LifeFormulae Blog » Posts for tag 'women'

Another Study on What Women Really Want No comments yet

First, we had the guy from Harvard try to explain that women aren’t interested in science because there is an intrinsic aptitude for things scientific based on gender. Guess which gender is deemed as more scientific?

Now, we have a new observation brought to us by Wray Herbert (

According to Miami University psychological scientist Amanda Dickman, there is a new explanation citing a difference in worthiness or values rather than ability. It seems, according to the new theory, that women reject science, engineering, and math because they view the these fields as too ego and power driven for their tastes.

The unambiguous results for the study found that young women did see science and engineering careers as isolated and individualistic–and what’s more, as obstacles to finding meaning in their lives.

The article goes on to state that it seems to be a perception thing. I would agree that it could very well be the perception thing, but there I think there is a little more to it than that.

A Little Background

My higher education endeavors began with a trip down the road that would merit approval from the study group quoted above. I got an undergraduate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences and was just a few hours away from a graduate degree when I discovered I was bored to death. Something was missing. There was no challenge.

I tried the MBA path. Nothing doing.

I had taken an intro to computers course as part of my undergraduate course work and a ton of statistics courses but neither appealed. It wasn’t until I ran into my first “micro-computer” (as they were then known), that I realized this little machine was really going to change things. I even got a Heath kit catalog, ordered the H-89 kit, and put it together.

The closest decree to a computer science degree my university offered was a degree in mathematical sciences. I signed up for that.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I had already gotten the required courses out of the way, so for three semesters every class I had was either math or computer science. But it was interesting and definitely challenging.

Group Members

The isolated and individualistic scientist, engineer, computer scientist as cited by the study does not exist in the real world.

My first post graduation gig was at the Health Services Division of a major aerospace company as a compiler developer. I was part of the Systems Enhancements and Extensions Group. From there, I transferred to the aircraft company in that same corporation. I was part of the Flight Test Research and Development Group. I went to another aircraft company and the Instrumentation Group. And so on. You were always a member of a group. A group that together designed, developed, and produced things – computer software, digital data acquisition systems, aircraft manufacturing scheduling systems, etc.

When I moved over to biotechnology, it was the same – you were a member of a group. A lab group, a bioinformatics group developing LIMS systems, sequence analysis and imaging recognition software, and so on.

However, I did find that scientists more that engineers were more power/ego driven. I think this is because of funding issues. Although both areas receive the majority of their funds from the government, the basis of the awards is different.

The individual scientist, as P.I., applies for the grant, writes the proposal and receives the funding – almost a personal assessment of that scientist’s capabilities. Furthermore, I feel that the letters - “PhD”, carries a lot of baggage.

For most engineers, the company applies for the grant, writes the proposal (after the engineers have okayed the design), and receives the funding. The engineer is associated with the program for which that proposal was submitted. The engineer isn’t as personally involved.

What I’ve Encountered

In the military industrial complex I encountered bored ex-military who used weekly status reports to declare war on some other part of the division . These attacks were mostly diversions and never amounted to much. These could be construed as power plays, but I list them as “play” period.

Believe me, there were some good ones – stopping just short of an exchange of blows. It’s also amazing how far echoes carry in an aircraft hanger.

The following examples are situations I encountered along the way. They are mostly examples of misdirected intentions, but a few border on outright criminality.

There were approximately 8 databases that all held the same information but for 8 different divisions. The electronics parts – transducers, potentiometers, strain gauges, resistors etc, in each of the databases were exactly the same. However, the nomenclature varied by division. We tried to standardize on one database system with one naming standard, but ran straight into a brick wall. Not one division was willing to cede to another. It was only after word came down from on high that additional funding would not be forthcoming, that everybody finally sat down to talk.

Insane Budgeting Exercises

One division needed to get a new system but was offered an old barely breathing system with exorbitant maintenance costs. The division was instructed to budget for and use the old system for the current fiscal year. For the he next budget cycle, the department was to state that a new system (the one originally requested) would save X amount of dollars over last year’s budget. The new system was then be given the green light.

A director was undercutting his yearly budget to emphasize cost savings. Consequently, his budget was always cut to that amount for the next year. It was pointed out that he should over run this year’s budget by the amount he wanted for next year. Then he would (and did) get the additional funding.

A Simple Name Change can Work Wonders

it was ascertained that for less that the amount the department was paying IT for storage of design data, a new system, software, and personnel could be purchased and hired. Department was notified that requesting a “computer system” would not meet with budgeting approval Only after the system was termed a “data multiplexer” to be administered by “data design personnel” was department able to proceed with system purchase.

