Lady Science!

There are a lot of things that I can’t believe are still things in the 21st century. The KKK. Homophobia. Tab cola. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the gender gap, another inexplicable thing that’s still a thing. You know the one—it’s that thing where 50% of the population are so poorly represented that they qualify as a minority. I’ve been thinking about the gender gap in the sciences in particular.

The fact is, women may have long since won the rights to vote, to have careers, and to wear stylish yet functional bedazzled pants, but men still hold 70% of all careers in science and engineering. White men alone hold the majority of these positions, but men of every demographic outnumber women of the same category. All women of color combined barely add up to a tenth of the total professional scientific population.


In my novels, I write about a young woman living a century ago with a background in science. While writing, I constantly need to remind myself that it wasn’t the norm. It comes far too naturally to me to envision scientifically-minded women. I’ve learned plenty about Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale and Irene Curie, but more than that, my own grandmother, Mary Campbell, practically wrote the book on Medical Mycology. In fact… she DID write the book, and if you studied medical mycology at university, chances are it was on your required reading list. Incidentally, if you studied Medical Mycology at university, you are probably also doing more important things with your life than writing novels that feature a magical detective. Good for you.


My family is full of female professors, nurses, veterinarians, computer analysts, and research scientists; when I was growing up, I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a smart woman. I know. I tried. My sisters tattled and I got grounded for it. It continues to shock me, therefore, that the image of a woman as an intelligent professional is a concept that needs normalizing.

The trouble is ingrained in our culture. Women are encouraged to be supporters while men are pushed to be competitive. If that’s not blatant enough, loads of brilliant successful women have been actively cheated out of their notoriety by male colleagues.

3 Women Scientists Whose Discoveries Were Credited to Men

6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism

8 Inventions by Women that Dudes got Credit For


“Who cares?” one might argue. “Those men probably stole credit from other men, too, that’s just the cutthroat nature of the field.” But when there are so few women in the field to begin with, each overlooked achievement represents a greater loss.

The problem with the erasure of women is that as a result, countless women just don’t get to see a future for themselves in the sciences in the same ways men do, and that matters. With good role models, possibilities blossom, and limitations drop away. Without any, invisible walls grow and self-doubt takes hold.

A few years back, my sister followed in the footsteps of Medical Mycology Mary and co-authored a book called THE ULTIMATE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO SCIENCE.

Girls Guide Science

Her role models mattered to her, and in turn she has became that role model through books and camps that she helps run for kids. Her latest project is the culmination of years of research that is both practical and awesome and involves fire… and also happens to be literally rocket science. Her Kickstarter for the ROCKET MASS HEATER GUIDE has just a few days left if you want to support an awesome woman in science RIGHT NOW, by the way, although she has already doubled her goal because the concept is just so damn cool!


Women are a part of the scientific community. They just are. Awesome though their accomplishments might be, the fact that they exist should be the most boring thing in the world. Sadly, it’s STILL an anomaly in the 21st century for a woman to be seen as a scientist. I don’t want writers of historical fiction a hundred years from now to look back at 2016 and find themselves astonished at how unusual it was for women in our time to be recognized for their contributions.

So, let’s share a little recognition right now—who are your favorite female faces in the field of science and engineering?


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3 responses to “Lady Science!

  1. Few people can make gender discrimination laugh-out-loud funny. Nice writing.

    One of my favorite examples from the Girls’ Guide project was Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards. She’s credited with inventing “oecology,” the Science of Right Living. Kind of like ecology, AKA the original Home Ec (science applied to domestic health, safety, and management). Example: Don’t put the outhouse or septic field right over the well casing where you get your clean water, something she and her husband fixed immediately in their first home.)

    One of the first women to get a Masters or PhD in chemistry (She got her bachelor’s at MIT, and would have been their first female doctoral student, had they not voted for a period of 5 years to disallow women students altogether. She got graduate degrees at Vassar instead.) Her honeymoon was a geology field trip. When she was not working in academics, she was a powerful community-builder and advocate for public benefit from science, like organizing cooking classes for immigrants. (Cookbooks as we know them today are “scientific” recipes, with measurements, instead of imprecise advice.)

  2. Hi-
    I just met you at the Cavalcade of Authors West event in Tacoma last Saturday. I’m the teacher-librarian with a sister who teaches in the Springfield SD. I have two comments and a question.
    1. I really enjoy your writing style, not only in the Jackaby series but also here in your blog. Your writing serves as a good model for your students. Thank you.
    2. My students who attended your session on Saturday really enjoyed it and spoke about your incredible energy. So there you are, no matter how tired you were after teaching all week and then zooming up the freeway to deliver four sessions to middle and high school students, they appreciated your enthusiasm and energy. This is one of those intangibles that we hope students notice but they usually don’t mention.
    3. Question. I also write a blog, a book blog, where I review YA books and write about other bookish things. Would you consent to an author interview to be published on my blog? If so, contact me at my email address and I will send you a list of questions for you to answer about your writing and professional life. Please take a look at my blog before you make your decision. I haven’t reviewed Jackaby yet in hopes you would say yes.

    Contact: Anne Bennett—
    Blog: My Head is Full of Books—

  3. Oonagh

    Totally agree! And if you haven’t seen it already, Contact is a really good movie and the lead scientist in it happens to be female.
    I’m really happy there are more series these days with cool girl protagonists- I mean, I liked Star Wars before but The Force Awakens is one of my favorite movies, because of Rey. Your series is also great! Can’t wait for the next one!

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