Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Big ol' chunky hat

So last July, I declared that this Montana raised Western Sky Knits yarn should become a hat with a big poofy ball on the top.


This really needed to happen. I felt like big chunky cables should be involved too, but would look silly going vertical. They would be TOO chunky, know what I mean? I settled on making a horizontal cable band, a la the recent headband creation. I did about five iterations of this: starting with a more spaced out braided cable (too holey) and playing around with the edging (settled on a three stitch slip method on both sides).

The band was the hard part, then it was just a simple pick up of stitches around the circumference. But the essential part:

THE POOF. I used up all the rest of the yarn for this baby. I was tempted to leave it wild, but I gave it a little haircut.

Yeah buddy:

Very cozy. Although, as you might be able to see, there's a little bit of 'aeration' around the edges of the band (an occasional drawback of chunky yarn). I'm torn about this. I'm considering adding a band of fleece around the edges to act as a windbreak, but I don't want to make it too bulky. It also was a mixed blessing for backcountry skiing (more on that tomorrow). What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Girl power

I couldn't have hoped for a better response to last Friday's post. Quite a few of you knitters outed yourselves as fellow scientist and engineers. I can't thank you all enough for sharing your experiences. I was saddened (but not entirely surprised) to hear that many of you, whether in science and/or academia or otherwise, have experienced discrimination in one form or another for being female. The fact that only 12 companies out of the Fortune 500 have female CEOs is a clear indicator that this is a further reaching issue than academia.

Sure, it's gotten more subtle--but isn't that almost worse? We don't even realize it's happening (or that we might even be perpetrators ourselves). I'm sorely tempted to write a full follow up post, but really all the high points have been hit in your comments. Ewenique had a great point that programs that bend over backwards to recruit women into math and science positions (or any position where they are underrepresented) may often end up having a Cobra Effect--in essence, backfiring. When I expressed an interest in moving into project management a couple years ago, I was told by a senior scientist whom I respected very much that I'd "be promoted to your level of incompetence because you're a woman." It was clear that he viewed the push to get more women in upper management as a disregard for qualifications, and deeply resented it. Not a good way to bridge the gap.

I also anticipated hearing from at least one person who had been "Mommy Tracked" and was not disappointed (well, it's certainly disappointed that it happened--you know what I mean). Amanda described the phenomenon of employers' reticence to hire and/or promote women of childbearing age. When I mentioned the study I shared with you in the last post to a coworker, his first question was the age of the fictional women used in the study (the resumes sent out were identical but fake--the names were changed to be obviously male or obviously female). They were supposedly undergraduates, which puts them on the low end of the childbearing years. His point was that maybe the professors didn't find the women less qualified (although unfortunately the study indicates that they did)--they were anticipating the potential loss of productivity or even having to find a new employee in the case of a pregnancy. Don't even get me started on the problems with trying to get into a tenure track in academia if you're also ready to start a family. Is this fair? Hell no! Do I have a good solution? No I do not. I understand where the mindset is coming from and I have no idea what can be done about it.

But the unanimous verdict against staying in a career out of a sense of duty was an incredible relief. I suppose I don't even need to ask if I have an obligation to stay because of the desperate need for science in the US (the subject of my next post). Earlier this year, when I expressed some mild doubts about continuing my current path due to various reasons, I had a friend tell me point blank that he would lose respect for me if I 'gave up' and did something else. That comment wormed it's way into my mind and I began to wonder if it would be a common sentiment. As Voie de Vie points out, women have a tendency to put the needs of others before our own. I don't think we're necessarily born that way--but we are often molded, consciously or not, to be self-sacrificing caregivers. But as Al Pacino tells Keanu in The Devil's Advocate: "Guilt is like a bag of fuckin' bricks. All ya gotta do is set it down."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Where are all the ladies at?

I'm writing to you from 30,000 feet--ah, the wonders of technology. Actually, maybe it's not so great after all...the wifi many planes are offering carries with it a feeling of obligation that one should be working. And what do you know, that is a nice segue into today's topic. I've had a lot of things on my mind lately, and I'd like to do a series of posts laying it out there and maybe get new perspectives from my readers. I've noticed I have a lot of female readers, and that's a viewpoint that I need on  one of the issues that I have with my career:

Where are all the women?

But are we?

I never felt particularly constrained by gender roles growing up. My family never seemed to label activities or interests as 'boy' things or 'girl' things--there were only activities and interests. I was active in sports, but I also was a dancer. My dad taught me how to throw a football, which I still can (albeit poorly) and my mom taught me how to cook (somewhat less poorly). I grew up with the notion that men and women could do whatever they wanted.The ski scene is male dominated, the knitting scene is female dominated, who cares? I love to do both.

