Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day dedicated to raising the profile of women involved in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (or STEM). People all over the world have signed up to create blog posts (and other media) celebrating women in these fields that they admire. If you’re wondering who Ada Lovelace is to have such a thing named after her – oh, no one important, she just essentially invented the concept of a computer program.
During my senior year of college I was actually the co-president of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Women in Science club, so this is definitely something I’m interested in. I was fortunate enough while I was in college to work with a number of wonderful women science professors, but one of them in particular stands out when I think about who influenced how I think about science and approach scientific questions today: my plant ecology professor, Dr. Laurie Anderson. Even though I was technically a zoology major, I was interested in ecology and conservation regardless of whether it concerned plants or animals, and as time went on I was gradually sort of adopted by the botany department. Eventually I found myself in the rather odd position of being a zoology student doing my senior research project on plants, specifically the ecology of garlic mustard, an invasive species.
In addition to teaching two of my favorite classes from my undergraduate years (in addition to plant ecology, she taught a fantasic seminar on agriculture and the environment), Laurie was my advisor for that research project. At the time putting together a study that would occupy my for an entire academic year seemed daunting, and it was Laurie who really helped me put together everything I’d learned and come up with a plan – how was my study going to be designed? How was I going to collect my data? How was I going to analyze it? What funding could I get to cover little costs like driving to and from my study site? How long was all this going to take? How did I go about writing up my results? What’s more, she was the most supportive and conscientious advisor I’d ever worked with, always making time to meet with me and answer my questions no matter how busy her own schedule was.
That was the year I really learned how to think like a scientist. Even though I ultimately didn’t go into ecological research as a career, that approach to problem-solving, not to mention the understanding I gained of how scientific research is really done, will serve me for the rest of my life. I don’t know where I’d be know as I try to plan my two-year-long master’s degree project if I didn’t have that background do draw on. Thanks, Laurie. And happy Ada Lovelace day.
Your turn: what woman in STEM has inspired you?