Sketches of Significant Women: Chien-Shiung Wu

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image source

The “first lady of physics” who dedicated her life to the advancement of science and was an encouraging advocate for women in STEM. Despite being shunned in the 1957 Nobel Prize for Physics, Wu never forgot that her passion lay in research, not rewards. Whether you agree with nuclear warfare or not, she was an indispensable leader who let her work talk for itself.


Name: Chien-Shiung Wu
Born: 31st May 1912 (Liuhe, China)
Died: 16th February 1997 (New York, USA)


great biographical pdf
scientific american blog post
Stuff Mom Never Told You hall of fame entry


Next episode…Rita Levi-Montalcini

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Sketches of Significant Women: Alice Ball

Ball_Alice_Augustaimage source

Alice Ball was a scientific pioneer whose achievements were buried until relatively recently. Despite her very short life (she died aged 24), Alice discovered the first effective treatment for leprosy by extracting the active ingredient from the Chaulmoogra Tree. Her legacy also includes her status as the first female to graduate with a Master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and she was also the first female to teach there.


Full name: Alice Augusta Ball
Born: 24th July 1892 (Seattle, Washington)
Died: 31st December 1892 (Seattle, Washington)


“Hawaii News article”
“Women who rock science: Alice Ball”
“Modern Worthies: Alice Ball”
“Remembered and Reclaimed”
“STEM Women Hall of Fame”


Next episode: Chien Shiung Wu
Listen now on Soundcloud (or iTunes!)

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Sketches of Significant Women: Marie Curie

H4030295-Marie_Curie,_Polish-French_physicist_250mimage source

Who better to kick off the science series of SSW than Marie Curie? A figure-head of women in science, not only was she the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but was the first (and only) women to win twice, and in two different sciences – wow. Other key achievements include the fact that she was the first female professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, and that she traveled to the front lines during WWI and had a direct hand in saving thousands of lives.


Birth name: Maria Salomea Sklodowska
Born: 7th November 1867 (Warsaw, Poland – then part of the Russian Empire)
Died: 4th July 1934 (France)


“A Brief Biography of Marie Curie”
“Famous Scientists: Marie Curie”

“Marie Curie Exhibit”¬†
I HIGHLY recommend this website, it’s full of primary sources, photos and diary excerpts, including from Marie herself.


Next week’s edition: Alice Ball
Listen to the podcast on soundcloud (or go to iTunes)

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Introducing: Sketches of Significant Women

I always seem to preface new posts with: “sorry it’s been so long”, but SORRY IT’S BEEN SO LONG…

However, I wanted to get back into the swing of things by announcing a brand new podcast I’ve decided to attempt: Sketches of Significant Women. Given my enthusiasm for podcasts in general, I thought it was about time that I made my own contribution, and what topic suits me better than profiling significant women from across the world, and throughout history?


I am aiming to provide one podcast per week for the foreseeable future…let’s hope I am able to maintain that! Bare in mind that I am a complete beginner at this, and possess no proper audio equipment though, please ūüôā

Alongside each weekly episode I am going to provide a post on here which will contain a few main points about the person I have profiled, and a handful of useful sources I’ve encountered during research.

My first “series” will be dedicated to women in science, however I aim to diversify this in future! Please send any suggestions for how I can improve (constructive criticism) or any women you believe should be covered to: and search “SKETCHES OF SIGNIFICANT WOMEN” on iTunes to have a listen!



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I listen to podcasts almost every time i’m walking, and since I walk everywhere I have amassed a collection of favourite broadcasts which I thought i’d put up on here for your perusal. Obviously this isn’t going to be definitive, though, because i’m always searching for new ones. Also, they’re not in order of preference or anything like that.

