few words to say here:


To celebrate Suzi's our success, we are removing the cost of postage and packaging from our calendars for 12 hours only*. Shop while it's hot!

April - the lone scientist

In all seriousness, huge congratulations to Suzi Gage, who is a PhD student at the University of Bristol and who has just been awarded joint first place in the first UK Science Blog Prize for her blog 'Sifting the Evidence'. Suzi is our Miss April and we are very proud of her. David Colquhoun was her co-winner. He is not in the ScienceGrrl calendar.

*From 1200 to 2359 on Monday 26 November.

Friday, 16 November 2012

"ScienceGrrl is just what I need"

Over the last few weeks ScienceGrrl has been fortunate to get a few e-mails from young women who have found out about us and are encouraged in their love of science by what we are doing and how we are doing it. This, in turn, encourages us a great deal - we are getting something very right!

One of the young women responsible for putting a massive smile on my face is Laura Oxley, who has kindly agreed that we can reproduce her e-mail here. I think it's inspirational in it's own right, not just because it makes me feel a tiny bit smug.

"I found an article about ScienceGrrl in The Observer and WOW! There's other people who reacted as strongly as I did to the European Commission’s "inclusion" programme...emphasis on the quotation marks around the word inclusion!

I am an A2 student studying Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Science is number one in my life as my younger sister frequently ridicules me for; It's been the core to  everything that fascinates me and motivates me since I was little and I'm keen to pursue a career in scientific research.

Although there are many girls in my biology class, I am one of only two in a highly testosterone-fuelled bunch of boys in physics, and one of 5 in chemistry. It can be a real struggle to make yourself heard and to make people see how dedicated you are to your passion when you're just a needle in a haystack.

I'm not from an academic background, my Dad is a joiner and my Mum is a secretary, my love for science is something I've developed by myself, along with my work ethics, strong opinions and self esteem. It doesn't take much more information about me to gauge my reaction to the EC film. Not only did I feel like it was the EC stamping all over me and dampening my view of what it is to be a young woman in science, I also found that although many people felt the same, there were still a considerable number of girls my age who could not care less! A Radio 1 Newsbeat report had a clip of a girl saying that she'd dropped Physics as a subject because it was male-dominated and there wasn't really anything in it to interest girls. I was left feeling personally insulted. I'm a girl, I like clothes and shoes and chocolate and all those ‘girl’ things...I just also happen to like ecology, evolution, biomechanics, neuroscience, getting my hands dirty and sitting down with a calculator to tackle some killer maths as well. I'm applying to do Neuroscience, Biology and Physiological Science degrees.

Thankyou for voicing my thoughts so well. ScienceGrrl is just what I need!"

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Moving forward together

Here at ScienceGrrl things have got off to a great start - in under 4 months, we've produced a beautiful 2013 calendar, which is now available here at our shop, the Science Museum in London and - very soon - at the MOSI shop in Manchester.

As we've undertaken this project, we've gathered together a lively network of people passionate about encouraging more girls and young women to engage with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and supporting women in STEM careers. Nearly every day I receive e-mails from people who like what ScienceGrrl are doing and what we stand for, and want to get involved.

We want to make sure that this great start is translated into long term and sustained impact, and as such are beginning to develop an strategy which outlines what we will get up to in 2013 and beyond.

We want to hear what you think. What is our role, what makes ScienceGrrl different, and how we can we make the most difference? Please join in our short consultation survey and take a moment to answer a few questions here.

Your input will help inform our decision-making and is really valuable. If you're involved in a similar project, we'd particularly like to hear how we can partner with you and strengthen the good work that is already being done.

We're also holding consultation events in Manchester on the 17th of November and in London on Saturday the 24th of November to discuss our future direction. If you'd like to attend either of those, please e-mail us via our website, here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Opening the gate to the road less taken

I may be slightly biassed, being married to a teacher, but I think they get a pretty rough time of it. Most teachers work hard during term-time (and a fair bit of their 'holidays' too), often doing a demanding job under less than optimal conditions. And when anything goes wrong in society, you can bet there will be someone pointing the finger at the teachers who didn't correct 'it' whilst the individual responsible was at school.

Even the recent IoP report on the number of girls doing Physics (It's Different for Girls) was reported in a way that blamed teachers for imposing their gender stereotypes on young women and holding them back. Whilst a certain interview on the Radio4 Today programme leant some weight to this hypothesis, I think it only tells half the story.

