Hidden Figures had a powerful impact on me on me and I imagine so many others who have seen it. A story weaving together the historical narratives of the beginning of the United States space program, the civil rights movement and the emerging role of working women during and after World War II has so much deliciousness to work with, and Hidden Figures did it with aplomb.
It laid bare the injustices people “of color” fought against in the sixties without being heavy-handed. And it even showed how a handful of well-positioned white colleagues were able to see past color, and embolden these women to aim higher.
At a time when fewer women pursued college degrees, let alone higher degrees in math and science, when a woman’s place was either at home raising her children, or in the workplace as a secretary, sales associate or teacher, these black women defied norms to become NASA mathematicians, computer programmers and engineers.
I had been putting off going to see the much-talked-about film Hidden Figures until I finished reading the book, which with my full-time teaching position and my newly 10-year-old son, took longer than I expected.
I’m going to talk about the book here, after which I’ll see and report back on the movie.
The book Hidden Figures is the debut work of Margot Lee Shetterly, about the role African-American women mathematicians played in the United States Space race.
The first time I ever stood in line for a movie was when I was eleven years old. I remember the line wrapping clear around Wilshire Blvd, and what seemed all the way down a block of Glendon Avenue in Westwood. My brother, then thirteen, and I waited for over an hour to see a new film called Star Wars. The film was terrifying — at least Darth Vader was. And thrilling. It would be many years later as an adult when I would actually understand a large chunk of the storyline, despite the confusing and uninspiring Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones prequels.
My best advice for young people interested in pursuing a career in the sciences is to never lose your curiosity. Because curiosity, once lost, is difficult to reinvigorate — difficult, but not impossible. So, if you’re curiosity’s a little rusty, here are five ways to re-engage with it.
Questions are not just the byproduct of a curious mind, but also the root of curiosity. Even if you’re not curious, just the act of asking questions builds your curiosity muscle. Ask questions about anything and everything. When participating in a conversation, don’t be thinking of how to interject or respond, just listen to the person talking. Reaching answers or diagnoses too quickly dampens the inquiry process.
“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.” - Isidor Rabi, Nobel Prize Winning Physicist
Curiosity is the first and most important quality of a Rocket Girl. Curious people want to find out “Why.” Rocket Girls, like all good scientists, never stop asking questions.
There are 10 traits that Rocket Girls must have to launch them in a scientific career, whichever field, such as biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy and engineering.
Trait #1 - Curious
The first of these traits is curiosity. Rocket Girls must be curious. Science is all about figuring things out. The curious mind is always questioning phenomena around it. So much of what we teach our science students are answers. What we need to teach them is how to question.
Leonard Susskind, known as the Father of String Theory explained to me that
“The object of a scientist is to follow his curiosity and figure out how and why things work, how and why the world works whether it's physics or biology, or [the other] sciences; indulging your curiosity.”
What do you want to know? Reengage with your curious mind.
It’s been 4 weeks since Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump’s electoral count win - currently, in the counting, Clinton’s popular vote lead has grown over 2 million. I have to admit, I’ve been having a really hard time with this. Experts say there are five stages of grief. And I feel like I’ve been manically flip-flopping among them. I’m still going through the first two stages— denial and anger — though my denial has waned. I’ve even grown to accept what I can’t change — the fifth of the five steps.