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Latest from the Geeky Girl Reality Blog

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? Hi! I’m Claudia, I have a PhD in astrophysics, and I’m a science communicator. My job is doing my best to let people know what science is about and what are the latest results in many different fields, make them believe in themselves, and that they can be scientists too if they want to! 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? When I was 17, I realised I wanted to study physics, and if I went back in time I would do it again. I’ve always been very curious and wanting to know how things worked. I didn’t really think that being a science communicator was a career possibility - I started getting involved during my PhD, started to really enjoy it and found I had a talent for it too! After some years in academia, I decided to change job and after some soul searching I decided this was what I wanted to go for. 3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? I love the idea that I’m able to involve people in science and technology in non-traditional ways, for example firing a roller skate rocket, or building a tactile sheep. I love surprising people around me and looking for innovative ways to make science an enjoyable and accessible field. 4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? The thing that uplifts me the most when I doubt myself or I struggle, is to remember about a workshop I ran a few years ago with a group of young girls. At the end, we asked them to write down what they thought about the workshop. One of them wrote “Claudia, you are awesome and when I grow up I want to be like you”. That was the first time I realised I could be a role model for young people, especially girls, and make them discover their potential to do science. 5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? Growing up I looked up to many illustrious scientists and writers. Many people think I had a female scientist as a role model, and I knew about some famous women in science, such as Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin. I would say my main role model has been Virginia Woolf, especially from her essay “A Room Of One’s Own”, which I think should be read in all classrooms. In those pages, Woolf describes the spirit of independence a woman in the Victorian age had to display to build a metaphorical and physical small space to create her (literary) work; as I progressed in my studies, I viewed my BSc in physics as the “room of my own”, that I kept expanding by furthering my education. 6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? Believe in yourself, you’re better than you think. Learn to listen to others, and learn to speak up when it’s your turn. Your opinions are valuable. 7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking good questions, not knowing the answers, is what makes a good scientist. Respect others, and ask for respect. Lift other people up. Be there and look out for each other - especially for LGBTQ, women of colour, disabled women, women of different religion. Science is a team effort, and you’ll need to treasure and learn from people from all walks of life to grow. People will try to take you down. Some people out there still think that STEM subjects are not for girls, but they’re wrong. Keep being yourself, and destroy that stereotype just by loving what you do. 8. How do you measure your success? I like challenging myself to grow. I try to come up with new ideas and exit my comfort zone - at the end of a project I stop and think: what did I want to do differently from the way I, or everyone else, has always done this? Did I succeed? If I did, how? If I didn’t, why? It’s important that the main source of success is inside yourself, not in others. Sometimes, success looks very different to different people, and for me, success means I could learn more and learn to think differently, even when maybe I didn’t achieve the best result. 9. Where can we find out more about your work? The best place to find out more about what I do is through following me on Twitter! I share my projects, the events I’m organising, or cool science stories, on my Twitter account, @CA_AstroComm. 10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you? You can find me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/antoliniclaudia/. It’s best if you write me a message saying why you’d like to connect with me! If you need a hand with your CV or some practise for an interview, get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to help.
Initially, Mosomtai wanted to be a doctor and in high school, she started calling herself Dr. Gladys. However after the late Prof. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel prize for her work in protecting the environment, Mosomtai developed an interest in environmental studies and joined Kenyatta University to pursue a degree in Environmental Planning and Management. She developed a particular interest in the use of space technology to solve global environmental challenges.  After graduation, she joined International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and worked on several projects which ranged from understanding the movement patterns of pastoralist in spreading fever disease to mapping vector habitats that cause disease outbreaks to looking at the impact of climate change on species distribution in different scenarios. At the moment, Mosomtai works on the impact of landscape structure and composition in modifying plot level microclimate that affects pest population and disease incidences in smallholder farms through the extraction of information from satellite images. She also employs the use of various software, programming and data mining techniques to achieve her objectives.  Mosomtai's job and the expertise that come with it, really excite her, "I love my job. I am so passionate about space science and its vast applications to answer research questions in both terrestrial and aquatic biomes and the fact that it requires me to be a savvy in various fields such as data mining techniques, programming etc."  One of the biggest highlights in her career has been her recent L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa award. "This has open many doors of opportunities that has allowed me to inspire more women into science. I have also been able to co-author more than ten publications in peer-reviewed journals and have collaborated with many scientist globally," she elaborates.   Mosomtai feels that women are faced with both external and internal barriers in the STEM space. An external barrier would be the lack of female mentors in STEM, "most of my mentors have been male and that’s a reflection of the reality of women in STEM. Few of them have broken the glass ceiling in their careers, they are inaccessible to most young women for mentorship," she elaborates. Another barrier would be societal perception of women as the primary carer givers in their families and the STEM field as not being a family friendly career option; "for women who have opted for these careers, they have to battle with guilt each time they choose their careers [over their families]," she explains.  