I would hazard a guess that most of us who use science in our work were, at some point, inspired by a teacher who showed us that science was interesting, exciting, useful, and perhaps most importantly, for us. We should remember these individuals and celebrate them - be grateful for them and make sure they know it. Heaven knows, they don't get thanked enough.

A few weeks ago I came across the story of a particularly inspirational science teacher, courtesy of Dr. Carol I. H. Ashby, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in AlbuquerqueNM. I asked her to write a guest blog to introduce us to him - Mr Pentzer.

"Why do we choose a particular path in life? What causes us to take on the challenge of a road less taken? Sometimes one person can have a defining impact on the future course of our lives.  Frank Arthur Pentzer was one of those people for me. With a single answer to a question, Mr. Pentzer launched me toward a career in chemistry at a time when women seldom went into careers that were not “traditional” women’s work.

In 1971, when I was a senior in high school in LewistonIdaho, Mr. Pentzer was the head of the science department. It was a big school with several hundred students in each grade and a separate science building that opened my senior year.  Mr. Pentzer taught me physics and second-year chemistry, but he also taught the required “slow biology” class for the kids who didn’t do very well in school. He designed a hands-on course with lots of microscope work and lab projects that taught the concepts without using textbooks that were too difficult for some of the kids. That was typical of Mr. Pentzer, a man who loved teaching all the kids, both top and bottom of the class academically.

He didn’t need to teach; he used to tell us that he really made his living raising barley on the family homestead near Winchester (about 20 miles south of Lewiston). Winchester was small, probably fewer than 200 people when he was growing up, but Mr. Pentzer had been able to study physics there in high school in the 1940’s. His teacher was a woman who was also a pilot working as a crop duster. She was asked to teach physics because the school board thought a pilot must know enough physics to be able to teach high-school kids. Maybe that had something to do with his attitude toward women and science.  Maybe it was because he was descended from homesteaders who carved a farm out of the American wilderness. American pioneer women were strong, determined, and resourceful or they did not survive. Women and men labored side by side clearing and farming the land, tending livestock, and working as true partners to grow their families and prosper. His grandmother would have been one of them. Whatever the cause, he was a man who encouraged everybody to strive for their best.

I loved physics and especially chemistry, but a woman going into science (other than as a teacher) was a rare occurrence.  I didn’t know any female scientists. I wasn’t sure that a career in science was something that I ought to consider, so one day I asked Mr. Pentzer if he thought it was ok for a woman like me to go into science.  His simple reply was “of course.” With permission from one of the people I respected most, I decided to become a chemist. If he had discouraged me, I would have selected another direction for my life.

A few years after I got my Ph.D. in chemistry and had been thoroughly enjoying my career in research, I wrote him to tell him what a defining effect his encouragement had worked in my life and to thank him.  He replied very quickly, thanking me for remembering him and telling me how much he had enjoyed teaching me and how happy he was that I had found a scientific career to be the source of such satisfaction. 

I am so glad that I took time to say thank you to the man who opened the door to my future. I hope that someday someone will look back and remember me as one of the people who encouraged them to reach for their dreams.  I hope that I will be Mr. Pentzer to someone else, passing on his gift of encouragement to embrace the possibilities."

Monday, 5 November 2012

Where in the world is ScienceGrrl?

hey, producer Louise here. i've been going through our orders to date and looking at where we'll be sending the calendar - so far we're in four continents! could we get into all seven? you decide...

i made a map to show you, because i'm a spreadsheet nerd - it's made using a Google Fusion table. i think it's pretty neat. hope you do too.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

What's Mo Name?

ScienceGrrl is supporting Team Mos For Science! in their bid to turn their upper lips into luxurious forests of manly growth, the likes of which seen only on Ron Burgundy and our lovely photographer, Greg Funnell. The team includes our Mr March, Adam Rutherford, whose day two stubble is impressive, most impressive.

Please donate to the team and help raise money for prostate cancer research, awareness, education and "survivorship".

To get you in the mood, have a go at the quiz below, created by our producer Louise for the Science Question Time Christmas quiz last year. Can you guess the scientist from his moustache? Email your answers to The person (or people) with the highest number of correct answers will win a ScienceGrrl bag. And if we're particularly tickled by your answers, we might award you a special ScienceGrrl badge.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


ScienceGrrl calendars at the launch party
Photograph by Suzi Gage
Barely three months after the idea was conceived, the calendar is a physical entity. And to launch it, a group of glammed up calendar stars, press types and various others convened on Thursday 18th October at the Smith Centre, part of the Science Museum.

