There have been inspirational women in science in my life.
Furthest back was Miss Mordecai, my GCSE and chemistry teacher. She was very down to Earth in how she interacted with students, and wasn’t above hurling witty banter at you if you tried to insult her or get away with something. This was in a Catholic school where women were often submissive and considered second class in comparison to men. It was refreshing to be engaged as a person rather than a homogenous product of a Prussian based education system. This engagement also included – at request – cutting off the oxidation of metal surfaces before chucking them in water to make them more reactive. I can still picture the flaming ball embedded in the ceiling.
Miss Mordecai was partly the reason I initially did a chemistry degree, before my health had other plans. She encouraged me to read around the subject as she recognised the syllabus was too limiting for me. Miss Mordecai also taught me to put my own needs before unrewarding loyalty. She left us half way through my A-Levels and when asked why, she replied, “Same job. Better pay.”
Secondly was Professor Judith Petts, at the time head of department at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at Birmingham University. In 2002, a woman being 1) a professor and 2) head of a department was very rare, and this was also a science discipline. She was the first contact freshers had, and I remember her pragmatic speech: “You have 66 teaching weeks until you graduate.” Doesn’t sound much in three years, does it?
Prof. Petts also lectured, and her pragmatism continued. Her discipline was waste management, and considered cradle to cradle lifespans of products and industries. That is, the moment a site is used for something until the site can be used for something else. Obviously, nuclear power fails this epically. Humour was also a feature of her lecturing, and one particular anecdote was a metal manufacturing plant complaining about a neighbouring business polluting its site, and it was going to leave and take its jobs somewhere else. A land survey revealed the metal plant itself had found a cheap disposal method for waste product (i.e. thrown over the fence) that was contaminating the local environment! Prof. Petts said diplomacy came first, and thanked the metal plant for providing local employment. This was followed by a heads up that there would be stricter monitors for waste disposal.
Two women that could engage the current world and know how to build a better future. Thanks to them, my skills about seeing all parts of a puzzle in the present and the future implications are well honed. My desire to do things I am passionate about (rather than what’s expected of me) is also stronger.
On a very shallow note, I adore that one of Ada Lovegood’s titles was Lady King. What a fabulous androgynous drag name.