Careers

Women and Space

“Science” is the term encompassing the study of our natural and physical world; its structures and behaviours.  A “scientist” is an intellectual with expert knowledge of a particular branch of science.  From the intense study of the human body we gain knowledge of disease and are then able to construct medicines.  By observing the nature of the stars in the sky we are able to assemble a broader perception of the universe in which we live.   Science is the foundation of our society; the knowledge, health, sources of entertainment and standard of living we have today has been built upon centuries of scientific study and discovery.  It is for this reason, I find it incredibly perplexing that science and scientists have not been immune to discrimination.   

In school, we discuss Newton, Einstein and Pythagoras.  At university, I have considered Fermat, Euler and Euclid.  With this education, it wouldn’t be outrageous to believe that female scientists accomplished very little.  However, this is definitely not the case.  The list of influential women within science is, actually, a rather extensive one; but I would like to focus on one in particular. 

Katherine Johnson, an African American physicist and mathematician, made substantial contributions to the US’ aeronautics and space programmes at NASA in the 1950s and 60s.  From a young age, Katherine was a gifted mathematician with a passion to succeed.  Her early career consisted of teaching jobs; as work within mathematics for an African American woman were few and far between.  In 1953, Katherine was offered a job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which she accepted and so started her career within the early NASA team. 

For five years, Katherine worked in an office labelled “Coloured Computers”.   The women who worked within that office were required to do all of their daily activities completely segregated from the white men.  Regardless of how important their work was, these women were unable to put their names on reports they had contributed to.  Katherine herself said that women needed to be “assertive and aggressive” in order to be recognised; which, she was.

When NASA disbanded the “computing pool” in 1958, Katherine worked as an Aerospace Technologist until her retirement.  A women, who was once unable to use the same bathroom as her scientist colleagues, was now a vital part of an important team.  She calculated the trajectory for the first American man in space, she calculated the launch window for the 1961 Mercury Mission, she plotted back up navigational charts and was asked personally to verify the numbers for John Glen’s orbit around the Earth.  Katherine helped calculate trajectories for the 1969 Apollo mission; as well as helping to establish confidence in new technologies with her work with digital computers.

Katherine Johnson is just one example of many under-appreciated women working in NASA at the time; and is just one of thousands of under-appreciated women contributors to science.  Despite increasing rates of women studying mathematics and science at universities; the percentage of women within STEM careers is still extremely low.  It is vital to celebrate and learn about women who were not only major contributors to science; but had to overcome all kinds of social barriers to do so.  

A Personal View of Mathematics

Mathematics is a scientific language whose nature is theorised by people like us to produce a system made from mathematical elements that act as useful items that describe everyday objects that bring the idea of this language to reality. Many of its components are correlated to the universe and can explain its constituents, such as the idea of finite quantities, and some that cannot be fully understood, such as the idea of infinity. It is, I believe, independent of human logic and intuition, but through them it is defined and further developed into enterprises that may be beneficial in helping us to understand the universe.

Findings that arise from mathematical elements may sometimes be judged as invalid if proof is absent (as one of my lecturers said!), but majority of them have in fact displayed validity and illustrate more thoroughly the universe, such as transverse waves having similar shape as the sine or cosine graph, potential wells of planets similar to the function of x2, and even projectile motions. Equations created as a consequence of mathematical notations and numbers have even made researches easier, for example, the equation found in chi-square tests and the equation of the normal distribution graph in order to find to find approximate probabilities of large-sized populations. Some other simpler instances include Fibonacci’s rabbits, parabolic movement of a basketball shoot, snowflakes having six-fold radial symmetry, and numerous more. Imagine what else we can find if we continue to immerse ourselves in the world of maths and further develop it – who knows you might be the Nobel Prize winner one day!

Mathematics grants us access to universal truth despite its man-made essence because of its theories being backed by powerful evidence that is so persuading that minor contradictions may be abandoned. Mathematics is indeed a scientific language that plays a significant role not only in sciences and businesses and other developing areas of study, but also in other aspects of our lives.

Sunsets, Science and Sunflowers

Exploring London is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable elements of living in this city.  From scouting out hidden treasures; obscure coffee shops and underground bars; to being able to weave through the crowds of tourists and relax with a book on parliament square with Big Ben in view, the quote “When a man is tired of London; he is tired of life” has never felt more true.  Here are 3 of my best-loved outings at the moment:

 

Columbia Road Flower Market
Between the hours of 8:00 and 15:00 every Sunday, Columbia Road transforms into a vibrant floral paradise.  After popping to The Hackney Coffee Company for my early Sunday morning caffeine fix, a stroll through the bustling flower market is the ideal way to begin my day.  The incredible aroma of the plants intertwined with hint of coffee coming from one of the many independent shops along the street, as well as the hundreds of people socialising whilst boasting their large bunches of sunflowers and attempting to balance their over-sized orchids on under-sized coffee tables makes Columbia Road Flower Market my happiest place in the city.

