LogoBee posts for November

30 11 2013

Here are the links to the graphic design articles I’ve written in November for one of my Canadian clients, LogoBee.

Warwickshire Life 1: Protecting Warwickshire’s Woodlands

25 11 2013
© John Clift 2012. Reproduced with permission.

Autumn at Oversley Woods, near Alcester, Warwickshire.
© John Clift 2012. Reproduced with permission.

I’m happy to announce that I have started blogging on the Warwickshire Life website! If you’re interested in plants and nature, with a little bit of science thrown in, then please check out my articles every two weeks.

The first post, inspired by the gorgeous autumn colours out there right now, is on the subject of Warwickshire’s woodlands. Check it out!


About this blog

20 11 2013

Welcome to my blog. I write about things that interest me, including science, the world of freelancing, feminism, education, and from time to time random thoughts that pop into my head and don’t fit a category. Please feel free to comment and I hope you like what you read!

Lisa 🙂

Science: It’s a Girl Thing?

20 11 2013

Those who know me well will know that I am prone to getting a bee in my bonnet about issues of sexism and gender inequality. Yes, I am a feminist. But don’t worry, all feminism really means is: I believe that men and women should be equal.

There are many, MANY things I could write about on this topic but I will spare you a rant. Today I’m just going to share with you a couple of YouTube videos and highlight the problem of gender stereotypes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM, for  short).

I’m not a gender expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s well known that far more men than women enter into STEM careers, particularly the physical and chemical sciences. Why is this?

Some will say that men and women’s brains are fundamentally different; that women are better at being emotional, caring and nurturing, while men, as well as being physically taller and stronger, are seen as more practical, logical and rational. Ergo, women are better at being teachers and nurses, while men are better at being builders, army officers and scientists.

I disagree.

I believe that historically, men and women have been ‘nurtured’ differently and THIS is what accounts for gender stereotyped careers. Think about it: actually, there is nothing inherently more ‘girly’ about the colour pink, or Barbie dolls, or toy ponies. Girls have simply had it drummed into them, over the course of many, many years and some clever advertising, that these things are ‘for them’. ‘Boy’s things’ on the other hand are ‘not for them’ – “don’t be silly, girls can’t climb trees, ride BMXs or play with toy cars!”

And so it continues into adulthood. Girls and boys become disinterested in school subjects, and ultimately careers, that society says are ‘not for them’ .

The European Commission, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided to do something about the lack of females studying STEM subjects and entering STEM careers. Bravo. Problem is, they did this…

The problem with this video, in case you haven’t already worked it out, is that it paints science to be something it is not. And if you didn’t know, let me tell you now that science is NOT all sexy girls in short skirts and high heels lusting over hot microscopists and pink and lipstick. Oh, I’ve no doubt there are *some* sexy female scientists and hot male microscopists, and sure, science *creates* make-up, but… OOOOH! Sorry, I’m distracted by this LIQUID NITROGEN IN A BEAKER!!! *HYDROGEN*!!! Who knew science was so GIRLY!!!

Thing is, it’s not. Science ISN’T ‘a girl thing’ – it’s a PEOPLE thing. It’s for boys, but it’s also for girls. There is nothing fundamental about science that stops girls, or boys, from studying it or making a career out of it. Only the sexist ways in which society has been shaped – yes, largely and historically by men – has led to the situation where, for example, only one in ten engineers is female.

Ironically, given that this video was so badly slated by the scientific community and the popular press alike, it apparently DID result in more girls expressing an interest in studying science. But I think, or at least I hope, that this was a rebellious response to the outrageous stereotypes that the video perpetuates and not because it genuinely made girls think that science is pink and fluffy. In fact, if there are any girls out there who are convinced by the video that you can do scientific experiments in a short skirt and stilettos then I’m afraid you will be very disappointed when you are handed a labcoat and a pair of very unsexy safety specs.