Internal barriers facing women would be the self doubt and second guessing themselves when it comes to leadership positions and on the opposite end of the spectrum confident women in leadership positions are viewed as being aggressive, strong willed, arrogant and not adhering to the definition of how women should behave. Mosomtai feels that more "women have to be intentional in breaking these internal barriers. More women in leadership positions will translate to change in work environment that is pro women."  Mosomtai feels that the lack of young female interest in STEM is an attitude problem and has very little to do with males being better than females with regards to sciences. She believes that young women should approach the STEM field with complete confidence and the belief that they have what it takes to succeed in those fields; "we [women] need to bring our mark, our perspective and innovations that have women in mind and only women can do that, therefore, there are immense opportunities in STEM awaiting for us out there," she emphasizes. Mosomtai feels that women in Africa have to overcome many hurdles to be able to take up the opportunities available to them. Efforts to pave the way for women in STEM include increased STEM related opportunities and scholarships that are geared towards promoting women in STEM and the intentional setting up of female quotas for women by funding bodies and employers. Mosomtai feels that, "Africa is making progress, but it feels like a snail pace compared to the western world but still, the future looks promising for a young African woman in STEM."  Read more about this passionate Geeky Girl, Gladys Mosomtai in an inspiring interview below, where you can extract gems of knowledge just as she extracts information from satellite images.  1. Describe what your work entails.  In a typical day, my work involves extracting information from satellite images to understand how we are modifying our landscapes and the consequences of these changes in influencing biological processes. For instance, habitat loss due to human encroachment or proliferation of pests and vectors that cause disease and pest outbreaks. I use various software, programming and data mining techniques to achieve my objectives.   2. Describe your STEM journey. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. At the time, it was among the mainstream career options that many kids knew about. In high school, I started calling myself Dr. Gladys and to this day, I still have those books. Unfortunately, I did not perform very well to enrol in medicine but I had also developed interest in environmental studies specifically after the late Prof. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel peace prize, which highlighted her work on protecting the environment. I joined Kenyatta University to pursue a degree in Environmental Planning and Management and in one of the modules; I picked an interest in the use of space technology to solve global environmental challenges. After graduation, I joined International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) where I worked on several exciting projects such as understanding movement patterns of pastoralist in spreading Rift valley fever disease that affect both humans and animal, mapping vector habitats that cause disease outbreaks and looking at impact of climate change under different scenarios on species distribution.  Currently, I am working on impact of landscape structure and composition in modifying plot level microclimate that affects coffee pest population and disease incidences in smallholder farms. I have had mentors who have been very influential in my career and being around successful scientist specifically women, has allowed me to lift-off some self-limiting believes that has been inculcated by culture especially on the one sided narrative on women and the place of women in the society. This has greatly changed my outlook of women and science. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? I love my job. I am so passionate about space science and its vast applications to answer research questions in both terrestrial and aquatic biomes and the fact that it requires me to be a savvy in various fields such as data mining techniques, ecology, programming etc. I also want to be a role model to young women and pave way for others as well.    4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? Most of my mentors have been male and that’s a reflection of the reality of women in STEM. Few of them have broken the glass ceiling in their careers, they are inaccessible to most young women for mentorship, and this stifle the efforts of having as many women in STEM. The societal set up assigns women the role of being the primary carer givers in their families and these limits them in pursuing some STEM courses, which are viewed as not being family friendly careers. For women who have opted for these careers, they have to battle with guilt each time they choose their careers.  This is worsen when the men in their lives are not supportive of this career option. Some women have had to forego opportunities that would require them to stay away from their families while the male counterparts would gladly take these opportunities knowing that they have someone to take care of their family.  Despite the external barriers, women are faced with internal barriers, which limit them from taking up positions of leadership in STEM. Most women don’t have the courage to sit on those tables in boardrooms because we second guess ourselves and those who are aggressive and strong willed are viewed as being arrogant and don’t fit into the definition of how women should behave.  Women have to be intentional in breaking these internal barriers. More women in leadership positions will translate to change in work environment that are pro women, such as having crèche in work place, securing parking spaces for pregnant women, more flexible working hours for lactating women etc. and this will attract more women into STEM.  5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Research shows that as young as six years old, girls show disinterest in STEM. This is an attitude problem and it has nothing to do with girls being not as brilliant as boys are. Therefore, young women should approach STEM field with complete confidence that they got what it takes to succeed in those fields. Secondly, they have to withstand and not succumb to the pressure of society especially on marriage.  