In general I tend to favour podcasts which profile a specific individual, or time period, for example:

Icons of Eras
Oxford DNB Biographies
Great Lives
Rex Factor

I first got into listening to them, in fact, because I was interested in learning more about the philosophy of the ancient world:

Emperors of Rome
The History of Rome
The Ancient World

Naturally, this led me into podcasts with a more general historical and/or philosophical focus:

History Extra podcast
Thinking Allowed
The History Chicks

Learn Out Loud: Philosophy podcast
The Partially Examined Life
The Podcast History of our World
History Today
British Library Podcasts

An honourable mention has to be given to the first podcasts I ever listened to, of course! These are all still among my favourites:

In Our Time
In Our Time: History
In Our Time: Culture
In Our Time: Philosophy
In Our Time: Religion

In case none of those pique your interest, I also listen to a few which engage my scientific, political and literary mind:

Stuff To Blow Your Mind
Stuff You Should Know
Science Weekly
The Psychology Podcast
Hidden Brain
BBC Inside Science

Start the week
Stuff Mom Never Told You

The Radio 3 Documentary
LSE: Public Lectures and Events
Think Again – A big think podcast
TED Radio Hour

Lit Up
Slate’s Audio Book Club
World Book Club
The Audio Long Read
Guardian Book Club
The Guardian Books Podcast

If you can’t find at least one new podcast to listen to from the above then you’re either as podcast obsessed as me already, or you’re really¬†picky. Nothing wrong with either, but please share some recommendations if you’re from the latter group!

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It’s been a good while since my last post; a period during which a lot has happened both personally and globally.

Firstly, I guess a quick catch up is in order. I am still working as a voluntary research assitant at my uni, a position which continues to inspire and excite me. In fact, my supervisor and I have been designing an experiment during these past few months which could potentially lead on to a larger project concerning facial perception in the periphery. I’ll keep you updated, of course!

I also undertook an introductory Matlab course as an elective this term, and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. I like the fact I am now beginning to learn the applied skills which will benefit my future research career. I’ve always been fascinated by coding, so savour any opportunity to learn it. I really encourage everyone to get involved with coding actually – go on, dare you!

Outside of psychology, I have been involved with an arts and cultures student journal (Savage) and a mental health zine (Doll Hospital). Both have allowed me to engage with another of my favourite subjects: literature. I’ve also been dedicating more time to voluntary work as I believe this is especially important around the winter months. Shelter, for example, provided me with the opportunity to help out at their Christmas soup kitchen. I have also been continuing my work with the RNIB, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Alzheimer’s Society. 

One notable change I have made recently is using my commute to learn, rather than just listening to music. I now listen to podcasts on a variety of topics, and find they make my walk into university pass so much quicker. A few favourites have already emerged (I might do a post dedicated to these in future), but i’ve been especially drawn to historical and/or the classics in terms of topic areas. This interest even inspired my christmas present this year: The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius. It’s also a nice escape to listen to information, rather than having to read it (sometimes all the scientific journal articles feel so relentless!) 

Overall the first term of my second year at university has flown by, and at a worrying speed if i’m honest… But I am actually looking forward to 2016 for a number of reasons – one being that I have some exciting plans for summer (stay tuned!) I wish you a happy new year. 

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BPS West Midlands Branch Conference 2015

So I rounded off my visit to my parents house by attending this conference, and I wasn’t disappointed.

At first, I was just eager to find out what a BPS conference might be like, since the range of psychology branches covered by the society is impressive all in itself. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive, as I was walking into the situation completely blind (and that is not my style AT ALL). But my fears were unfounded and I ended up having a really good day.

The morning session included the keynote address by Professor Clare Wood. Alongside her colleagues, Wood researches the impact of texting on children’s literary development, with a particular focus on “understanding the complex relationship between conventional and unconventional literacy in children.” Her main point for this talk was that texting language is actually having a counter-intuitive effect on literacy: these “textisms” are giving kids the free run they need to experiment and make mistakes with their phonetics. At one point, Wood displayed a portion of text onscreen (written almost exclusively in textisms) and asked us to decode: this was met with a confused burst of laughter. Admittedly, I was able to understand the language, but this merely demonstrates that I am a member of that awkward between generation who is just old enough to remember life pre-tech.