One Size Does Not Fit All

IT sends down list of “acceptable” software. So-called software was specifically IT oriented and would not work in an engineering environment. Division engineers take up collection and purchase needed software themselves.

Almost Criminal

Vast amounts of money, time, manpower were spent developing a manufacturing scheduling system for aircraft manufacture. System rated manufacturing personnel in terms of ability. System was deemed a major success – avoiding bottlenecks, completion times, etc. System was never deployed due to union demands that manufacturing personnel could not be rated in terms of ability.

Decode system purchased for data acquisition decode and analysis ($150K) was purchased without installed hard drive for data storage ($15K). It was determined system could use in-house data farm to store data. Decode system required confirmation that contiguous data storage space was available to go ahead and store data.

Transfer mechanism did not provide this info, so decode system would not store data on data farm. Contractor told department officials that the system software on the decode system and in-house data farm were incompatible. Contractor sold department customized software for $750K to replace decode system.

A Meaningful Life

I’ve never considered my career in engineering and biotechnology as isolated and individualistic. Sure, you have individual work, but it is as part of a team.

As far as letting the ego and power driven become obstacles, I have to admit that my behavioral sciences background provided one of the most important career tools I have yet to encounter. My “Advanced Abnormal Psychology” course taught me how to observe and analyze people.

To find meaning in one’s life entails one heck of a lot more than a career. Perhaps by observing and analyzing one’s misconceptions about one area will enhance our conceptions of life in general.

Women In Technology No comments yet

Today, one in ten engineers is a woman – In avionics, it’s fewer than that.

This is really a shame, because I find that women are extremely well suited for jobs in high tech careers.

Here’s a short list of why I think this is true along with explanations as to why I think this is so.

  1. Women are more patient and determined
  2. Women can juggle a lot of tasks simultaneously
  3. Women can attend to small details and see the big picture at the same time
  4. Women don’t get derailed by the small stuff
  5. Women have a better support system.
  6. Women are more sympathetic and understanding

I’ll stop at this group of six, although I could add a few more. They are not true of all women, but that’s probably because they haven’t had the experience.

Just take a look at what current society expects of women and I think you’ll see why I think women are more patient and determined! Case in point, I just got an email on “How to Create Perfect Eyes” through makeup application. Can you imagine a heterosexual male having the patience to take the time to apply all the goop we women have to put on our faces to be seen in public? Also, remember how determined we were to walk in high heels so we could pretend we were grown-ups?

Programming, system design and integration requires patience and determination. It’s a step-by-step process. All the pieces have to work together to produce the correct outcome. It’s no different that making a food dish from a recipe, although in most cases you’ll have only your experience to formulate the list of ingredients and right steps to finish the job.

Think about getting the family ready for school/work in the morning. How many things are you trying to do at once? Multi-tasking is standard operating procedure for most women, who can adapt to chaos in the blink of an eye.

I know chaos. Other than being the oldest of nine children (5 girls, 4 boys), I drove a school bus for about 4 years while I was attending college. I was given a long, country route that paid well and gave me enough hours to qualify for health insurance. After I had driven the route for about six weeks, my supervisor asked me how i was doing and what did I think of the kids. I said I thought I was doing okay and the kids were a little rowdy, but we got that under control. Otherwise, I said the kids were a bright bunch and generally inquisitive about everything. (“Miss Pam, what’s a hickey? Our teacher says it’s something you get in dominoes.”)

I found out later that these kids had been through 4 bus drivers in 4 weeks. The last day of that school year the kids on the route gave me a plaque that said “World’s Best School Bus Driver”. I was impressed, even though they misspelled my name.

I’ve discovered that women, as a whole, performed better on mission critical tasks that required a lot on concentration and coordination of several activities that had to occur simultaneously.

I couldn’t make a practice session for a particular field test, so the guys were going to fill in for me. I heard that it took them an extra long time to get started, because they couldn’t figure out how to calibrate the instrumentation. (They took the same training class that I did!) Let’s just say that they were more than happy to let me take over the operation after they were introduced to all the steps involved in the pre and post fly-over operations.

Lots of tasks mean lots of details to keep track of with almost no time to double-check anything. Women do this sort of thing all the time. Think about putting together a meal, folding clothes fresh from the dryer, putting on makeup. You don’t really think about it, you just do it. Juggling home, family, and career by itself is one big accomplishment.

