Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christian Women in STEM are a Vulnerable Minority


Lynn Billman is the President of Christian Women in Science. She recently wrote an excellent article that appeared at Huff Post/Religion about Christian women in STEM. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Christian Women in STEM are a Vulnerable Minority

Lynn Billman

As the President of Christian Women in Science (CWIS, part of the American Scientific Affiliation), I hear many stories about the struggles of women of this faith who are interested or work in science, technology, engineering and math. Some stories are encouraging, but others are enough to break my heart.
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Rochelle was a high school biology student who was excited about the advances in genetics that her teacher shared with her in school. She dreamed of making a difference in the world by doing medical research. However, when her church youth leader told her that there were too many gaps in the fossil record to believe evolution and that only atheists believed in evolution, Rochelle's sense of direction began to waver. If she became a medical researcher, would she have to give up her Christian friends?

Liz had enjoyed her 10 years as a geology professor at a mid-sized state college. She rarely talked about being a Christian, but recently the subject came up when she told her department head about spending her weekend serving supper at the local Christian mission, and telling people about the love of Jesus. A couple months later her application for tenure was turned down. She never got a clear explanation of why she was rejected. As Liz found, being a Christian and a scientist in a secular institution can feel like being a "lesbian still in the closet."

Read the whole article here.


Friday, February 21, 2014

International Congress of Quantum Chemistry President Apologizes


Bias against women in science reared its ugly head last week when the preeminent conference for theoretical chemistry posted a list of two dozen confirmed speakers without including a single woman.

A group of female scientists promptly called for a boycott, but faced backlash from a prominent chemist who dismissed their efforts as “nonsensical” and “trendy whining about supposed ‘gender inequality.’”

More on that in a bit, but first some background. The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry is held by the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences and scheduled for June in Beijing next year. When the conference revealed its initial speaker list (since taken down from the website), every one was male.

“It happened again — another major theoretical chemistry conference features an all-male program,” reads the boycott petition, which was written by theoretical chemists Anna Krylov, Emily A. Carter and Laura Gagliardi and received 835 signatures within a few days.

Read it all here.

An apology came from the President of The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry. Apologies should be follow by action to correct wrongs. Let's hope that happens.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dorothy Boorse on interrplay of faith and science




Professor Dorothy Boorse discusses her path from pre-med student to wetland ecologist, the dynamic interplay between faith and science, and the freedom afforded by the Christian liberal arts environment within the Gordon community. Her ability to provide this kind of wise insight to students as they grow in faith and academic understanding makes Dr. Boorse a memorable mentor at Gordon College.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Laughter is Good Medicine


Laughter
By Ruth Bancewicz



Photo by Uschi Hering, http://www.sxc.hu/

What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Sick humour? Children saying funny things? Your own attempts to master a dance move? Some of the most memorable chuckles for me have been caused by typos in emails (either my own or other people’s) that resulted in somewhat inappropriate – but thankfully very obviously wrong – meanings.

This week, Revd Dr Joanna Collicutt, Karl Jaspers Lecturer in Psychology and Spirituality at Ripon College Cuddesdon, spoke at the Faraday Institute on ‘A Merry Heart Doeth Good Like a Medicine: Humour, religion and wellbeing’.

A number of clinical studies have been carried out on humour and physical wellbeing, and like research on religion and health, the results of these studies vary widely. For religion, the overall trend is towards better health among people who have religious beliefs and practices, but the same is not true for humour. So while people who are sick tend to feel better when they laugh, their symptoms may not be affected.

There are of course many different types of humour, and they all have different effects. The appropriate sort of humour can be a coping mechanism to help in difficult situations. Bad jokes can break friendships, but laughing to build bonds among colleagues or friends is healthy – building self esteem and protecting against depression. Humour that keeps your friends laughing and you feeling good about yourself can be very healthy, but it can also be a way of ignoring problems. Some people manage to use self-deprecating humour in a positive way, but others are self-defeating.

In the past, humour was seen as a vice, possibly because it can often be subversive, but now it is generally seen as a character strength. Humour helps us to handle incongruous situations and make sense of things, recognise our own stupidity without condemning ourselves, or let off steam. Humour can, on the other hand, be used to devalue things or people, or exert superiority. Wit is generally thought to be the most clever sort of humour, but can also be the most damaging. For example, in Jane Austen’s novel Emma the heroine has to learn to control her wit and not hurt people with it.

Surprisingly (to me), laughter is more often mentioned negatively than positively in the Bible. Cynical humour is connected to ignoring, disbelieving or disobeying God. But does the fact that Jesus and others are not mentioned laughing mean they didn’t enjoy a joke? The Bible only records those events that were most important for the reader to learn from (so it doesn’t mention dinosaurs at all, and there are very few mentions of breakfast, toilets and shoes). My experiences of the Middle East have been full of smiles and laughter, and I expect the disciples’ gatherings were the same.