This brings me on to the next YouTube video that I discovered today and which I think does a FAR better job of inspiring girls to become STEMmers. It’s an advert for GoldieBlox, a company that makes ‘Toys for Future Engineers’. Watch, and enjoy…

Of course, we can’t draw direct comparisons between this video and ‘Science: It’s a Girl Thing’. One is an ill-thought out European Commission initiative aimed at encouraging teenage girls to study science, the other is a toy advert. But the key message from the GoldieBlox ad is: Don’t Underestimate Girls – and I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Instead of dolls and ponies and tea sets, imagine if young girls played with toys that allowed them to make and create and experiment and engineer. There’s no need to make these toys pink and glittery because in real life, things aren’t pink and glittery. *Science* isn’t pink and glittery. It’s not sexy – well, not most of the time. It won’t necessarily score you a hot microscopist boyfriend, either.

But science IS really INTERESTING, and IMPORTANT, and VALUABLE. Scientific discoveries can lead to building cool stuff and discovering distant galaxies and curing nasty diseases and ending world poverty and famine. And if boys can do it, so can GIRLS!


19 11 2013

Sometimes I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew…This is what I’m up to right now!

  • Working full time with GARNet
  • Taking an evening course in Journalism on Monday nights
  • Following a University of Southampton MOOC on Web Science, which takes up 2-6 hours per week
  • Blogging about all of the above
  • Blogging for LogoBee, editing blogs for Leading Technology Group, and other miscellaneous freelance tasks
  • Spinning class on a Tuesday night
  • Netball training on Thursday evenings
  • Netball matches and umpiring duties on Sunday mornings
  • Running (well, I have been for one 5 mile run since completing the Birminghan half marathon last month, but I hope to get back into this)
  • Oh, and the small matter of planning a wedding!!

…and if all that wasn’t enough, I have just agreed to start blogging for Warwickshire Life magazine too!

I really enjoy it all! I just wish there were a few more hours in the day…

Journalism Week 5: Advanced Interview

18 11 2013

My week 4 Journalism homework was to write up an interview we did with a Journalism classmate. This week, week 5, we stepped it up a gear and had to interview someone completely unknown! We were actually forewarned of this task, so I earmarked my attendance at the SpotOn London science communication conference (November 8 and 9) as an opportunity to interview a willing volunteer! Here goes…

Kirsty Jackson is a jive-dancing, blog-writing, sci-fi-loving trainee roller derby referee. She is also in the fourth year of a plant science PhD.

As a child, Kirsty was fascinated by discovery and always knew she would become a scientist. After following her interests at school, she applied to read biochemistry at Edinburgh University.

But, after a year of study, she was inspired to pursue plant science instead.

She says: “Growing up in London, I didn’t have much contact with plants, and there is little plant science in the school biology curriculum. But thanks to one motivational lecturer at Edinburgh, I found there were many amazing things to discover about plants and fungi. They really captured my imagination.”

After graduation, Kirsty decided to continue an academic career. She applied for a PhD at the John Innes Centre in Norwich and was rejected, but got an email from Professor Giles Oldroyd a few weeks later. He invited her to interview for a new research project, which she was convinced she hadn’t got either.

Now in the laboratory of molecular cell biologist Dr Jeremy Murray, Kirsty’s PhD project explores the symbiotic relationships between a group of plants called legumes, and bacteria and fungi.

Unlike a normal plant disease infection, legumes ‘allow’ certain bacteria and fungal agents to infect them. In doing so, functions such as the ability to take up nitrogen more efficiently from the soil are conferred on the plant.

Kirsty specifically experiments with a member of the clover family called Medicago truncatula. She analyses and characterises genes that are thought to be involved in the symbiotic infection process.

I met Kirsty at SpotOn London, a two-day science communications conference, and asked her about some of her other science outreach activities.

A keen science writer, she contributes fungal biology articles to the Plant Scientist blog (http://plantscientist.wordpress.com/) and the John Innes Student Blog (http://johninnessvc.wordpress.com/). She also enjoys dispelling myths about science portrayed in the popular press, and making science accessible to lay audiences.