With this demonstration, Wood showed that many of the fears surrounding the influence of texting on literacy hail from a parent feeling excluded from the language. They think: “my kids speak a different language, and this must be at the expense of their grasp of traditional English, surely?” To this, Wood gave an elegant response: the younger brain is far more capable of recognising and overcoming incorrect use of spelling and grammar. In fact, encountering mistakes like these (whether it be in school or when texting) gives children the opportunity to independently further their understanding of the English language. Moreover, during interviews with children aged 8-12 years, Wood found that these kids fully understood the separation between textisms and proper grammar. They knew that texting language was unsuitable for academic work, and in cases where the language crept into actual essays, this was seemingly done to get a rise out of their teacher!

So, by implementing textisms at increasingly young ages, children are forgoing the traditional method of literary development: instead of being tested on every little thing they place on paper (as so often is the case in schools nowadays), they are exploring language with their friends in a playful way. At the end of the day, surely that is a good thing?

A brief presentation by Hannah-Leigh Nicholls (Coventry University) about “the efficacy of colour overlays on children’s reading abilities” was the talk which saw me scribbling down the most notes. I was taken by the idea that these transparent colour overlays may have such a strong impact on a child suffering from visual stress (Irlen, 1983). Given that I currently work as a research assistant to a visual neuroscientist, I will definitely be bringing this research up during our next discussion. Perhaps the overlays might produce similar benefits for amblyopic children? Either way, Nicholls’ talk opened my eyes to a pretty exciting concept which may come to have a significant affect in the modern classroom.

The posters I gravitated towards most were ‘an exploration of dementia in the LGBT community’ by Peel, Wilkinson and McDald (University of Worcester), and Louise Cook’s (Coventry University) interesting study of undergraduate reading habits. I especially liked Cook’s poster because I am one of those students who begrudgingly hangs up reading for pleasure during term time in favour of textbooks and journal articles.

My main take-away from this conference is that there is an alarming gap between research and public policy. If the government was properly tuned into the scientific community, their educational reforms (and the like) could actually do some good, rather than just being there to improve the economy, or whatever (I know i’m simplifying to a large extent, but you get the idea!). For example, if the increasing influence of technology in the classroom could be capitalised on, rather than downplayed or ignored, then children would no longer be forced into the pattern of separating their school time from their free time. What seems to happen is that kids are associating technology with fun and freedom, whereas school is seen as books and tests. This is so wrong, in my opinion, and will breed a generation who learn for the test, rather than learning for the knowledge.

Overall, the 2015 BPS West Midlands conference has broadened my horizons in many ways. I learnt vast amounts about a wide range of issues and topics relevant to today’s psychological climate, and met some inspiring people.

I’ve got quite a few events of this type coming up over the next few months so stay tuned for that!

Any psychology conference/event recommendations would also be appreciated, as long as they’re affordable (i.e. Free). Seriously…how do people afford to go to those expensive conferences???

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Refugee Crisis

There’s been several times in this last year where I have felt increasingly ashamed to be from the UK.

I’m not entirely sure whether this is symptomatic of growing older, or my increased exposure to the media. But it’s present in me regardless. The current refugee crisis has left me really disappointed, shocked and appalled. As the child of an Iranian immigrant, I can appreciate how devastating it is to be forced out of the country you grew up in, judged by the country you have settled in, and misunderstood by the world media. These innocent people have been tortured by our society, and i’m truly sickened by how they’ve been treated by us, if I am honest.

I’m so not here to convince those who regard the refugees as a “swarm” that they should think otherwise (side note though, they bloody well should!) But instead, I want to promote some positive ways you can help with the crisis. All life has worth, and our actions in times like these form a large part of who we are, and who we wish to become.

This petition was a great starting point, and this article¬†gives you some avenues to take if you wish to do something more proactive. I’d also like to mention this¬†Facebook group, because the people i’ve interacted with on there have really renewed my faith in the ailing morality of our society. I am also a firm advocate of the UN Human Rights council, UNICEF and Amnesty International, so make sure you follow them all on Twitter to get updates.