Humour involves a lack of inhibition, which can be a very good thing if our inhibitions are stopping us receiving from God. Prophets often have a subversive message, which can be particularly important at the renewal phase of religions. If humour helps us to disengage from unhelpful dogma and be open to a new realisation of what is most true and important, we should welcome that. Finally, absurdity can get a point home – and Jesus did use this sort of illustration in his teaching (e.g. The camel and the needle).

So we laugh because we realise things are true. We laugh in surprise when people challenge received wisdom. We laugh because the supposedly serious is made absurd. We laugh because if we didn’t we’d cry – when we are coping with adversity. And most important of all we laugh in delight, enjoying the present moment. I didn’t expect to laugh so much in a seminar, but it seems that humour is an important part of both faith and academia.

Reprinted with permission from Science and Belief


Monday, February 3, 2014

Christians in STEM are not easily labeled


How does a scientist define themselves when their work isn’t their primary identity? This month’s guest post is from Emily Sturgess, a biologist who has found a niche in Oxford.

It took me a while to realise that when you introduce yourself to someone you don’t have to define yourself with a single label. As if the supplies in the stationery cupboard were rationed, I felt for a long time that I was allowed only one label to stick on myself to describe what I do. I am the Development Officer for Christians in Science, so I spend a lot of time with people who describe themselves as ‘scientists’. That makes a lot of sense: they actively participate in scientific research, are employed by science departments in universities, and think ‘scientifically’. It is their profession, and the label is wholly applicable.

All the same, I have always been slightly uneasy about declaring myself a scientist. Aside from the fact that due to an archaic honours system I actually have a BA not a BSc, I do have undergraduate and masters degrees in science subjects (Biological Sciences, and Species Identification, respectively), but I’m still not convinced. Logically, some of this could stem from the fact that I am not actually employed in research. In reality, it’s probably because I don’t want to commit to a single label until people see that ‘scientist’ encompasses so many traits!

I certainly was not the classic ‘born scientist’, but I fell in love with biology as a teenager and pursued it as far as I could. My masters was no strategic career move – I just really wanted to learn to identify plants, animals, and shockingly to all including myself, moss. Honestly, there’s no beauty quite like watching a desiccated moss sample being revived with a few drops of water. The cells dry up when you keep them as herbarium specimens, but that makes them almost impossible to identify because the shapes of the tiny leaves are distorted. If you drop water onto the specimen, however, even if it has been dried and hidden away for years, by what seems some wonderful magic the leaves spring back to life, unfurling under the microscope before your eyes.

So when I speak to other biologists, I also am a biologist. But when I speak to other writers I am a blogger; when I speak to students I am a student leader; when I speak to someone who needs something organising I am an administrator…and through all of those things I am also a Christian, following Jesus whole-heartedly, and hoping that will impact those around me.

So what do you do with an identity that seemingly isn’t tied up in one field, but flits happily between several? Which label are you allowed to wear, when in some ways you’re a scientist but in other ways you’re not? Thankfully for me, I am lucky enough to have found a job that allows me to be a scientist and a Christian, at the same time as everything else.

Working for Christians in Science has been a big release for me, because I love and understand the subject matter and am hungry to know more about almost every aspect of the science-faith dialogue. My role also allows me to be creative and administrative, and gives me time – which I wouldn’t have if I was actively involved in research – to get things done practically for the organisation. Being able to resource so many research scientists, students, teachers, and others, in their walk with God is a real privilege.

It is always humbling to see God taking the eclectic strands of our lives that had previously been wisping all over the place, and weaving them together. It is encouraging that God sees our whole selves – all the facets of our being that he prompts us to invest in – and finds ways to work them together. It always reminds me how much wiser he is than me! He sees our science and our faith and knows how to bring them together. But he sees all the other elements too: our leadership skills, pastoral hearts, discernment, creativity, logical thinking, and everything else that we consider gifts and skills but perhaps haven’t quite known what we are meant to do with them in our professional lives.

As Ruth has blogged before, there is a great call for creativity in science. I believe that there is also a place in science for all our other gifts: being wise when we give advice to others, gracious in our set-backs, and discerning and pastoral in the staff-room. We don’t have to be given a role that specifies those things in the job description to work them into our professional lives.

So for me, defining who I am and what I do was never just a case of how I brought my science and my belief together. More than that, it has been about how I am able to bring all of myself together: in my pursuit of science, in my pursuit of fulfilment, and most importantly in my pursuit of God – covered in as many labels as possible.

Emily Sturgess blogs sporadically at http://love-laugh-photograph.blogspot.co.uk, and is based in Oxford.

Reproduced with permission from Science and Belief.