Friday, May 18, 2012

What’s in a name?

  If you’re going to start a blog, of course you’ve got to have a good name. Something catchy, perhaps with a bit of an insider-message-in-joke. And you’ve got to make sure it hasn’t been taken! The idea of standing on the shoulders of giantesses is, of course, a riff of the saying “standing on the shoulders of giants”, a phrase most often attributed to Isaac Newton (so right there we’ve got a science connection!). Of course, it’s got a history before that (yes, it’s Wikipedia, but it’s interesting: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants). The original phrase specifies dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants…perhaps we early career scientists are the dwarfs, hoping to gain a little height to become giants ourselves.

  Why change it to ‘giantesses’? I plan on concentrating on the experience of women in the science, though the process of balancing life with work, tenure, publishing, etc., are common experiences for all scientists. I picture as my giantesses many of the recognizable women scientists such as Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock, but also women that are personally familiar. These women – relatives in the sciences, college professors, female mentors – gave me that platform (that shoulder up) for my interest in science and career.

  But before you start your blog, you should probably Google it (or whatever your internet search preference). I would recommend searching the entire phrase and not just the main words...let’s just say that there’s something on the Internet for everyone. I ran across the phrase in the blog post of a romantic novelist, a blog post by a stay-at-home dad, and describing Katie Couric’s career. My blog, I thought, preserved the ‘scientific’ origin of the phrase a bit better.

  I also discovered a post on the site Times Higher Education (Ince 1999) discussing the release of a European Union report on women in science (ETAN 1999). The report (found HERE, scroll to topic 4) notes that the largest ‘leak’ is from the post-doc to tenured professor, and that gender bias extended to grants and awards. The group suggests that rewarding universities or organizations that promote gender equality could begin to undo this bias.  This report was released 13 years ago, but the problems it describes persist. Casual conversations with international friends give me the impression that many European countries are ahead of the US in supporting new mothers and families. Perhaps those countries took this report’s (and others’) message to heart, while the US is only starting to get it…

  But that’s the subject of many future posts, while we’re talking names today. Juggling geese? That’s pretty easy to figure out. If life, love, planning meals, cleaning, writing papers, writing grants, and finding time to do lab work doesn’t resemble tossing around bundles of feathers with minds of their own, I don’t know what does! And I did mention the need for a nerdy inside joke.

Literature Cited
Ince, M. (1999). On the shoulders of giantesses?, Times Higher Education.

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