5 women in STEM who inspire us

7 Mar 2019

Image: © vpanteon/Stock.adobe.com

The Silicon Republic and Inspirefest teams reflect on the women in STEM who have inspired them.

Each year on International Women’s Day (IWD), Silicon Republic takes the opportunity to celebrate some of the remarkable women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) we’ve come to know and know of.

This year, I asked the team to share personal experiences of women in STEM who have inspired them. Here are their responses.

Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell

By Silicon Republic CEO and Inspirefest founder Ann O’Dea

When Elaine asked me to choose just one woman for IWD, it had to be the remarkable Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of the greatest living women in STEM. She made my dreams come true in 2015 when she agreed to speak at the inaugural edition of Inspirefest so, as we prepare to celebrate our fifth birthday, she’s firmly on my mind.

Selfie of three women, laughing and smiling.

Ann O’Dea (centre) couldn’t resist nabbing a selfie with Jocelyn Bell Burnell (left) and journalist Karlin Lillington at the presentation of the Mary Mulvhihill Award in 2018. Image: Ann O’Dea

Having been passed over for the Nobel Prize for her discovery of pulsars (it was given to her PhD superviser!), I was thrilled to see this Armagh native receive the prestigious $3m Breakthrough Prize in 2018.

As a PhD student in the 1960s – and even after her remarkable discovery – Burnell describes having to battle through imposter syndrome and being dismissed by her peers. In a move typical of her support for those coming up behind her, she opted to donate the $3m award to help young women students who are traditionally underrepresented in physics.

Dr Jessamyn Fairfield

By Silicon Republic sub-editor Shelly Madden

I first saw Dr Jessamyn Fairfield when she hosted the Bright Club performance at the Inspirefest 2017 Fringe festival. While she has an admirable list of accomplishments (comedian, physicist, lecturer, writer, director and founder), it’s her skills as a science communicator I am most in awe of.

A woman with curly hair and a green top speaks into a microphone while standing in front of a brick wall.

Jessamyn Fairfield performs her science-infused stand-up at the 2018 Inspirefest Fringe. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Last year, she wrote this piece to mark the 75th anniversary of Schrödinger’s visit to Dublin and I just think it’s amazing that someone can seamlessly weave teachings about quantum mechanics alongside a tribute to their inspirational father, and it just works. Her ability to apply a personal touch to break down scientific barriers is, to me, science communication at its finest.

Kaitlyn Hova

By Silicon Republic Careers editor Jenny Darmody

Kaitlyn Hova holding a pink violin.

Image: Kaitlyn Hova

I interviewed Kaitlyn Hova last year and found her to be so inspirational and fascinating. While in college, she discovered she had synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that in her case means she can physically see sounds as colours. This played a major part in shaping her career. She’s a neuroscientist, designer, developer, composer and violinist. She even 3D-printed a violin that changes colours as she plays to display her synaesthesia in real time during performances. Talk about having a lot of strings to your bow!

Poornima Vijayashanker

By Inspirefest event assistant Róisín Nash

After getting first-hand experience to see Poornima Vijayashanker speaking at Inspirefest 2016, she changed my view on being the token woman. Previously, I had mixed feelings on this (which she discusses in her talk) but I also struggled with and cared about amplifying the female voice. Hearing how she went on panels even having these mixed feelings, and persevered in many other areas, made me realise see how possible it is, as well as being the token and being proud of it.

A couple of years on, she has not only continued spreading this message to many more but she seems to always understand the mixed feelings we (I, personally) have and tackles them in her blog – from being a better ally in the workplace to great advice such as best practices for keeping a new product on track.

Her honesty and full-heartedness combined with her passion and awareness that we are all connected is why she inspires me.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

By Silicon Republic managing editor Elaine Burke

Last year, I had the immense privilege of meeting one of my all-time heroes, Mary Robinson. What I didn’t expect was that on the same day I would discover a new hero in Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. As an environmental activist, she was in Dublin for a forum on climate change action, bringing a critical voice to this discussion as an indigenous woman.

A woman in a colourful shirt and black blazer stands next to a woman in brightly patterned African robes and headdress.

From left: Elaine Burke and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. Image: Elaine Burke

Hearing her direct experience of climate change impact as part of a nomadic farming community in Chad, and how this also feeds into social and political unrest in the region, was eye-opening. But it was Ibrahim’s tenacity that left me feeling thoroughly inspired. She knows there are many global issues vying for the attention of leaders in the United Nations, but she is determined to keep climate change high on their list of priorities and to ensure that indigenous people play a vital role, not just as victims of climate change but protagonists for climate action.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.