We took two years to perfect all the pieces that made up the testing for the 727QF certification. We worked out the weather station in Roswell, NM. We took the acoustic analyzer to Moses Lake, WA ( to work out the routine we needed for testing. (Desert dust at 35 knots in no fun, but it can’t hold a candle to the volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helen’s that we ran into in Moses Lake. They got about a foot of ash from that explosion and the ash was dumped at the airport. Right where we were working!)

The only missing piece was the data download from the data logger on the meteorological (met) plane.

I sat under the wing of the small Cessna in the hot Texas August heat with a laptop atop my crossed legs, dodging fire ants, as I worked out the best method for our technician to save the data acquired after each run of the met plane. I got it down to a few steps, ran through it with him, and we had the met data canned.

All those pieces, met plane, weather station, acoustic analyzer and DAT (digital audio tape) data, were part of the big picture that was noise testing. The other parts were the group support systems – data download, availability, and analysis, There was so much data flowing through the pipeline, we held a meeting every morning to discuss who needed what, how much, how they wanted it, and what data could be taken to archive.

The next-gen sequencing efforts are producing an astronomical amount of raw data. Data that has to be stored, analyzed, and archived, creating one complex system. It’s a massive task and one I can sympathize with.

Women don’t get derailed by the small stuff.

Maybe this wasn’t so small, and sometimes it hit close to home, but a lot of the things I did got satirized via a cartoon or paste-up on bulletin boards all over the plant on the 727QF program.

For instance, I developed this relational database model that would store measurement information for the two aircraft we were testing.

One of the technicians had started his own local database, but he had no understanding of relational data concepts. So he had thermocoupleA and thermocoupleB, where A represented on aircraft and B represented the other. The thermocouple in question was the same on both aircraft, causing duplicate records for the same part info.

At a informal meeting we were having in the instrumentation lab, I said that his database design was stupid because we didn’t need more than one copy of the part’s basic attributes. The next day there was a flyer on the bulletin boards with a picture of the tech with a bubble over his head that said, “I stupid.”

There was some other verbiage, “Coming soon son of stupid. When relational is not enough.”

Stupid Database Flyer

Stupid Database Flyer

Since the technician was a friend, this was funny. There were others that weren’t so entertaining.

I think women are more sympathetic and understanding of other people. The problem is to not be so understanding that you are taken for a ride.

As a support system, we have probably the best weapon in the arsenal – we can cry. Not in public, not on the job, but we can got somewhere private and cry. Sometimes this is the only way to get it our of your system.

I put a lot of dents in a lot of old hardware and ran miles and miles, but. sometimes. even that did not cover it.

I will end by saying that I was pleasantly surprised at the number of women involved in the life sciences. By this, I mean as directors, P.I.’s, or other positions of power. However, men in the field still earn one-third more than the women.

Maybe one day, women will wield as much power in all branches of technology, and their paychecks will actually reflect this status.

BioCamp 2009 at Rice University

Bill and I attended BioCamp 2009 at Rice University on Saturday, Sept. 12. There were several presentations followed by lively question and answer sessions.

The atttendance consisted of entrepreneurs, those seeking guidance on turning their ideas and research into viable products, consultants searching for marketable products, and members of the legal profession offering advice on intellectual property, patents, trademarks, and the like.

Women in Flight Test No comments yet

Women in Flight Test

I spent some 10 plus years in engineering.  As a woman in engineering it was daunting.  As a woman in    Avionics Flight Test, it was even more so.

I was working as a systems programmer at McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) in St. Louis, Missouri.   Our project consisted of 6 compilers that supported a completely integrated database system for hospitals.  A woman on our team was married to a section chief who worked at McDonnell Aircraft.  McAir (as it was commonly called) manufactured the F-4, F-18, and F-15 aircraft.   As our project was in trouble, she said her husband said Flight Test was looking for someone who could develop database systems and do other programming for the Ground Support Systems (GSS) unit.

At my interview, I was told, “We manufacture high-tech war machines that might kill innocent women and children.  So, I don’t want any wimps or pacifists working for me.”

I wondered at the time if my interviewer was wearing cammo underwear.

I was accepted.   At the time I was one (if not the first) woman professional working at McAir Flight Test.

My desk was on the fourth floor on the West end of a hanger.  Flight Test had offices and labs on the East and West ends of the hanger. Since our unit was the first set of desks one encountered when accessing our area, I was assumed to be a secretary and asked all sorts of questions.  The fix was to turn my desk around so everybody was looking toward the interior and my desk was facing the window.  I got an up-close look at the planes taking off and landing as they were just clearing the building.  Take offs were bad because the fumes from the jet fuel were overwhelming.  I would have to ask the person I was talking to on the phone if they would hold because I couldn’t hear them over the noise.

