The Intern Report
Ever wondered what it’s like behind the scenes at Femmes of Stem? Well, today’s your lucky day! Welcome to an exclusive look at the work behind Femmes of Stem from an intern’s perspective! My name is Vishnu and I’m the research intern for FoS. I have the great honor of working with two truly badass women to help produce this podcast and all of its wonderful content for listeners like you! As a research intern, I get to explore the depths of our university’s library and sneeze through piles of books about historical women in STEM. Over the past few months, we here at the FoS have made an effort to learn more about minority women and their contributions to STEM.
Researching historical minority women involves reaching out to librarians, research assistants, and specialists for help on finding sources that provide biographical information on minority women in STEM and information about their accomplishments, research, any significant contributions to the scientific community. This kind of research is like a treasure hunt: you have a few clues as to where to start looking, but the rest is a mystery. You really have to spread yourself out and look for sources in all kinds of areas and subjects. Here are two of the main challenges I have come across and lessons I've learned while doing this kind of research, things other researchers and historians might find #relatable.
First and foremost, keywords matter! When researching for books in large database systems, you have to know what you're looking for and direct the system to find books relating to the topic you're focusing on. Using keywords helps the system direct you to sources that relate to your topic. For example, when I was looking for sources on women engineers, I use keywords like engineer, woman, and mathematics. I soon realized that these search terms worked well for finding modern day women in engineering but not for historical women engineers. Why? Well, women in the past were not recognized by the titles we give them today, such as the title of engineer or doctor, because of them being women. As a result, they are not recognized by such titles or even acknowledged for their work in scientific literature. That means that when you look for historical women in engineering or other fields using modern day terminology and titles referring to them or their work, you won't find much because that's not how they were recognized in the past. You have to use the lingo of the past to find these historical femmes. Instead of using engineer, woman, and mathematics to look for female engineers, you can use keywords like woman, inventor, assistant, mechanic. This same approach goes for finding African and African American historical femmes or any group to research.
Second, you need to look in the right places! It's much easier to research western historical women of STEM--why? Because there are more resources out there about western women in STEM. But have no fear, it is still possible to find information on historical minority women in STEM, you just need to know where to look. We have found information in places we'd least expected to find anything: sources ranging from huge biographical dictionaries (with mostly men but women sprinkled throughout the source) to books that mix art and information (check out the source list below if you're curious). The search involves sifting through men-heavy sources, but often times we're surprised and find great women in STEM!
Even though we've come up with strategies for researching and finding diverse historical women in STEM, there is still a need for more literature on these amazing women. Diverse historical women deserve recognition in literature and the media. Focusing on the few diverse historical female figures we know of instead of pushing ourselves to learn about more women in STEM limits our understanding of the role women have in shaping the scientific community and our world.
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World by Rachel Swaby
Women of Discovery: A Celebration of Intrepid Women Who Explored the World by Mary Tiegreen and Milbry Polk
Black women scientists in the United States by Wini Warren
Profiles of African scientists by the African Academy of Sciences