Finally, I’d like to finish this quick post with an apology to the refugees themselves. The UK has directly, and indirectly, caused many of the problems which have now displaced millions of men, women and children from their homes. Then, due to racism and fear, the government turned their backs on the people who desperately needed their help. I’ll never be able to forget how the country has acted in the last few months, nor would I want to.

David Cameron, what’s good?

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On my reading list

Anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that I love reading and I love making lists, so a summer reading list was pretty much inevitable. I started collating mine during exam season, probably during a bout of procrastination to be honest. Then, last weekend I was on The Guardian website and spotted their “Best holiday reads 2015” article where they asked people to divulge their summer reading lists and I thought putting my own admission up on here might be good.

Although I won’t be reading my choices on a beach, or even going on holiday at all this year, I think I prefer it that way because I like buying paperbacks and no way would all these fit in one suitcase!

To begin i’ll be revisiting some of my favourites, I like doing that when exams finish because then you feel reassured that you are going to enjoy your first foray into post exam literary exploration. Anyway, this year i’m choosing Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, to be followed closely by 1984 by George Orwell and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I do like a dose of dysotopia.

I’m also going to be reading some classic, yet controversial, works for the first time. The Devils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for example.

In order to appease my increasing interest in learning more about key figures from their very own works rather than the public opinion which surrounds them, I have chosen Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent and Noam Chomsky’s Masters of Mankind: Essays and Lectures, 1969-2013. Just a bit of light reading, you know…

Maybe i’m being wildly optimistic to think that I can get through that lot during one summer, but I believe it’s definitely worth a good try. I can officially start to tick the pieces off once i’ve finished my current reads: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (both are good, by the way!) – What do you all plan to read this summer?

Sidenote: I have included Amazon links for the books I mentioned, however I do want to recommend that you buy from your local bookshop (or at least try to) because supporting local booksellers is now more important than ever.

Edit: I actually have a few books to add to this list now that summer is drawing to a close. These are: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Enjoy!

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Finding a voice

As an undergraduate student, I am relatively new to the scientific writing field. Sure, I have studied psychology since I was 16 years old, but I was never asked to write an actual paper until I was 18 (i’m 19 now by the way.) As a result, I am quite set in my English literature ways – essays on Shakespeare, analysis of poetic prose: you get the idea.

When I arrived at university I was already aware of my tendency to over-complicate my language when putting an argument down on paper. Heavily conscious of it, I began reading as many journal articles as I could in order to get a feel of the scientific style that would now be expected of me. Doing this, I was quite surprised to find predominantly basic, passive language. It’s almost as though scientists write only for their academic peers when, in fact, I think that these articles should be accessible to all – they should be a way to communicate very specialised and complicated findings to anyone who is interested.

“The main advantage of the passive voice, in my opinion, is that it allows the writer to put the important concepts, ideas, findings, principles, and conclusions first.”

Part of my course credit hails from writing lab reports. So I write it, submit it and then get my feedback. My most common criticism would have to be that I deviate from the accepted scientific style. I get too wordy, perhaps, and whilst I completely understand (and respect) that science has developed it’s own unique crib sheet for communication, I do sometimes find it slightly limiting.

Speaking from an outsider’s perspective, scientific writing would be far more engaging, and inclusive, if a more active tone was adopted. Anecdotal bites of past experimentation, rhetorical questions etc. would all remind the public that science can be exciting and inspiring, rather than just dull and figure-focused.

“So long as scientists insist on writing in the passive voice, they may have a harder time telling those stories well.”

I am not suggesting that science should completely reformulate their prose style overnight, rather I am saying that the changes should be subtle and should begin by allowing fledgling scientists, for example psychology undergraduates, to develop their own unique voice without facing heavy criticisms from markers who are determined to eradicate any idiosyncrasies.

The quotes I used above can be found in this interesting article.

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