Comic #1: SG v. the Nefarious Engineer

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Natalie Cluck

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She Codes for a Spacecraft That’ll Take Us Farther Than We’ve Ever Been (Photo credit: NASA JSC Students)

Meet Natalie. She’s interned at NASA since high school and is now working on code for the Orion spacecraft – built to take humans farther than we’ve ever gone before. Natalie’s currently studying Computer Science at Texas A&M University.

What’s her favorite part of working as a NASA intern?

My favorite part is going to work every day being surrounded by NASA engineers who are passionate about solving problems and learning more about the universe. I especially love working on a critical project that is designed to carry humans to other planets, something that has never been done before.

What is she currently working on?

I‘m working on a team of interns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to    develop a code coverage tool using Python for Orion’s flight software. This will help cover how much code is being executed within Orion’s mission critical systems, which will ensure that no computer bugs happen while flying in space!

What’s the most difficult part of her work?

The technical knowledge can be difficult since I am learning something new about software design every day, plus many engineers are expecting high standards for our results. But since we have a full team of five interns working on this project, we can progress quickly and utilize each other’s specialities to successfully meet those high expectations.

How did she get interested in this field?

I discovered my interest in computer science when I attended a summer program my senior year of high school called First Bytes at the University of Texas at Austin, then later became part of a community for women in computing called NCWIT. NCWIT continuously fuels my passion for computers science. And growing up in Houston, I have always pursued a dream of working for NASA, so I found a way to contribute to NASA’s mission through technology.

Any advice to aspiring STEMGirls?

Find mentors. Find women in the STEM industry (or elsewhere) and discover why you like those people. They serve as good examples for you to follow as you pursue your career in STEM.

 

3 Ways You Can Contribute to Science Right Now

  1. Foldit

This gem was developed by the university of Washington to gain insight into protein structure. Basically, you have to “fold” a protein in a puzzle-solving manner; the proteins with the highest scores are then analyzed by researchers. The whole point is to improve protein structure prediction algorithms by gaining insights from human players. The game has already helped decipher the structure of an AIDS-causing monkey virus – unsolved for 15 years – in just ten days!

2. Stardust@home

The Stardust spacecraft collected the first interstellar dust particles ever brought to Earth through an encounter with the comet Wild 2. There’s a slight problem, however: the particles are a millionth of a meter in size, embedded in a collector 1,000 square centimeters in size. There’s estimated to be about 45 such particles. Through Stardust@home, mere mortals can look through stacks of images using a virtual microscope to find these precious interstellar particles – if you find one, you will be listed as a coauthor and can name the particle! A man from Canada has already discovered a particle and named it “Orion”.

3. Planet Hunters

Yes, hunt for planets! Look through data from the Kepler spacecraft for a characteristic drop in light, which indicates an exoplanet crossing its star. The original project discovered several unknown candidates and confirmed planets; the whole motivation here is that we may be better at detecting visual patterns than current algorithms. This is also the project that discovered the unusual light curve of Tabby’s Star which led to a lot of buzz about the possibility of an alien civilization’s Dyson sphere being behind it.

Obviously, there are quite a bit more citizen science projects out there for you to dive into – Eyewire, Old Weather, Whale FM, etc. The brainpower of the human species directed towards a single problem – it’s really quite ingenious when you think about it.

Happy science-ing,

STEMGirl

 

Judgement Day – College Decisions

Yes, it’s that time in a high schooler’s life. College decisions. As those dreaded dates loom closer, it’s easy to absorb yourself in something so relatively trivial that you forget your grand ambitions, passions and dreams. This post is dedicated to people like me who need a good reminder once in a while.
Guess who got rejected by Harvard Business School? Warren Buffet.
Guess who got rejected by Princeton and Harvard? Ted Turner, founder of the one and only Cable News Network (CNN)
Guess who got rejected twice by Harvard Medical School and was advised by a dean to join the military? Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate in medicine
Take these inspiring success stories to heart. College is just an environment to nurture your growth; ultimately, it is up to you to reach your true potential! (At least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself this weekend.).
But truly, do not forget the scale of the world in that second after reading your decision. Remember, this event in your life is but a speck in the grand scheme of things, like the pale blue dot in that fabulous selfie of our solar system.
So, before you go and open the judgmental letter that you’ve been waiting so long for, take a breath, pause for a minute and think: What do I want to do with my one-in-seven-billion life? 
Keep your answer in mind; the words on that piece of paper can never stand in your way.
Yours truly,
STEMGirl.