My day started when I met ScienceGrrl director Heather Williams and Ellie Cosgrave at calendar producer Louise Crane’s house (aka “Crumble Towers” after her Twitter handle, @lulucrumble). Ellie and I are both production assistants, and have helped Louise out with numerous little tasks from organising photo shoot venues to ordering envelopes. 

I arrived around 4pm, and the flat was a hive of activity. There were boxes of calendars that had just arrived, bags, business cards... and biscuits. These FABULOUS cookies were designed by @quirkycookies (real name Wendy Staples!) who was also at Crumble Towers along with her husband and daughter. To top it off, Louise’s family were there too, all squashed into her one-bedroom flat. Her poor seven-week-old kitten Loki didn’t know what to make of it all - though I suspect he probably thought we were all there to see him.

We set about glamming ourselves up whilst stuffing the goody bags with treats, and before long we were in taxis heading to the Smith Centre.

Science biscuits made by Quirky Cookies for the ScienceGrrl Calendar launch party
Photo by Suzi Gage; biscuits by Wendy Staples at
We arrived to an excellent room, full of all sorts of scientific curios, and the bar was already set up. We had barely finished laying out the calendars when the crowds started amassing. It was great fun standing by the calendars, and watching people come over and look at the pictures. As they flicked through the months, I often heard, ‘ooh this is a great picture, OH I like this one, oooh, this one’s even better’. Julie Gould did exceptional work manning the stall, thanks Julie! <Ed: special thanks also to you Suzi! or should I say, Disco Bambi!>

Lizzie Quill was our “go to” at the Science Museum. She laid on a great evening, with plenty of space to mingle, and with drinks and conversation flowing. Thanks should also go to Science Grrl’s party organiser Jon Wood who I don’t think I saw stand still the whole night!

But the stars of the show (apart from the calendars themselves) were Heather and Louise. Both had put in SO MUCH work, and to see them turn around a professional, beautiful calendar in such a short time was astounding, I feel really lucky to have been a part of it! Their speeches were excellent, their enthusiasm came across, which explains why they were able to put in such a superhuman effort. There were flowers and gifts for them, as well as gifts for myself and Ellie. I got MRSA - the cuddly microbe that is... Ellie, an engineer, received an amoeba that Louise insists looks like the Eiffel Tower...

Heather Williams, Louise Crane and Lucy Harper at the ScienceGrrl Calendar launch party
Photograph by Della Thomas
A special mention should also go to the fabulous Mrs Crane, otherwise known as Louise’s Mum. She was surely the oldest person at the party (at age 66) and indeed wearing an original 1980s dress that is likely older than many of the people at the party! Louise made me write this, because she says that without her Mum, she wouldn't be here in the first place to have made the calendar.

After the speeches my memory gets a little hazy - I remember a lot of giggling, chatting with some lovely people, and (a personal highlight) singing in Welsh with Gareth Jones! Sadly when the time came for the karaoke after-party, I bailed and retreated home. But by all accounts the night continued in to the wee small hours.

Now that the launch is over, I’m back to Crumble Towers today to begin posting out the ordered calendars. So if you’ve pre-ordered, start to watch your postbox! If you haven’t bought your calendar yet (and you really should) please go here:

Sunday, 14 October 2012

And a word from our sponsors

This week, after a three-and-a-half-months of hard graft, our calendar went to print. We have Cosima Dinkel to thank for the design, photographers Ben Gilbert, Greg Funnell and Naomi Goggin for the pictures and Louise Crane our Producer (and her team of researchers, writers and production assistants) for everything else. 

Above is the beautiful front cover. The back features a list of all those who have dug deep to bring the calendar to fruition, including our generous sponsors. This blog is for them. 

ScienceGrrl has formed very organically, a network of like-minded people who have drawn together around the common purpose of showing the true face of female science, of demonstrating that science is for everyone and encouraging more girls and young women to explore science for themselves.

I have always felt that this movement is bigger than me and anything I may have that approximates to a good idea. That was more than proven last week, when myself, Anna Zecharia, Ellie Cosgrave and Louise Crane had our first ScienceGrrl committee meeting over wine and cheese at Louise's flat. I'd proposed an agenda but the ladies pulled my ideas back to first principles – ScienceGrrl collaborates, consults, moves forwards together.