I always enjoyed science and math, so it seemed reasonable to study engineering. I think the notion that not that as many women went into the field probably appealed to me--I've always been contrary--but it didn't factor too much into the decision making process. And it wasn't something I thought much about in college. I'm a materials engineer, which is one of the most gender equal fields of engineering. I was never involved with the Society of Women Engineers or their ilk, saying that I wasn't a female engineer--I was just an engineer. I spent some time working at a nuclear plant, where myself and two others who came in at the same time were the only women in the department. The guys took to us like fish to water, I think it really tickled them pink to have some young women working with them. Some of them took it as their personal responsibility to look out for us and I never felt like anything but an equal.

But as I have been moving further and further into academia and the research sector, the lack of women in my workplace is something that has progressively bothered me more. When I get bored at a conference, I'll sometimes count the number of women in the audience. It is rare that it breaks out of single digits. A friend who has taken a similar career path as mine, but in biology, shared this article recently. Some highlights of the study:
  • "Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills."
  • The professors were less likely to offer women a job, and if a job was offered the pay offered was substantially lower. 
  • Female professors were just as likely to discriminate against women as their male counterparts. In fact, "the bias had no relation to the professors’ age, sex, teaching field or tenure status."
Across the board, there was a distinct bias against the women scientists. And these small slights, accumulated over the course of a career, can result in serious setbacks. I think that the general mindset is that this was a problem that has gone away. It's certainly what I thought for a long time. But I'm noticing that at least in my field, which is a combination of nuclear engineering and materials, very few successful female role models are apparent. I literally have no one at work to discuss this with--I'm the only woman in the department (except for the secretary, natch).

Which has led me to two competing trains of thought. My career is an uphill battle: a field where I am going to be held back simply by who I am. I'm already a person who struggles with serious self-doubt sometimes, my scientific glass if often half-full as I realize just how much I don't know. Is it worth it? Would it be better to do something that I am more passionate about (something I'd also like to discuss in a future post), and where I have more opportunity for advancement? But! The second thought that creeps in--the situation is not going to change if women keep getting forced out. Do I have an obligation, even if I'm miserable, to forge ahead for the betterment of ladies in future generations? Is it selfish to move on?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Easing into it

You guys know that I haven't been feeling much myself lately. I keep trying to write posts, and but so many negative thoughts come to mind that it's hard to come up with anything that someone would want to read. One of my friends advised me today that I should just write whatever comes to mind, and if it's terrible, it's not like I have to publish it. Excellent advice, really.

For some reason I've been having trouble getting started with projects (a metaphor for my life right now?). I told myself to just pick something from my recently purchased racist Vogue Knitting magazine and just do it. A friend had requested a headband, so I chose the Turban(d) and used the Plymouth Earth Homestead yarn from the CDA trip.

K, good start.

So as I was making this, I thought, as I always do about everything, wouldn't this be great with some cables and some buttons? I'd slap cables and buttons onto anything. So with the remaining yarn, I made my own little creation. 

One of my childhood BFFs blessed me with a visit a couple weeks ago, over her birthday no less.  What an awesome thing to come to my podunk town to celebrate! It pretty much made my month. I forced her to pose wearing it, and she looks adorable in it:

LOVE that smirk! She's probably going to kick my ass for posting this.

I love buttons. I picked these up from a little boutique known as "Hobby Lobby". You probably haven't heard of it.

What really clinched this purchase for me (I was there trying to buy elastic thread--more on that another time) was the sticker on the back. 

Let me help you out in case the print is too small: "This is not a toy. Not intended for use by children under 14." 14? 14?!? Are kids still swallowing and choking on small objects at that age? Are the buttons coated with pot or something? Not that you should be doing drugs at 15 either. 16, maybe. Regardless, there must be something awesome about these buttons.   

But I digress. My friend and I didn't get do too as much sightseeing as planned--it was raining here (300 days of sunshine, and of course it rained), as well as in the Cascades. Mt. Ranier was probably not even going to be visible. We went east instead, and visited Palouse Falls--a random waterfall in the midst of the desert.

But we didn't need to do anything special to have a good time...you know how with old friends you can just chill, watch movies, and eat cupcakes for hours? Yeah, it's pretty much like that. 

And as I finish this up, I can breathe a sigh of relief...Barack Obama was just re-elected as President of the US. Ahhhh, some things can go right!

Edited about an hour later to add: And gay marriage and pot are probably going to be legal in Washington state. Washington...I...may love you.