Event: Ada Lovelace Day Live! 2019
It's good to finally sit down and be able to tell you about the event that I went to two nights ago: Ada Lovelace Day Live! 2019. It was my first time attending the yearly event, but I definitely will attend the next one— for sure! I wasn't sure what to expect, and I know a lot of you probably feel the same way (and hence some of you didn't manage to attend) but that is why I need to write this blog post.
Ada Lovelace needs no introduction. I assume if you are reading this blog/post you are already familiar with some prominent figures in STEM, one of them being Ada Lovelace. Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 by technologist Suw Charman-Anderson. It is a day to raise the profile of amazing women in STEM, to celebrate the achievements of various individuals, as well as to discuss the challenges that women still face in their industries. Ada Lovelace Day started in the UK but now has expanded worldwide with events going on simultaneously on October 8. This year's live show was held in the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London, and what a location it was! The ADL live show was marketed to me as a 'science cabaret' - and honestly, it delivered! A night of entertainment meets geekery perfect for everyone. Speakers from different aspects of STEM got on stage to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, and it sure was more exciting than many of the talks I've ever attended. The variety was refreshing and I learned so many different things. I will tell you about some of the speakers that wow-ed me.
Speaker Roni Savage talked about her role as an engineering geologist. What does an engineering geologist do I had no idea, but after listening to her I was surprised I didn't know that such an important job existed! I understand that surveying the soil or land a structure will be built in is necessary, but I didn't know it was such a complex task and that there are specialist engineers for it! I guess it's one of those jobs—you only notice them when they don't do their jobs properly. But lucky for us, Roni and her colleagues are very capable and we don't often hear about buildings or roads collapsing due to lack of soil integrity.
Biologist and science communicator Dr Sally Le Page started by introducing my favourite model organism, the fruit flies. She taught the audience how to differentiate between the male and female fruit flies—the males have black bottoms where the genitals are located while the females have yellow bodies and bottoms) - but I already knew that because well I worked with flies! But what floored me was her next statement - the literal translation of Drosophila melanogaster, the scientific name for fruit flies. Drosophila means dew-loving while melanogaster means black-bellied. I was floored—the name only describes the males! Dr Le Page then gave a dozen more examples of scientific species names that only describe the characteristics of the males. She then reminded us that sexism in science can be as harmless as naming species incorrectly, or as harmful as perpetuating the idea that heart attacks are only characterised by chest pain when this symptom doesn't apply to women. Well, that sure made me think!
Last but not least was the most important and prominent speaker of the night, physicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burner. She was the first to discover radio pulsars in 1967, and this discovery led to her supervisor being awarded the Nobel Prize. Yes, you read that right. This controversy highlights the lack of appreciation for women as well as for research students, but despite what one might expect she did not address this issue on stage on ADL live show. Instead, she gracefully used the stage to talk about Athena SWAN, an initiative she co-founded in 2005 to encourage and recognise to advance and promote gender equality and diversity in universities and research institutions. Nowadays, Athena SWAN is an important award that various institutions take seriously and strive to win as the award affects their reputations and their eligibility for government and private fundings. She sure is brilliant and elegant. The live show was on for 2 hours, but it went by so quickly. I laughed, I uhm-ed, I growled, I clapped and I shook my fist throughout the show. It was educational, entertaining, and inspiring. I hope this post has motivated you to look into Ada Lovelace Day and the future events. The live show was for age 12+, but the audience came from various backgrounds. During Dame Burner's appearance, she asked how many of us in the audience are students/staff of UK universities, and only about 30+ raised our hands. I was sat next to a group of teenagers who before the show discussed how scary it was for them to be turning 18 (I felt old). There were kids with their parents, and many people came by themselves. I was alone, but I'm glad my social anxiety didn't stop me from attending. Folks, I'll see you next year!