“People often think science is ‘too hard’ for them,” she says. “But if you break it down into simple language, it’s much easier to grasp.”

Kirsty is also a member of the Teacher Scientist Network. Linked to a middle school in Norwich, she regularly visits the children, aged 7–11, to enrich the science curriculum by leading practical experiments and giving science demonstrations.

She says: “Children get so excited about science! Even something as simple as dry ice is fascinating to them. It’s brilliant because it reminds me of why I decided to pursue science as a career.”

#FLWebSci Week 1

13 11 2013

FutureLearn is a new UK-based online learning platform that offers ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Online Open Courses). The platform was launched a few weeks ago with the backing of a number of well-respected universities, who have made free, interactive educational courses available for anyone in the world to study.

I’ve signed up for a MOOC offered by the University of Southampton called ‘Web Science: How the Web is Changing the World’. I thought this would be interesting because the web certainly has changed *my* world, and I am learning every day how it continues to change the world. The web allows me to conduct my business, connect with people, shop, bank, research, play, chat, and much more, in ways that were not possible just a decade or two ago.

In fact, as part of Week 1 of the MOOC, I have been asked to try and visually represent ‘my web’. Please excuse the very primitive graphic design skills and slight blurring!

How I use the WebMy graphic attempts to show how the different ways I physically connect to the internet affect the way in which I use the internet on that device. I realise that I am probably quite abnormal in ‘only’ using three devices! I do also have a smartphone, but apart from texts and phonecalls, I only really use that for Angry Birds on long train journeys…

Each of my three devices has some exclusive uses, but there are cross-overs with the way I use my University (work) laptop compared to the way I use my personal laptop, and my Nexus tablet. For example, I use the Feedly app on my tablet to read craft, cookery and personal interest blogs when I am on the go (or on the loo!), but the Feedly Cloud website is also useful on my work laptop for feeding me science news (not usually on the loo…).

I run my freelance business using my home laptop, not my University one, but LinkedIn crosses over both of these uses. Social media tools tend to infiltrate all three of my devices to some extent, particularly Twitter, often via Hootsuite, which I use to manage @lisaamartin1 when at home, @GARNetweets when at work, and both for relevant uses when out and about (such as live tweeting at the recent SpotOn London conference I attended).

When I think back, the internet really has changed (my) life. My dad worked in IT during the 80s and 90s, so we were lucky to be one of the first people I knew to get ‘the internets’ at home. It seems a lifetime ago that we used to dial in, via a modem, to use ‘America Online’s’ chat rooms and games, while frustrated friends and family members hit redial in vain as they struggled to get through on the phone!

I remember the internets being installed at school in the mid to late 90s. Before then, IT lessons (at least that I can remember) consisted of touch-typing practice and a game called ‘Gorillas’ in which you had to blow up a very pixelated gorilla with a very pixelated banana. (OMG! Found an applet for it here!)

At university in the early 2000s, many students had a laptop, but they were still really expensive. My mum and dad bought me a second-hand one that had once belonged to a water company, so they had a little plaque made with my name engraved on it to cover up where the company logo sticker had left a mark (cute!). This thing was the approximate thickness and weight of a heavy-duty paving slab. However, having my own access to the internet opened up new possibilities – leaving my laptop running overnight to download a single mp3 from Napster, for one thing!

In my first job as a teacher, I became more aware of how the internet could be used not just to find information and download episodes of Mysterious Cities of Gold from P2P software, but as a teaching and learning tool. I used to develop ‘internet scavenger hunts’ and started to regularly use sites like BrainPop and YouTube to introduce interactive content to my lessons.

And Facebook. I joined Facebook before I went travelling in 2007. Before then, I had barely heard of it, but thought it would be a good  way to keep in touch with people from wherever I was in the world. Thanks, in part, to Facebook, I was able to keep in touch with a cute boy I met in Argentina – who I will be marrying next September!

