Friday, May 23, 2014

Frequent flyer

The Old Country calls! In a couple of hours I'll be in the air, enjoying a lovely pre-packaged meal, a movie (or four), and some well-deserved daydreaming.

Swedes, prepare! She's on her way.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Last week, Kiran, I, and another postdoc (Heidi) from Fred Hutch made an outreach excursion to Western Washington University in Bellingham to talk about our research and career paths. The two-hour session was part of a class in bioinformatics, but students in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science were attending as well. The whole event was incredibly fun and uplifting, and as we drove back to Seattle afterwards the three of us talked a lot about how impressed we were of the students' interest in our research and the many clever questions they came up with during the discussion that followed. The fact that we were an all-female panel of scientists added to the feeling of accomplishment.

This morning when I got to work an email with comments from the organizer had landed in my inbox, and I would like to share some of what he wrote:

”I asked my Bioinformatics class today what they thought of the event yesterday. Students said it was “absolutely fascinating” to see what you’re all working on. [...] Even the students who were quiet during your talks and the Q&A session had wonderful things to say about the visit and were very specific when I asked them what they took away from the talks (they referred to things such as [...] “don’t be afraid to ask questions” [...] “even the experts don’t know everything”, etc). And in today’s student-led class discussion about protein classification and protein engineering there were four references to your talks yesterday! [...] Way to make an impact!!”

I got all warm and fuzzy inside already by that first paragraph, but there was more to come:

”Two of the BioChem majors [...] said this is the first time they’ve seen a talk by female researchers! [...] they said that all of the colloquia presentations they’ve attended at Western were given by men and they said that almost all of the questions at those talks were asked by male professors. They said that your comments about asking questions gave them a little boost of confidence and resulted in each of them asking a couple questions yesterday. I can guarantee you that your visit made an impact and will stick with all of the students for a long time but with these two students especially.”

At first, I just felt incredibly proud and happy to have contributed to inspiring these two girls, by demonstrating that female researchers are just as able and professional as their male colleagues. Way to go!

...but then it dawned on me how depressing their statements really were, and my heart sunk.

Not once had they had a woman present her research to them.

Not. Once.

Coincidentally, I happened to come across this article a few hours later, reporting the results of a recent European study, which revealed that among over 1100 people (including scientists), 25 percent could not name a single famous female scientist. Well, no wonder! If 21st century university students still hardly get to interact with, or even see, women in research, then how on earth will we ever make ourselves known?

I could go on and on about how infuriating and unfair this is, and how frustrated I get when people refuse to see the structural inequalities that are dangling right in front of their noses, but it is late and I need to get up early tomorrow morning to prepare for an imaging study that will keep me busy until almost midnight.

That is my job; this is what I do. I work hard, and I want to be credited accordingly in the end, regardless of what chromosomes I happen to have been born with.

For all the future Marie Curies, Ada Lovelaces, Lise Meitners, Émilie du Châtelets, Ada Yonaths, and Linda Bucks: ladies, we have to make ourselves seen and heard. No one is going to do the work for us; it's up to us to demonstrate that science has no gender, nor has brilliance. So get out there and represent! I sure will.

(But first: sleep.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Red, white and blue: same same but different

May 17th - syttende mai! Or as the Americans pronounce it: [Soot-n-duh My]. On Norway's Constitution Day, Ballard is always the place to be.

To be honest, I didn't quite know what to expect as I headed for the festivities but I was surely not disappointed by the enthusiasm. In no time, I was completely surrounded by lusekofte cardigans, folk costumes, viking helmets, braids, and flags flags FLAGS. Simply put, there was nothing else to do but join the merry crowd. The highlight of the day was a seemingly endless parade featuring marching bands, drill teams, cheerleaders, cross country skiers and various community groups, not to mention a surprisingly large population of children on unicycles (seriously, they just kept coming!).

The Seattle police started the parade with some pretty impressive motorcycle riding in formation.

Apparently, the trumpeters needed some extra hydration in the sunny weather. Nice touch with the spray bottle, lady!

For those of you who have seen Trolljegeren, need I say more than Norge har troll...?

The first batch of I don't know how many unicycle kids; impressive, yet somewhat odd.

BATLA...? Uff da! Fun detail: the little tractor that pulled the wagons was a Björn Deere.

Sweden was also represented, here and there.

In the midst of all the cheers and hipp, hipp hurra!, I surprised myself by feeling a little jealous of the Norwegian community and their strong sense of togetherness, regardless of their whereabouts. I want to belong somewhere too, but right now I'm not really sure of where home is. Ah, well. Perhaps it's just an effect of the good ol' homesickness that always comes creeping up as I get ready for another trip to Sweden. (Five days and counting...!)

PS. For those with a berserk hangover, Leif Erikson Lodge seems to provide a reasonable cure: bingo + spaghetti. How very... Norwegian.

(Oh, Americans.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Saturday (and Sunday) in Friday Harbor

My brain is mush, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves as I try to convey some of last weekend's awesomeness. A few words of explanation might be needed, though: early Saturday morning, Lia picked me up in her truck and drove the two of us to Anacortes to take the morning ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Once there, we met up with Lia's adorable friend Meegan and went whale watching with her colleagues Nan and Captain Pete on Western Prince II.

Luck was on our side; we spotted no less than five orcas (including one baby!), a bunch of harbor seals, harbor porpoises, cormorants, a pigeon guillemot, and a bald eagle. Fabulous!

The rest of our stay on the island was equally wonderful; food, wine, coffee, ice cream... Watching the sun set at a bonfire party on South Beach; hiking through the forest in search of a hidden mausoleum; cuddling with Meegan's adorably grumpy-looking (but incredibly friendly) Persian. Having a great time, simply put!

The following photos from our orca watching trip were captured by Nan on the Western Prince II. The shaky little movie is all mine, however. Mine! (I know, I know... I won't quit my day job.)

Ladies in shades.



South Beach.

Lia and Meegan, thank you! Thank you ever so much.

(You expect me to do what? With that ...thing? Think again, sister.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

An apology for my mother

Mum, I am so sorry. Apparently, I completely dropped the ball on Mother's Day last year... There's really nothing I can say in my defense; I just have to make sure that this time you'll get prunes.

Happy (American) Mother's Day, all ye mothers, mums, moms, and mammor out there! You kick ass.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kickin' it with Kicki

Last week, Seattle was all flirty and inviting, with summer sun and warm winds flabbergasting the natives. Why this sudden come-hitherness? one might ask. Because I had another friend over from Sweden, of course! (Apparently, that's how this city reacts to Scandinavians. I guess that explains Ballard.)

My dear old friend Kristin took a week off from being a responsible parent and flew overseas to enjoy the carefree life of a tourist, covering basically all the must-see attractions, Seattle's sweetest treats, and copious amounts of creamy cappuccinos. But it wasn't just her that got some well-deserved vacation; I took a couple of days off as well. Among other things, the two of us had the pleasure of enjoying lunch at Snoqualmie Falls with Amanda and little Aiden, explored Pike Place Market, and took the water taxi to Alki beach before hunting for ghosts around Pioneer Square.

As you must know by now, no Seattle trip is complete without a crazy evening on Capitol Hill. Like always, it was a success; any night that starts with craft cocktails at Tavern Law and ends with good friends (old ones / new ones / strangers) singing karaoke together like there's no tomorrow can only be described as very, very memorable.

As I hugged Kicki farewell at the airport yesterday morning I realized that in just three weeks' time it's my turn to pack my passport and steer my steps towards the security check at Seatac, flying East.

Three weeks. The joy!