Role Models For My Daughter

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The inaugural Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.

The concept of blogging about women in technology and increasing their visibility is important to me because of my daughter. Even though she’s only five, she already has dreams and aspirations. One of the most important things is that she have positive role models and, my wife and I being math and science geeks, encourage her interest in these areas while trying to give her the broadest view of life’s possibilities in a realistic fashion. In my daughter’s constantly changing panoply of career choices (that have included scientist, rock star, doctor, firefighter and many others), as of this morning, she wanted to be a hair-dresser and a medical examiner (blame the former on her friends and the latter on too much of the tv show NCIS). Both. Along with amateur-level ice skating. All I can think is that my daughter really wants to be a version of Buckaroo Banzai, combining the skills necessary to be a rock musician, a neurosurgeon, and quantum physicist. As much as I would like to encourage her to have fictional characters like this as a career goal, I also want her to be somewhat realistic and capable of supporting herself financially. With my daughter’s burgeoning interest in astronomy and medicine, perhaps there’s someone in those fields who’s also doing something else interesting?

There are so many great unsung women who are great role models for women in science and technlogy. For example, Xiaohang Quan, a physics student at Princeton, who discovered a miscalculation in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, a part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Or Dr. Alice Huang, a noted virologist who’s done so many things since earning her PhD at Johns Hopkins University that I can’t even begin to list all of them. It’s definitely worth reading what Dr. Huang says about her work and the importance of role models.

Chung-Pei MaBut I think someone like Dr. Chung-Pei Ma, a Professor of Astronomy at UC Berkeley is perhaps closest to a scientist who’s also a rock star. Not only does she have a PhD from MIT in physics and studies thing like dark matter and superstrings, she’s also a violin player and was the first prize winner in the Taiwan National Violin Competition in 1983. And she does some other stuff also like being a scientific editor for the Astrophysical Journal and also has a pretty good sense of humor (at least, to judge by the links from her personal academic website). She also talks about the importance of role models for women in science.

From an article in the Berkeleyan about Ma, she sounds very much like my daughter: ‘Her mother’s fears that her daughter might be lured into a life of music may have stemmed from the fact that Ma began playing violin when she was five. Then, at the tender age of nine, Ma found herself at a crossroads. Her violin teacher asked if she wanted to be a musician. “He said if that’s what I wanted, I should go to Vienna or New York to study,” she recalls. “I told him, ‘No, I want to be an astronaut.'”‘ My daugher hasn’t expressed a strong interest in being an astronaut yet, but there’s still time.

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