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Posting from the ScobleShow: She\’s Such a Geek February 22, 2007

Posted by Sacha in Science.
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I\’ve been wanting to try out this feature on the PodTech/ScobleShow page to post to my WordPress blog and I\’ve been wanting to blog about the book She\’s Such a Geek (hoping to read next month). Then Robert posts this interview with the authors of the book. It was meant to be. Take a look!

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Conference Helps Women take on the Physics World February 22, 2007

Posted by Sacha in Science, Women.
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I just read a fantastic article by Candace Partridge over at Inkling Magazine about the University of Southern California’s Undergraduate Women in Physics Conference.  She really gets to the heart of the issue.  Here’s a little excerpt, but she is a great writer, so I encourage you to go read the full piece.  She is relaying a conversation with her mom who asks, “Yes, but why just for women? Who cares?”

I paused, a bit puzzled, “Er, because there aren’t that many of us? We’re under-represented.” She oohhhed a bit knowingly, then started her spiel.

“Well, you know, men’s and women’s brains are just different. It’s just genetics, you know. Women are naturally better at things like English. You’re just a special one,” she laughed. 

I cringed. “Mom, this is exactly the sort of crap that we’re fighting against, and it’s even worse that women themselves buy into it. Thinking like that made me get an English degree, because I thought I wasn’t good enough to do math. And you can see that’s not true at all.”

She said nothing more. But I thought about that roomful of engaging and intelligent women. I’m glad to know I’m definitely not all that special and I’m certainly not the only one. That, in essence, was what the conference was all about.

I have close friends and family that believe this.  About half of them are women.  Why do we participate in our own oppression?  Does it make us feel better about not pursuing our dreams?  Would it drive us batty to realize we aren’t living up to our true potential?  Here’s a news flash:  There is no genetic proof.  As my statistics teachers tries to drill into our heads everyday, it is almost impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist.  This difference does not exist and that is difficult to prove, but I provide here as evidence an entire conference of female undergraduate physics students at the University of Southern California.   

Programs Help Women Advance in Academia February 22, 2007

Posted by Sacha in Science, Women.
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Tonight I had the honour of attending my first Association of Women in Science (AWIS) meeting.  There was a panel discussion from Women in Academia, which focused on organizations that support female growth in academia.  The panelists were Dr. Claire Horner-Devine, Dr. Eve Riskin, Dr. Joyce W. Yen, and Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange.  I’m pretty sure all of the panelists worked in some way with ADVANCE, a NSF funded program that works to create institutional transformation that allows women to be successful in their education and careers at universities around the country.  Their idea is to change the institution to support faculty success for minorities instead of focusing on changing women and other minorities to fit preset roles.  Dr. Horner-Devine is also involved in Women Evolving Biological Sciences.  This is a symposium that specifically addresses women moving from early career stages to tenure track and leadership roles. 

The entire evening was very interesting and all of the panelists had a lot to contribute on the topic.  I learned a lot about ways in which the NSF tracks the success of the ADVANCE program.  One criteria they evaluate on is space allocation, in other words, lab size.  Why do women get allocated less space?  Well, you may guess that they aren’t pushy enough and while this is true, it is also true that they don’t realize they need to ask and negotiate for it.  Aspects of your job like lab space can greatly affect retention, so even if you hire 50% women, if they get shafted on the extras, they’ll leave for somewhere else eventually and you’ll still be left with less women.

Two other facts I learned is that the University of Washington is first in federal funding dollars for public institutions and second behind Hopkins out of public and private.  We also have the most post-doctoral researchers of any institution in the nation.  Incredible.     

Overall, it was a well-spent evening and I look forward to attending meetings in the future.   If you’re a scientifically minded woman in the Seattle area, feel free to stop in on a meeting.   Click here for more information.  There is also a Women in Science Happy Hour at the Allen Institute for Brain Science on March 7, 2007 at 6pm.  For more information or to RSVP, e-mail Theresa Zwingman at:
theresaz at alleninstitute dot org.   

Are microRNA required for ovarian stem cells? February 20, 2007

Posted by Sacha in Genetics, microRNA, Science.
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A report was published this weekend in the journal Current Biology titled “Dcr-1 Maintains Drosophila Ovarian Stem Cells.”  The authors were Zhigang Jin, Ph.D, and Ting Xie, Ph.D, from Stowers Institute for Medical Research (Missouri) and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology (U of Kansas), respectively. 

According to this paper, the ovaries of Drosophila (a type of small fly) contain three types of adult stem cells: 
Germline stem cells (GSCs)
Escort stem cells (ESCs) and
Somatic stem cells (SSCs)

The authors go into much detail about GSCs and SSCs and the role of Dicer-1(Dcr-1) ribonuclease to maintain them in the Drosophila ovary.

So what is this review doing on an miRNA blog?  In the last paragraph of the article, Xie and Jin state “Because Dcr-1 is an essential component of the miRNA pathway in Drosophila, we further propose that miRNAs processed by Dcr-1 are essential for controlling self-renewal of GSCs and SSCs.”  They go on to explain the problems associated with the absence of miRNA generated by Dcr-1, such as depletion of stem cells.

An article on Biology News Net quoted Dr. Xie on the importance of the role of miRNA:

“We are in the process of identifying the microRNAs that are important for stem cell self-renewal,” said Dr. Xie. “Understanding the mechanisms controlling stem cell self-renewal will be crucial to our developing the ability to expand stem cell populations for performing tissue repair.”