Bearing this in mind, it is hardly surprising that we have been very careful and intentional about our sources of funding. We've had several suggestions and offers of corporate funding, but wanted to avoid this, and make it clear the network was independent and not owned by any particular business. We instead approached Universities and charitable organisations, and have so far received pledges totalling £4600 from the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, University of Durham, Biomedical Imaging Institute at the University of Manchester, Society for Applied Microbiology, Futuremorph (part of the Science Council), University of Bristol IDC in Systems, The Ogden Trust and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

However, the largest single contribution to our funding has come from crowdfunding via Sponsume. One weekend in early September, I hacked together a home video outlining the project's aims and what our supporters would receive as rewards for donations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100. We optimistically asked for £3000 to cover our printing costs. Over the weeks that followed, we reminded, goaded and bribed our Twitter followers with the promise of photoshoot out-takes... and people gave, gave and gave some more until we hit 89% of our target.

So it is that we have very nearly covered our costs from donations, so almost all the proceeds from the calendar will go towards projects that encourage more girls and young women into science.

I'm deeply moved by the commitment this represents, by organisations and individuals alike, particularly in times of restricted budgets, spending cuts and household belt-tightening. It is a resounding vote of confidence in ScienceGrrl, what we are trying to do and how we are going about it. Thankyou all so much.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Blast from the past

The best thing about ScienceGrrl is that it is often a total blast, great fun with amazing people. Monday 1st of October was one such day.

I legged it out of the office at 11:35am, got stuck in studenty traffic and only just made it onto the 12:15am to London Euston. I flicked between phone calls, reading papers and checking e-mail on the way down, before getting the tube to Wood Green and strolling up the hill to Alexandra Palace in the autumn sunshine, taking in the warm sweet air, turning colours of the leaves, and the stunning view across London on such a clear day.

Having checked myself through security and negotiated the wonderfully retro cage lift, I sneaked into the back of a studio once used for some of the BBC's first broadcasts in the 1930s. Amongst the old-fashioned TVs, stage lights and TV cameras, photographer Greg Funnell and his assistant Ben were busy directing Gia Milinovich, Fran Scott, and former Tomorrow's World presenters Kate Bellingham, Gareth Jones (formerly known as Gaz Top), Carmen Nassé (nee Pryce) and Katie Ross (nee Knapman), all resplendent in 1970s dress. 

My heart leapt a little when I saw the same faces I remember smiling back at me from science TV programmes when I was younger - these were some of the people who made science cool, fun, and exciting for me and many of my generation. I'm sorry if that makes them feel old, because they are genuinely as young and vibrant as ever.

There began a good hour and a half of good-natured messing about, posing, banter and the kind of tomfoolery that comes easily to those who have not only done this sort of thing a thousand times but are also very much at home in each other's company. Somehow a Rubiks cube, a conical flask of something very dubious-looking, an oscilloscope and selected items from Fran's impressive collection of PPE also made an appearance. The joy was palpable, and I laughed out loud several times.

It wasn't a cheap day out and I worked late twice last week to make up my hours, but you know what? 
Some things are worth it.

Friday, 28 September 2012

A girl in a boys' world?

When I was sixteen, I sat on a wooden stool in my chemistry class. The whole class sat around one huge laboratory bench and most of the faces that stared back at me were boys. It was the same in maths and physics. I was girl in a boys’ world.

Where were the girls? At this point, I didn’t consciously ask this question, but I was puzzled. The whole of society was skew. All around me and in my own family as well, men were breadwinners and women were housewives. A teacher said to me: “It’s going to harder for you to have a career because you are a girl.”

It was only years later that I began to pursue this further. Over three decades of gradual accumulation of messages that women were more suited to some roles and men others, and that the roles of men and women are valued differently, I decided to find out the truth.

I read feminist books, talked to experts and started writing a blog ( My neuroscience doctorate from years ago became useful as I delved into academic papers and searched for an answer to the question: are men and women naturally different in the way we think, the way we behave and what we aspire to? Or are we shaped by society’s expectations of us and the different activities that we do, skills that we learn and roles that we play?

Many studies have been carried out in this area, and as yet there is no clear answer. The results are hazy and there is no conclusive evidence to show that boys and girls are born with different cognitive talents. What is much more likely to be happening is that our brain changes in structure and function as we absorb the messages around us and we are influenced and moulded by the stereotypes of society around us.

