On the 19th of January, Team TrowelBlazers got an excellent start on 2016 with an invitation to Winfield House, the residence of US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun. As part of the Embassy’s Young Leaders UK project, a variety of exciting and inspirational speakers have graced the oddly swirly-patterned carpeting of the reception room just past the enormous portrait of a man doing a sort of muscle pose amongst flowers.

Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Santos Dumont, hanging in the US Ambassador's Residence in London

Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Santos Dumont, hanging in the US Ambassador’s Residence in London

But the REAL excitement was the chance to hear #TrowelBlazer Ellen Stofan address a room full of young leaders (and other folks determined to improve access to STEM careers).

Dr Stofan had so much to say that was totally fascinating — they had the first flower in space like two weeks ago!!! — that it was particularly cool she managed to devote so much of her time to addressing an issue that is clearly important to her: making science a welcoming space for EVERYONE, including women, ethnic minorities, and other underrepresented groups.  It was such an excellent dialogue that I didn’t take very clever notes, but I think the one thing I wanted to share with you guys is the thing that meant the most to me: actual words of actual hope for female early career researchers not planning on a monastic existence. Here’s what I found out:

  • Dr Stofan’s biggest career challenge? Work-life balance.

  • She has 3 kids. None of them are axe-murderers.

  • She worked part time for 16 years so she could have a family life AND SHE STILL BECAME CHIEF SCIENTIST OF NASA.

If that’s not a message of hope for all of us out there looking at the leaky pipeline (discussed earlier this week in the UK parliament actually – check out the #WomenInScience hashtag), I don’t know what is. Dr Stofan went on to say that she now realises careers aren’t necessarily on some exponential trajectory, but can be full of peaks — and troughs. One of her regrets was actually how angsty she’d been when her first post doc ended and she was stuck thinking ‘well, that was awesome, but I’ll never do anything that awesome again’. OK that’s totally paraphrasing but as a post doc, well — got me right in the feels! There were also some very wise words about how important it is to get out into schools, churches, communities, and show people that science can be welcoming and anyone can ‘look like a scientist’; and how unconcious bias training can help organisations avoid– you guessed it– unconcious bias.

Anyway, that’s the main stuff I wanted to share. BUT, in ‘other cool stuff I found out while chillin’ at the Ambassador’s house drinking from a gold rimmed teacup’ news:

  • So many awesome unbelievable space-tastic facts, plus, volcanoes, plus methane seas, plus see where a geology career can get you?
  • The last astronaut class was 50% women. BOO YAH
  • There are official NASA passports.
  • The first flower in space was a zinnia



Brenna (as in, all misquotes, misattributions, and misunderstandings totally the fault of …)


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