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The Science Museum
London boasts an impressive range of Museums and Galleries, however the most significant one for me is, of course, the Science Museum.  I could spend hours meandering through the Space section, gawking at the rockets suspended from the ceiling.  Every so often the museum opens its doors after hours and hosts a range of unique workshops and interactive experiences, as well as a silent disco.  An evening spent talking to astronaut impersonators and dancing to Beyoncé below a suspended United States Scout was undoubtedly one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had.

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Primrose Hill
After 15 minutes attempting to navigate the streets encompassing Regents Park in what felt like arctic conditions following a rather temperamental phone which occasionally told me to “make a legal U-turn”, I finally noticed a rather large hill poking out from behind some houses.   Honestly, the difficult journey and slight dizziness just made the view from the top even more satisfying.  Roughly 65 metres tall, Primrose Hill offers panoramic views of the entire city and on a wintery evening at sunset, it is one of the most spectacular things I have ever laid eyes on.  At the top very top is a stone with a William Blake inscription, reading “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.”

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I have an ever-growing list of favourite places; and an ever-growing list of places I want to visit.  I am so thrilled that I have another 2 and a half years in this city; although I highly doubt that this is an adequate amount of time experience everything London has to offer.

 

Breathing the London Air

Hal: Palace of Westminster Moving in to London, a bustling metropolitan city saturated with cultural differences and varied social backgrounds is to me an exciting challenge. During the first few weeks I moved in, I was busy with opening my student bank account, sorting out all the books that I need to purchase and decorating my room. Mingling with people here at first is difficult, especially when the kind of humour is different from where I come from – Indonesia! (If any of you wonder what and where on earth Indonesia is, it’s a tropical country home to Bali located in the Maritime of Southeast Asia.) The weather to me is a shock, perhaps more shocking than the cultural differences as the chilling wind stung my skin and made me shiver constantly. I underestimated the cold…I really did.

As a slightly socially awkward person, making friends and breaking the ice was tough. It took me time to find people I became comfortable with, and eventually spend time studying and playing around with.img_5232 Transitioning from school to university isn’t too rough if you keep this in mind – be open-minded! I’m glad to say, some first year modules supported the process of this transition, simultaneously refreshing your knowledge of the course that you are taking. Moreover, studies isn’t everything – you need your fun. I have joined the rowing club amongst the other hundreds of societies that the institution offer and I have been enjoying it to its fullest extent. Overall, eventually things get better over time and as the days and nights go by, Queen Mary and London feels more and more like home. Now I wonder what will London surprise me with next!

Awkward Hugs and Problematic Ovens

After pacing up and down the corridor a few more times, I looked down at my trembling hand to check my watch. I had been stood outside my flat mate’s door for roughly 4 and a half minutes. I lifted my arm once again, hoping that this time, I would have the courage to knock. Just before I could finally tap the door, it opened. I was now eye to eye with a stranger that I was going to have to live with for an entire year. Standing in his doorway, slightly perplexed as to why I was loitering directly outside his room, he introduced himself. Not thinking, I went straight for a hug. We’re now good friends.

The first week of university was a complete whirlwind of excitement intertwined with a little anxiety and a dash of homesickness. Moving from a small town in South Wales to the capital city was a shock to the system to say the least. Leaving a home with a supportive family and wonderful friends is always going to be difficult; especially when you realize after 3 days of living in halls that you have absolutely no idea how to work your own oven or iron your clothes. However, I’m so happy to be able to say that after 3 months I am well and truly settled and completely content with every aspect of my new life; and, after an hour on Facetime with my mother, I was able to resolve all my oven related issues.

After the craziness that was Freshers Week, I came face to face with an overwhelming realization. I know absolutely nothing. Or at least, very little.. As a Maths student I attend roughly 15 to 17 hours of lectures and tutorials a week, and in each of those hours, I would learn completely new concepts that I couldn’t have even imagined existed whilst sitting my A-levels. The jump is big, but I learnt to view it as an exciting challenge, rather than an impossible task. From learning the exam content to being introduced to some of Maths’ greatest problems; The Goldbach Conjecture, Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Riemann Hypothesis; I am more engrossed in Mathematics now than I have ever been.

Now that first semester is almost over, I am thrilled to be taking a well-earned break. As enjoyable and fascinating as it is, university can be difficult. Sometimes I think it’s important to remind myself that not long ago I was in a small school close to my house, which contained teachers who knew me well, friends who had known me my whole life and I was learning material that I was very comfortable with. I am very ready to unwind somewhere homely and familiar over the Christmas break but am happy to say I am thoroughly enjoying my first taste of the university experience.