I guess, realistically, it is only in the last few years that I have started to view the internet as an enabling tool, rather than just an information-finding tool or one big entertainment network. I work with people, mostly scientists, all over the country and indeed the world: web technology is routinely used to communicate, to carry out research, to collect, store, share and collaboratively analyse data. At the conference I mentioned last week, I don’t know why but  I was stunned at the number of people live-tweeting! Every conference session had it’s own hashtag, and rather than fighting for buffet food at lunchtime, people were fighting for plug sockets to recharge their devices!

We rely on the internet so much more than we realise – it is just so ‘normal’ these days, and I guess having grown up over the last 30 years my peers and I are well placed to realise this. I swear babies are born knowing how to ‘flick’ pages on an iPad these days!

I wonder what would happen if the internet was to suddenly disappear? Looking forward to learning more at FutureLearn!

Journalism Week 4: Interview

12 11 2013

This week my task in Journalism class was to write up an interview that I carried out with someone in my class. Here’s mine (names changed to protect identities – that’s what they say in the papers, innit!). The word count was 250 words. 

I was nervous about interviewing someone I didn’t know very well, but actually found it surprisingly easy! I’ve learned from this experience that you need to be prepared with questions to make sure you get what you want out of the interview, but equally be prepared to put those questions aside when necessary. If you arrive to an interview with too much of your own agenda, you can miss out on some really interesting stuff!

It can’t be easy working full time and studying two evening courses, but Jane Doe somehow finds the time to do all this and more.

Arriving to the interview in a pair of batgirl trainers, Jane is a self-confessed comic book geek who loves retro artwork and all things X-Men. She said: “When I was about 11, my brother and I used to get up early every Saturday morning to watch the X-Men cartoon and I’ve been hooked ever since”.

Jane and her animal-loving boyfriend share a home in Coventry. They met while working temporarily at Coventry University. She says: “Our eyes literally met across a crowded room while we were manning stands for our respective companies at a careers fair!”

When she is not reading Marvel comic books or feeding the menagerie of animals (five fish, two snakes, two cats, one rabbit and a pond full of newts at last count), office administrator Jane works for Gom UK.

This German-owned optical metrology firm provides technical measuring devices to manufacturing and research organisations including Rolls Royce and most UK universities. It has offices all over the world, including a staff of 11 in Coventry.

Supported by the company, Jane is learning German one evening per week, and is also studying for an Open Studies Certificate in Journalism at Warwick University. Since her administration role is evolving to include events management and external communications, she hopes this course will help her learn more about media and marketing.

Journalism Week 3: News Report

4 11 2013

My Journalism homework last week was to write a news report in 250 words or less. It didn’t have to be groundbreaking, but something from my local area that I could write about in a fact-reporting journalistic style. As it happens, although it wasn’t my scoop, something relatively major did happen in my little town last week…

The manhunt for escaped prisoner Alan Giles continues in the Alcester area as it is revealed he worked at one of the town’s charity shops.

Giles worked at the Sue Ryder shop on Alcester High Street one day a week as part of his rehabilitation programme. He would have been eligible for parole next year.

Now missing for over a week, police have been driving a 20-metre wide TV advertising vehicle around Alcester and the surrounding villages to raise awareness of the campaign to find him.

Giles, 56, is described as 5 ft 9” with grey hair and a scar on his forehead. He has a large tattoo of an eagle on his back, and flower, shark and swallow tattoos on his left arm. He is believed to have been wearing a grey Rockport sweatshirt, blue jeans and Asics trainers.

Giles should not be approached, but anyone who sees him should dial 999 immediately so that police can respond quickly. Dog-walkers, farmers and gamekeepers are particularly asked to be vigilant as police believe he may be sleeping rough in woodlands.

Anyone with other information about Giles’s whereabouts should call 101 and ask to speak to Redditch CID.

Alan Giles absconded from an open section of HMP Hewell near Redditch on October 28. He was serving two life sentences for the kidnap and murder of Kevin Ricketts in 1995. Ricketts, the 16-year old brother of Giles’s former girlfriend, was killed in revenge after the couple’s acrimonious split.

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