Every woman should be able to take charge of their life and prioritize what is important to them and if that means delayed marriage, then, they should be able to do that without any coercion. ‘Women need science and science need women’, we need to bring our mark, our perspective and innovations that have women in mind and only women can do that, therefore, there are immense opportunities in STEM awaiting for us out there.   6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?  Unfortunately, I can’t say 100% that Africa is a land of opportunity for an African woman. We have to overcome more hurdles to be able to take up these opportunities. Nonetheless, there are efforts already in the pipeline to pave way for an African woman in STEM.  We see more STEM related opportunities and scholarships that are geared towards promoting women in STEM. Funding bodies and employers are becoming more intentional in setting up quotas for women and more women are gaining the confidence to apply for jobs that initially they would shy away from. Africa is making progress, but it feels like a snail pace compared to the western world but still, the future looks promising for a young African woman in STEM  7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?  My recent L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa award has so far been one of my highlight in my career. This has open many doors of opportunities that has allowed me to inspire more women into science. I have also been able to co-author more than ten publications in peer-reviewed journals and have collaborated with many scientist globally yet I am 30 years now – I like to consider that as a milestone.   8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?  Science can easily take up most of your time if you are not intentional about your social life. During my MSc, I succumb to a mental health problem, since then, I am more careful of my mental state and having a thriving social and spiritual life is a key component. I am engaged in community work like feeding the street children or mentoring young women as well as an active member in my church, where I volunteer in different ministries and I have a solid support system from friends and family who make life in STEM a whole lot of fun.  9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?    The late Prof. Wangari Maathai still remain to be that beacon of hope that I can also make an impact as she did but I also, have people whom I see them every day and how they are succeeding in their different roles.   10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?  Twitter Handle: @mosomtai  Research Gate:  https://www.researchgate.net/ profile/Gladys_Mosomtai   LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/ gladys-mosomtai-824b7119/    Gladys Mosomtai interviewed by Dhruti Dheda  Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at  dhruti@geekyreality.com  or find her on twitter @dhrutidd
1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? My name is Dr. Justyna Hampel and I am a biogeochemist and microbial ecologist. I study cycling of nitrogen in lakes and estuaries and toxic algal blooms. For my PhD work I got to work on lakes in China, Florida, and Ohio. I grew up in Poland and came to the US for my undergrad and PhD. In May, I will be starting a postdoctoral research position in marine science studying microbial communities in the Gulf of Mexico. I am interested in looking at microbial communities and biodiversity in marine sediments and shipwrecks, and how these microbes interact with the natural and artificial environments. 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I have always been interested in science however, growing up in Poland, I didn’t know that being a scientist was something I can actually do for a living. I went to college on a swimming scholarship, after being a competitive swimmer for 12 years, and I had very few ideas on what to do once my swimming career was over. It wasn’t until my senior year of undergrad when I started volunteering in an environmental chemistry lab and realized that research was something I really wanted to pursue. It is never too late! 3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? My job is my passion, and I really love what I do. Being curious and the pursue of knowledge is what keeps me going every day! But, as with everything in life, there are better and worse days. What I love most about my job, is that it is very interdisciplinary. It includes lab work, field work and sampling, computer analysis, teaching, writing, and reading. When I feel tired of working in the lab, I can work on writing or computer analysis, and vice versa. The flexibility associated with my job keeps me productive and involved! 4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? In times of stress it is crucial to have a good support system. For me, it is my family, my mentors, friends, partner, and colleagues at work who have been really amazing and able to raise my spirits when I’m down. Whether it’s a failed experiment, funding rejections, bad paper reviews, a supportive community is very important! And when someone else is going through stressful times, I try to “give back” and be the support system for that person. Other than being surrounded by awesome people, when I’m stressed, I like to step away from work and do something fun: go to the movies, go on a mini road trip, binge watch Netflix :) 5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? I have many role models! In science, it is my PhD advisor Dr. Silvia Newell and all the great, inspiring female scientists I got to work with throughout my journey. Being from Poland, I have to say that Marie Skladowska-Curie has been an inspiration to me since I was a little girl. She was a true Woman in STEM pioneer! I also admire Greta Thunberg; you are never too young to fight for the planet and our future. 6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? I would tell my younger self to be patient because all the hard work will pay off eventually! 7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? Do something that truly makes you happy and inspired. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t get discouraged when someone tells you that you can’t do something, or you are not good enough. Have a mentor who can help you get started and guide you through. This is important at any level of your education or career. 8. How do you measure your success? To me being successful is being able to apply my research to current environmental issues, contribute to solutions, and communicate science to the public. It is also important to celebrate all victories and achievements, no matter how small, and look at how much I have accomplished and how far I’ve come as a scientist. 9. Where can we find out more about your work? I have a website: aquaticmicrobes.com 10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you? I am on Twitter: @Just_AquaticN
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