The hush houses were less than 100 yards away.  You couldn’t hear the noise (that’s what hush houses do), but the thud-thud-thud vibration of the engines became a bit much at times.  Oh yeah, our hanger sat right on top of the Flight Test fuel dump.

The first project was to develop a database system to track the equipment used by Flight Test.  The original system consisted of a 6-ft. by 20-ft. rack of index cards in pull-down trays. Each piece of equipment had a card which stated what it was, where it was, etc.

Every time a Flight Test program was scheduled, all the parts for that program had to be tagged and their index cards updated.  This would take anywhere from 3 days to a week under the old card system.

The new system did it in a few hours and produced timely reports on all parts and their locations.

Next system was a database system for Flight Test electronics like Vishay resistors, etc.

Another project was providing the documentation and training aids for the Digital Data Acquisition System for the F-18.  This system directly connected the plane’s computer system and uploaded mission information and, subsequently, downloaded mission results.

The old system was called the “taco wagon”.  It was a large roll-about cart.  These carts cost about $300K and used a card reader to upload mission info.

Our system replaced the “taco wagon” with an early Compaq laptop that cost about $3K.

Then Flight Test submitted my name as one of two people for a special program.  The other person from Flight Test was an ex-Air Force major who flew F-15s.

I went through the program and upon returning to Flight Test was asked to make a presentation to our executives.

The major and I made our presentation and opened it up to questions.  Our VP asked the major a question that started with the phrase, “As Flight Test’s designated expert in this area…”.
Later, I told my section chief what happened.  He said and I quote, “Flight Test is not ready for a woman to be expert at anything.”

These are two of the most glaring examples.  There were lots of others.

However, when I left, the VP said, “We will tell your story around the campfires.”

I took that as the highest compliment.

After Flight Test, I worked on AI projects before returning to Flight Test.

The Dee Howard Company in San Antonio ran an ad in Aviation Week for Flight Test Engineers.  I answered the ad.  Alenia (the world’s largest aerospace company, headquartered in Italy) had a stake in Dee Howard.  They were taking on a new project, the UPS 727QF.  The FAA had mandated that all cargo aircraft had to cut their engine noise levels.  UPS decided to re-engine their 727 aircraft with new, quieter, Rolls-Royce Tay 650-powered engines.  Dee Howard was to do the work and conduct the testing.

At the time of the contract, the count of planes to be re-engined was given as 60 plus.  The number actually re-engined has been given as 44 and 48.

Previously, Dee Howard was known for customizing aircraft interiors.  The interior of the 747 that NASA uses to ferry the space shuttle was done by the company.  They also fitted an emir’s 747 with a movie studio, solid gold toilet fixtures, and a complete operating studio.  The tale was that the emir, who had a bad heart, had a living heart donor traveling with him at all times.  Anyway, it makes a nice story.

I was hired in and proceeded to work on the system for the new program.

We were the first to replace all 3 engines on the 727.  Previously, only the two external engines were replaced, the tail engine was left as is.  We were going to replace all three.

We were to have two planes.  The critical plane was to have a new data acquisition system.  The other plane was to use a system from Boeing - ADAS.  Originally designed in 1965, ADAS had 64K memory, filled half a good sized room, used 8-inch diskettes, and the measurements were programmed by way of EEPROM.

The new acquisition system was better.  We bought a ruggedized cabinet and started adding boards.   PC-on-a-chip wasn’t quite there, but we did have PC-on-a-board and we could set things up via a PC interface.  To analyze the PCM data stream I used BBN/Probe instead of the custom software that was used on the previous system.

First flight came.  The system came up and stayed up.  Except for the one time, the flight engineer turned the system on before power was switched from the APU to the aircraft (the 8=mm tape recorder died), it worked every time.

On the fighters, flight test equipment was mounted on pallets in the bomb bay.  It was neat to ride on the plane during a test flight.  An airplane, with all the seats and padding removed, is your basic tin can.

I always got along with the technicians.  They are the ones who do the real work.  They make the engineer’s design come to life or markedly point out the error of his ways.

It was really nice to ask for such and such a cable or gadget and have it brought to my desk. The best (and worst) part of the program was field testing.  I got to go to lively places like Roswell, NM, Moses Lake, WA, and Uvalde, TX with 35 guys.  The length of the test depended on flying conditions.  We were usually stuck there for 3-4 weeks.