Is reading a thing only girls do?

You may think of reading as something you do intuitively, but for some people, it is not a skill that comes naturally. Many males in particular are known to be unmotivated when it comes to reading according to news outlets such as the Guardian and BBC, and subsequently have poorer reading skills compared to females.
I am currently taking part on a new Widening Participation programme here at QMUL, called “Boys, Books and Blogging”, where I will be working with year 10 male students to read and discuss two books that have been selected for them. Below you can see the title of the two books I am currently discussing with the students:

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Book 1: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

 

Book 2: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Book 2: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The sessions with the students will last 7 weeks, where I aim to encourage the boys to become more interested in reading and read more in general. The boys will also be discussing their approaches, attitudes and time management in regards to reading, and will write blog entries about their experience on the programme. They will also be going to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” at the theatre in December. These blogs will be published on the Widening Participation QMUL website. Here are some pictures that were taken this week:

Quiet reading time with some of the year 10 students

Image 1: Quiet reading time with some of the year 10 students.

 

Image 2: Great to see the boys engaging in the blog writing!

Student summarizing his thoughts so far on the book he selected.

Image 3: Student summarizing his thoughts so far on the book he’s reading. Brilliant !

Another student writing up his blog

Image 4: Another student writing up his blog !

Being part of this programme reminds me of when I was in year 10, where I also was not fond of reading. I discovered that reading what interests me most (whether that be football, robots, food and other topics), is much better than not reading at all. If you look at me now, I can’t get enough of reading and always find time to read especially on the bus journey to university. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Reading is a powerful tool, and one in which everyone must have a great grasp of in order to reach their full potential in life. Without reading, you are bound to come across problems as simple as reading a job application for a job you want. Don’t let that person be you!

Part-time Work

Like a lot of university students, I work part-time. Not only is it great to have a bit of extra spending money on top of my maintenance loan, I think working part time is a really good way to gain professional experience. Also, since I started working, I believe I got better with organising my time. I have to fit work around my studies, and the only way to do this is to manage my time efficiently. Time management is a key skill and I believe it will come in handy in the future, after university.

Nevertheless, always remember: your degree comes first. I would recommend that you find work that’s quite flexible so your education is not compromised in any way. Whatever you do, don’t overcommit at work because then you wouldn’t have enough time for studying and assignments, and might feel overwhelmed. You need to look after yourself first and foremost. You may want to work less during term time and work more during the holidays. This summer I made the monumental mistake of not working. I told myself: ‘I have finished my first year at university so I deserve a break’. I was bored after a week. By the time this realisation hit me, all jobs were gone. I think the best thing to do is apply as early and as widely as possible.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

I have to admit, I have heard some horror stories from my friends about horrible bosses and rude customers, but fortunately for me, I have never experienced such distressing things. I have had admin jobs before – I am not going to bore you by writing about the exciting world of photocopying! My favourite jobs, by far, are my current roles as an Ambassador for the School of English and Drama (SED), and a Widening Participation Student Ambassador. I have gained a lot of transferable skills from being an Ambassador. It has increased my confidence, improved my communications skills and helped to make me a better team player. I have talked about my job as a SED Ambassador before in this blog, so I will tell you a bit more about Widening Participation.

My fellow Student Ambassadors - Dina and Hanya

My fellow Student Ambassadors – Dina and Hanya

Most, in fact I think it is all, universities in the UK have a Widening Participation Department. Statistically, if you: are someone whose parents did not attend Higher Education; are eligible for free school meals; have parents who are from non-professional occupations; have a disability; are a young carer; are estranged from your family, or have lived, or are currently living, in local authority care, you are less likely to apply to university. The aim of Widening Participation is to address this, and encourage young people from these social backgrounds to consider attending university.

My job as a Student Ambassador is to engage and interact with school students, and to provide an insight into university life. For instance, this summer, I helped run the Year 9 Humanities Summer School at Queen Mary. This was one of my favourite projects! A group of students from our local schools got to spend a week as a university student, attending lectures, workshops, and a theatre trip. My task was to supervise them throughout the day, as well as to take part in Q&A sessions – answering questions about student life. We run lots of events throughout the year, I am going to include a link to the Widening Participation website below so you can check out what we are all about.

Widening Participation at Queen Mary: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachers/wp/index.html

 

 

 

UpRising Leadership Programme, in partnership with Queen Mary – Dragons’ Den

UpRising, a nine-month leadership programme, was looking for 25 young people, aged between 19-25 who live or work in the borough of Tower Hamlets. The programme (that took place on Wednesday evenings) offered a first-hand view of how politics, businesses, the public sector and community organisations work together to shape our community through a series of workshops. All the UpRisers were given an opportunity to work in groups to design and deliver a social action campaign on issues that we were passionate about.