A Big List of Happiness

Why You Should Be Happy Right Now:

1. You’re reading this, which means you’re alive.
2. You’re not blind.
3. You have hands and fingers to do wonderful things.
4. You’re literate. #ThankATeacher?
5. You have access to the Internet!
6. You live in the 21st Century and not the Middle Ages (unless you’re a time traveller)
7. You’re a multicellular organism – no big deal if one cell dies. That poor Paramecium, though.
8. You’re intelligent, and you can do literally anything you want to.
9. The fact that you’re reading this means you are in relatively good conditions, compared to the rest of the world where children are struggling to find food on the streets and have very little prospects for a future like yours.
10. You have the capacity to be happy.
11. Scientists at Harvard reversed ageing in old mice.
12. The Sun isn’t going to die for another 5 billion years.
13. You’re not a teeny tiny bug; in fact, you’ve probably squashed one at some point.
14. You have so much to look forward to! Besides life milestones, so many advancements are happening and are going to happen in your lifetime – AI, anti-ageing research, extraterrestrial life, the hyperloop, self-driving cars, and so much more.
15. You’ve got electricity, dude.
16. You can make a difference in someone else’s life right now.
17. You can listen to your favorite song right now.
18. You could teach yourself a billion things for free with courses from Coursera and EdX.
19. You could teach yourself to code right now and build the website you’ve always wanted.
20. You could make the app that you’ve always dreamed of.
21. You have the ability to love.
22. You can feel emotions and express them.
23. There are more than 7 billion human beings like you.
24. You can watch the number of human beings on our planet increase right now – World Population Clock  
25. You have the potential to change the world.

The negative emotions you might be feeling right now are only temporary! Smile, because you can!

 

Don’t Stay In School?

This weekend, I stumbled upon a YouTube video so articulately titled, “Don’t Stay in School”.

At first watch, I was inclined to dismiss it as a silly creation, but the song tossed around in my head the entire day.  I realized: I can relate to this. Yes, everything he is saying makes so much sense! Or does it?

“If you can’t explain why a subject is applicable to most people’s lives, that subject should not be mandatory…Nobody should be forced to learn something that isn’t practically useful.”

Yes, but how can anyone possibly know what pieces of information will be applicable to the rest of their lives in high school? How many of us actually knew what we wanted to become in high school?

“Introduce those topics, yes.” But all of high school IS introducing various topics. The basics of mathematics, science, english, and history – principles that changed the world and have led us to where we are right now – are taught, and we can choose what we like and continue on with it.

The “practical information” mentioned in the video – first aid, human rights, current events, financial information – are concepts that do not require years of study to understand; in fact, we learn most of them even through experience and exposure to the world.

However, algebra, geometry, and calculus cannot be learned so quickly – they require years of study and building upon concepts. The history of the human race – essential in learning from our past mistakes and successes – cannot be “introduced” so quickly. The biology of how our body works and the chemistry of the world around us took centuries to understand and cannot be introduced so lightly, either.

That said, yes, it is true that not everyone will find these topics useful in later life. But how will you know that you won’t use this, don’t like that or don’t want to learn about this until after you know about it? I’ve personally changed my career plans several times after taking certain classes, even if I did not find those topics “useful” or “practical” in the beginning. If we all stopped learning things we don’t find practical or useful, humankind would never progress.

All being said, I am not saying that there is no problem in our educational system. Certainly, real life skills are not emphasized as much, but all of what we learn is not impractical “trivia”,  no matter how useless it may appear.

 

Are you REALLY bad at math?

“I’m bad at math.”
“I’m just not a math person.”
I’ve heard these words floating around too much. And I’ve joined in, too – “I suck at math.”

But is math really such a matter of talent and inherent ability?
In “The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math'”, Miles Kimball and Noah Smith contend that math skills are truly a product of hard work and preparation. However, more and more high schoolers are sticking to an “entity orientation” – the notion that either you are smart and good at math, or you’re not. And this leads to a vicious cycle.

Because when you believe that success can only be attained by natural aptitude, you stop trying. And when you stop trying, you fall further and further behind. And when you don’t understand something, you don’t like it.
“I hate math.”

The fact of the matter is, you’re probably not bad at math. You’ve just stopped trying. As Kim Dale so eloquently puts it in her article, “Instead of saying “I’m bad at math” tell the truth: I didn’t like math, so I quit trying to learn it.”