At the end of 2011, I led the successful Hamleys campaign (, which resulted in the famous toyshop ditching its gender signs. The story received media coverage all over the world and debates went on for weeks. The strong resistance and the controversy confirmed how strongly gender is embedded in people’s identities and is locking the status quo.

A few months later, I set up the Breakthrough gender stereotypes programme ( in schools, in partnership with Laura Kirsop, a year 5 teacher at Soho Parish School. This was a series of lessons on the theme gender stereotype awareness covering the spectrum of the National Curriculum. The results – transformation of the children’s perceptions of the world around them – were uplifting and powerful.

This is just the beginning. This is an important message that can change people’s lives and open up opportunities, and my mission is to take this out to share it with as many people as possible. Schools is one route, and I am designing programmes and principles and working on a model of dissemination. But there’s also the rest of the world. This is about much more than gender stereotype awareness. It’s about self awareness, which is the key to self-empowerment, fulfillment in life, and success.

Dr Laura Nelson ( is a writer, speaker and entrepreneur.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Hey, Miss Producer!

Hello everyone. I thought it was about time to introduce myself. I'm Louise and I'm the producer for the ScienceGrrl Calendar 2013. What does this mean, exactly? Well, to use my favourite literary device, the analogy, and my favourite animal, the swan: I'm the webbed feet of a magnificent, beautiful bird, paddling furiously to keep it moving along seamlessly.

My job is to oversee everything that needs to be done to make the calendar happen. The tasks are multitude and I would not be able to do this without a strong team of volunteers, especially our production assistants Ellie Cosgrave and Suzi Gage. The tasks include the obvious, like scheduling the photoshoots, and the ones you might not immediately think of: sourcing quotes for envelopes in which to send out the final, shiny calendar.

I also have artistic direction over the calendar, which means both liaising with our designer, Cosima Dinkel, and photographers Ben Gilbert, Greg Funnell and Naomi Goggin, to ensure we have a consistent look to the calendar. One of the hardest things to do is juggle the schedules of these three photographers with all the calendar participants - including some famous faces who are at the mercy of their ever-changing filming schedules.

How does my job fit in with that of our director, Heather Williams? ScienceGrrl started off as a bit of a dream, just some female scientists on Twitter saying that there should be something that represents the achievements of women in STEM careers much better than "that video", and wouldn't it be great if there were some projects that encourage girls and young women into STEM devised from the ground up by working female scientists? Heather was the dreamcatcher who brought these ideas and people together and I was the, er, ancient magic that made sure the dreams came true... or, hang on, don't dreamcatchers trap nightmares? (...sometimes analogies fail, reader).

Of course, with all good "dream come true" tales, there is a sob story. Exactly six months ago, I was in hospital hooked up to acetylcysteine. My life had fallen apart around me. My boyfriend had left me; in turn I'd had to leave my role running Science Showoff. My grandmother was having hallucinations, and I'd just had an MRI scan that would reveal the reason for the awful pain I'd experienced for two months: three "slipped" discs in my lower back. I had hit the eject button. And when that didn't work thanks to the intervention of an old friend and the NHS, I aborted my regular job to return to university this September. I lost a lot of friends, a lot of weight, and a small part of my mind.

I was asked to help out with ScienceGrrl a few months ago when I was still feeling, in precise medical terminology, pretty shit. I was waiting to start my masters degree, still broken-hearted, still depressed, and very lonely. I could have said no and gone back to hiding under my duvet, but I took a deep breath and said yes. So here we are. I have the ScienceGrrl lifebelt around my waist. I told you I like analogies. Or is that a metaphor...?

Now look, all these juggling acts I do cost money. Photographers, designers and printers need paying. I'm going to be living off baked beans for the next year so I can't stump up the cash. We really, really need money from you so that we can make the ScienceGrrl Calendar 2013 come to life. So that you can see pictures like these ones below on shiny, glossy, A4 paper (at 250gsm, don't you know?).

Lia Han and Ceri Brenner. Copyright Ben Gilbert/ScienceGrrl

Lucy Olukogbon, Sarah Hall & son, Helen Whall and Sheila Dargan. Copyright Naomi Goggin/ScienceGrrl

Please donate just a fiver towards our production costs via Sponsume. It will take less than five minutes. And if you don't, the ScienceGrrl swan will come and break your arm with its wing.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What's up, Doc?

One of our Twitter followers asked how those not connected to us via the joys of social networking can keep up-to-date with what ScienceGrrl are doing. I directed them to this blog… and then had an “ahhhhhhhhh” moment when I realised I hadn’t actually updated it very recently. 