We also did some testing at home.  For one ground test, we taped tiny microphones to different places on the engines. The microphones were connected to the acoustic analyzer and DAT recorders.  The engines were then run at various levels.  I ran the acoustic analyzer for a few seconds for one set of mikes and flipped to record another mike set for a few seconds more.  I had to wear headphones for the noise. We had to yell anyway.  It was really hot, because this was San Antonio in July. We were on a unused runway at the airport, next to a well-traveled road.  The test took several hours.  The guys took the door off the head (which was right across from the open front access door) so I could watch the traffic when I used it.  (Did I tell you I had to clean the head when the test was over?)

As the revs got higher, the airplane moaned and groaned.  One engine finally belched.  We were lucky it didn’t catch fire!

Other testing conditions were just as much fun.  Roswell has the desert.  Desert dust at 35 knots is awful.  Tumbling weeds have nasty stickers.  Moses Lake had volcanic ash.  Mt. St. Helen’s dumped about a foot of ash at the Moses Lake airport.  Airport officials dumped the collected ash on a spot at the airport that they thought was unused.  One of our trucks got stuck in it.

At Uvalde, we had heat and gnats.  You inhaled them and they flew down your throat.

A local asked where the women went to the bathroom because there weren’t any trees.

Other than the conditions, there was the schedule.  The equipment had to be set up, calibrated, and ready to go at sun-up.  If conditions were good, we worked all day with a break for lunch and put everything away after dark.

Wake-up was 3 or 4 a.m.   We usually got back to the motel at dark, after we prepped the plane.  It got to the point of going out to get dinner or getting an extra hour’s sleep.

The testing was fun, too.  The plan was to fly over at different altitudes carrying varying weights.  (We had to unload 14 thousand pounds of ballast at one point, consisting of 50-lb. round lead weights with handles on each site.  I took my place in line with the guys.  Same thing with the car batteries for the transponders and loading and unloading the generator from the truck.)

The locals thought we might be flying in drugs, so they called the law, and the local sheriff came to call.

The testing, when in progress, was intense.  After set-up, the microphones were calibrated.  We had mikes at center line and other mikes on the peripheral.  I ran the acoustic analyzer.

I set the analyzer to trigger on a signal from the aircraft and turn on the tape recorders.  After the fly-over I had to download the data, pass it off to an engineer who analyzed it via a curve-fit program, and reset everything for the next fly-over.

The fly-overs came one after the other about 5-7 minutes apart.  We had to re-calibrate the mikes after a few, so we got an extra 5-10 minutes.  We got a break for lunch (with the gnats).

It was hard, dirty work.  But it was fun - and dangerous.  One test consisted of engine stalls on a 30-year old aircraft at 19,000 ft.  (it was too turbulent down below).   Another test had the aircraft stall during takeoff with different loads.  I was on board and loving it.

My supervisor said that “field testing separates the men and women from the boys and girls.” He was right.

One day we had a visitor in the lab.  One of the techs was working on something and let lose a string of expletives.  The visitor said the tech should be quiet because there was a lady present.  The tech looked at the visitor and said, “That’s no lady, that’s Pam!”  (You had to know the guys. I took it as a compliment.)

If you haven’t guessed, as a woman working in this environment, you have to have a thick skin.  You have to work really hard because you have to be really, really good.   But I think it’s all worth it.

It’s too easy to become a “he-she” or a “shim” (dress and act like the guys), but I didn’t.  I wore my hair longish and always wore make-up.  Even in the field.  I laid out my clothes the night before.  I could be up and ready to go in 5 minutes, complete with mascara, eye liner, sunscreen and blush.  I always had my knitting nearby.

It was hard work, but it all paid off.  The UPS plane was certified the latter part of 1992.

I’ve got some memories, some good, some not, but I know I made the grade.

Addendum -

The group working on this project was international in scope and I worked closely with most of them.    We had several people from the British Isles representing Rolls-Royce, including J. who spoke with a find Scottish accent.

I worked with two engineers from Alenia on the acoustics aspect of the program.     They hailed from Naples, Italy.   M. spoke excellent English.  E.  didn’t, but engineering is universal, so we were able to make it work.  Another acoustic team member was a Russian, L.  His English was also excellent.

I can honestly say that I know Fortran in Russian and Italian.   I had to grab whatever Fortran text I could find in a pinch and the Russian or Italian text was usually the closest.

We communicated with facilities in Italy, England, and France on an almost daily basis. The time difference was the only snag.

It was interesting to see how our American ways are interpreted by other cultures.

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