I can guarantee you that most of the people around you who are supposedly good at math got there through hard work and preparation; in fact, I’m one of those people. No freaking doubt there are many people much better at math than me, but I’m not BAD at math.

So if you feel like you suck at math, don’t despair. Get help when you need it and please, please don’t fall behind; it’ll be harder and harder to catch up. And if you’re already behind, it’s never too late to start catching up! Never, ever give up, because when you’ve given up on understanding math, it’s 100% certain that you won’t be good at it.

And if you’re good at math, don’t discount it. You are where you are because of work or aptitude or a combination of both, and you should be proud of yourself.

 

An Open Letter to McInnes

“Women do earn less in American because they choose to. They would rather go to their daughter’s piano recital than stay all night at work, working on a proposal, so they end up earning less. They’re less ambitious. This is sort of God’s way — this is nature’s way — of saying women should be at home with the kids. They’re happier there.”

– Gavin McInnes

I have no words. Your complete lack of logic makes me cringe.

There are 161 million women in America, and please remember that before you make such a generalization about us. What you are doing is looking at data and using it to support a claim that has absolutely no foundation. You cannot just look at the wage gap and formulate a stereotypical generalization that all women are unambitious and thus, earn less.  And if that isn’t enough, you go on to preach to us that if we are independent, working women, we’ve made a mistake and are unhappy.

All right, let’s pretend for a second that we live in a world where your logic works. This is what happens:

American students rank 35th out of 40 in math achievement in the world. Therefore, we are inherently unintelligent and this is nature’s way of saying that we should just drop out of school, because we’d be happier at home. Math majors in college, you’ve screwed up.

Not so logical now, is it?

As a 21st Century resident, you should already know this – there are PLENTY of “happy” women in the workforce. The woman next to you in your interview is one.

Yes, there is, nevertheless, a wage gap.

The Thirteenth Amendment was passed  150 years ago, and racism and racial gaps still exist. Decades of oppression cannot be fixed so easily. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed 95 years ago; yes, there are people alive who lived through times when women were not allowed to vote. So please, give us some time to bounce back.

Sincerely,

A Happy STEMGirl

Note: I don’t mean this to be an accusation against anyone. He is fully entitled to his own opinion, and I am simply expressing my disagreement with it. 

5 Websites To Learn How to Code

“I literally coded Facebook in my dorm room and launched it from my dorm room. I rented a server for $85 a month, and I funded it by putting an ad on the side, and we’ve funded ever since by putting ads on the side.”
-Mark Zuckerberg

Often times, the most successful coders started out on their own – learning the basics of coding through the ever-resourceful Internet.

All right, be honest. Have you ever dreamed of creating the next best-selling app, designing a gorgeous blog to showcase your artwork, or creating the next Candy Crush/ Flappy Bird? Of course you’ve all had brilliant moments of creative inspiration for such things, so what’s stopping you? Learn to code your dreams!

Here are some of the best of the Web to get you started; I promise to you this is not “way over your head”. Put in some time and effort and you’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.

1. Codeacademy
This interactive website offers guided, easy to understand tutorials on some of the most essential computer languages out there : Python, HTML, Ruby, and more. I’ve actually learned web design through this website.

2. EdX
EdX by MIT is an open-source platform offering courses from universities around the world like MIT and Harvard. In other words, you can take a college course on almost anything from the comfort of your home, taught by the world’s best of the best! Here are some picks for coding:
Harvard’s Intro to Computer Science
Microsoft’s Programming with C#
MIT’s Intro to Computer Science and Programming Using Python

3. Code School
“We combine gaming mechanics with video instruction and in-browser coding challenges that make learning both educational and memorable. With more than 40 courses covering JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Ruby, Git, and iOS, Code School pairs experienced instructors with meticulously produced, high-quality content inspired by our community and network of members.”
This resource offers several “language paths” to go through including iOS development (go build your app huh?), as well as screencasts to build up your skills.

4. Coursera
Yes, this is similar to MIT’s EdX, providing free courses on various topics from universities around the world. A few selected picks:
University of Maryland, College Park & Vanderbilt University’s
“Mobile Cloud Computing with Android”

University of Colorado’s Beginning Game Programming with C#

5. W3Schools
Great starter to learning web design essentials. If you’ve ever wanted to design your own blog or website, go forth!

There are tons of resources out there to begin learning anything from web design to game programming to Bioinformatics. I encourage you to go explore and make something! Bring to life your wildest imaginations!

Please do comment any suggestions for other websites or your own experiences learning coding!
Yours truly,

STEMGirl.