Based on our social action plan we chose to stand for Women in Technology – cliche right?! It’s actually not. We recognise that every woman is different, therefore, our aim is to increase awareness and empower BAME (Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic) Women in Technology where there is currently little discussion on the topic. We were inspired by groups like ‘Women and Girls in IT’ and saw a niche on raising awareness for BAME women  in Tec sectors. Thus, we strive to facilitate an ongoing discussion of the increasing current predicament of underrepresented BAME women in Tec, we strive to redefine what ‘Women in Technology’ means in the 21st century and to expand it beyond the traditional notion of geeky men on computers all day.

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Pitch day, Dragons Den

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Ahh memories – when we all first met and all cohorts came together at the retreat.

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We emphasize the fact that intersectionality, the interconnected nature of social categories which influence systems of society, for example, race, gender, class and ethnicity could influence social mobility, create barriers to promotion and cause unconscious biases – based on Kimberle Crenshaw (1989).  Therefore, we recognise that there is not one type of feminism that fits all, from one woman to another we have multi-layered facets as individuals. This makes us unique and should not be used to suppress us but to help us stand out. Additionally, we aim to extend on the G20 goals which pledged to get more than 100 million women into the global workforce by 2025 in order to improve gender equality in the workforce.

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I think we were all so excited to start presenting with all the adrenaline rush and once it was our time to showcase what we have been working on we could not wait.

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One of the best experiences of UpRising would have to be meeting so many like-minded people, there was always a great atmosphere and energy in the room – never short of conversation and debates.

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We were awarded runners-up – Yay! No but seriously, we never anticipated it nor did we think that we would be ready in time for the Dragons’ Den, but I am so proud of our group and so thankful to the UpRising team for giving us that added push and confidence. As well as forming networks with senior figures, we also built strong networks amongst our peer.

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Creative Assignments

I might have mentioned before that on my course we only have exams in first year, and then usually (there are modules that do have exams) it’s 100% coursework. Therefore, we end up with quite a lot of coursework to work through in the year, which might sound scary, but don’t worry, it’s not too bad! I’ve mentioned that one of the fun parts of my course was that we got to go on quite a few trips, but another fun part is the creative assignments we get to do.

In the past I’ve done scrapbooks, written a 3000 word creative article and even created my own Google Map. Recently I had an assignment due where I had to create a number of portfolio pieces, and there was the possibility for a creative element. Seeing as it was for my British Culture in the 1950s module, I decided the best way for me to do mine was by typing out each assignment on my typewriter. I wanted to make it look like a war file, like in the films, so I also bought a plain, brown cardboard folder.

My workspace

My workspace

I typed out all the pieces and also printed a few black-and-white photographs to stick in. It might sound like it took a while to create them all, but the assignment was actually fairly manageable. We had to do six pieces, around 400-600 words each, and one 1000 word essay piece. We were told at the start of the year though, so could do them one-by-one, each week. One of the weeks we also had to do a presentation, and we could use our notes and handouts as a piece. As each week was themed, we could divide up the pieces that way. I’d already typed them up on my laptop in advance, it was the physical typing on the typewriter that took up the majority of my time.

My pieces included a historical research piece, a personal story, a review, the obligatory 1000 word essay, a poem and my presentation notes. The variety was nice, and each piece involved a different element of challenge.

However, I have to say that I spent a lot longer on it than any other assignment I’ve done at uni. It took a very long time to individually type each one out, but really it was fairly enjoyable. It’s nice to get to do something different, especially when it’s an assignment that is worth a fairly large chunk of my final grade.

My typewriter, mid-assignment

My typewriter, mid-assignment

The chance to do a piece of creative writing is also fairly unusual in terms of university English courses. Not many universities offer a creative writing element, and it can be fairly encouraging when you’re assigned one. It breaks up the fairly standard, long essays and I tend to find I put a lot more thought into exactly what I’m writing, how it’s laid out, and what the idea behind it is.

The finished assignment

The finished assignment

Overall, it turned into a bit of a nightmare, I’ll admit. I ended up putting in so much effort, and spending so much time on it that I got very, very stressed. However, as soon as I realised that I was going to get it in on time, and everything was going to be fine, I was genuinely proud with what I’d produced. I had hand-typed every single piece, 16 A4 sheets, and put real effort into its presentation. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to do these creative pieces, they’ve been really fun but I wasn’t even aware they offered the opportunity when I came to Queen Mary.

One piece of advice I’d offer is that after first year, when you get to begin to choose your modules, ask at the module fair about whether there is the opportunity to do something creative. I wish I’d looked into it more, and it wasn’t until third year that I really began to check what sort of assignments each module offered.

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