So here is the Director’s update. Beware that I am writing this on the way back from London after another superb 24 hours of ScienceGrrl-related sorting-out, so I will branch out into polemic and get all misty-eyed and romantic about science at some point. Well, if it’s good enough for Prof Brian Cox… 

So, developments in a nutshell:       
  • The calendar is coming along beautifully. We have completed 6 of 14 shoots and there are a large number of gorgeous images from our fabulous photographers Ben Gilbert, Greg Funnell and Naomi Goggin (alphabetical order) to choose from. Arrangements for the other 8 are coming along nicely thanks to the wonder who is Producer Louise Crane.
  •  We’re currently drawing together brief biographies for all those who have appeared in shoots, asking them to sum up what they do and why… and what they do when they’re not doing science
  • Cosima, the design genius behind the Geek Calendar, has sent us some ideas for our logo and the calendar design overall and it looks amazing… fresh, funky and sassy… love it.
  • We have received £2100 from the Science Council, The University of Durham, the Society for Advanced Microbiology, the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol and the University of Bristol Industrial Doctorate Centre in Systems. This will go towards our photography and design costs.
  • We are in the process of crowd-funding our print costs via Sponsume at Please keep plugging this like mad to all your contacts, we have raised 18% of our total and have two weeks to go. If nothing else, the site is worth a visit to see the extent of my home video skills.
  •  We will open the website shop at for pre-orders on the 24th of September, which is when our press campaign will really kick off too. Expect to see ScienceGrrls (and Scienceboyz) being interviewed everywhere, and if you want to get us on your podcast/website/radio or TV show or in your magazine/paper… now is the time to ask.
  • The calendar itself goes on sale on 18th October, and the ScienceGrrl team are marking the occasion with a launch party in central London. I’ve bought the best dress ever to wear for the occasion. Today I bought lipstick to match. You needed to know that.
  • We have assembled the executive committee who will head up ScienceGrrl going forward: me (Director), Louise Crane (Producer), Anna Zecharia (Social Media Manager), Ellie Cosgrave (Production Assistant) and have had several others say they are happy to act in an advisory role. We are in the process of finalising our constitution and tracking down a treasurer, and when that’s done ScienceGrrl will officially become an unincorporated association (a not-for-profit society). I’m working on the financial arrangements that reflect that, so we can collect the promised donations from our sponsors… and PayPal.
  • Later in the year, we’ll be asking people if they want to become official members of ScienceGrrl, which will mean you'll get a say in the future of ScienceGrrl and be able to vote at our Annual General Meetings, the first of which will be in the first quarter of 2013.
  •  We’ve already committed to fund ‘Breakthrough: the Gender Stereotypes Project’ to develop primary school lessons that challenge gender stereotypes in science and are developing no less than 5 other good value, grass-roots projects which will draw on the expertise and enthusiasm within the ScienceGrrl network to encourage more girls and young women to engage with STEM.
In the last 24 hours, I have also gossiped with Louise Crane over sparkling rosé (now that’s what I call a production meeting), popped in on colleagues at UCLH to charge my phone and gaze longingly at their new PET-MRI scanner (Dear Santa…), interrupted Dallas Campbell recording audio for BBC Generation Earth in Soho, visited the awesome da Vinci exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, been interviewed by Pallab Ghosh about the under-representation of girls on A-level Physics courses in the new and shiny bit of Broadcasting House AND met new and familiar ScienceGrrl faces at the pub after work. Lots of happy, lovely memories to get me through my 12 hour shift tomorrow. 

I think that’s it for now… oh, I nearly forgot the polemic! 

ScienceGrrl is a network of predominantly female scientists who are passionate about passing on their love of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the next generation. Through our current project, the ScienceGrrl 2013 calendar, we aim to show the female face of science, by showcasing the work of a wide variety of female scientists doing an amazing range of science in partnership with their male colleagues.

Oh, and I want ScienceGrrl to be fun, when it stops being fun I'll stop doing it. I already have a demanding job and a young family, I don't need to invest this much energy in something that's a real drag. I sometimes think that discussions surrounding 'women's issues' can be a bit dour and negative and almost foster a victim mentality... our ethos is to highlight what is already being done and celebrate that, to encourage more of the same, to embody the change we want to see; we seek to be inclusive and uplifting, a supportive community for all female scientists, a host of positive role models for girls and young women. 

That’s all, folks!