An Interview with Alice Pawley of Sciencewomen

Alice Pawley is a woman in a man's world, but that's not going to be the case for long if she has anything to do with it. As an assistant professor of engineering education at Purdue University, she knows firsthand the barriers facing women in the hard sciences, so it was only natural for her to join ScienceWoman as a co-blogger on the (aptly titled) blog Sciencewomen. In her posts, Alice writes about the overlooked, but increasingly relevant intersection between engineering and womens' studies. In her Page 3.14 interview, as on her blog, she brings a refreshing blend of realism and humor to her writing.

What's your name?

Alice Pawley. That's Alice, like Wonderland. Or like that of blue gown fame. Not Allison. Or Alison. Alice.

What do you do when you're not blogging?

I'm an assistant professor of engineering education at Purdue University. I'm also a photographer, gardener, long-distance commuter, local foodie, and partner-in-crime to another academic.

What is your blog called?

Newly renamed, it's called "Sciencewomen: a scientist and an engineer being the change we want to see." Sciencewomen for short.

What's up with that name?

I'm co-blogging with ScienceWoman who has brand recognition. :-) One of our readers suggested the change, except I'm an engineer, so we also needed to get that in there.

How long have you been blogging, anyway?

Pseudonymously since April of 2006 (I'll never tell where!) and at the ScienceBlog place, since mid-February 2008.

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, bastion of Midwestern progressivism and great farmers' markets. I lived in England for a year in 10th grade, in France for a year between high school and college, and 4.5 years in Montreal for college. Then I went back to Madison for grad school, lived in Normal IL for a year writing my dissertation, and now I live in West Lafayette, Indiana. I guess you could say I've done a Midwestern tour sprinkled with British Colonialism.

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?

Nope. I'm an engineer. I study engineers and engineering educators to learn how to teach engineering better. Others might not call that doing engineering, but that's a strategic mistake. Who else will improve engineering education if engineers don't try to do it?

Any educational experiences or degrees you'd like to mention?

B.Eng in chemical engineering from McGill University, and a MS and PhD in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Oh, and a graduate certificate in women's studies, that's not something many engineers have.

Other educational experiences aplenty. Some worth mentioning:
- taking a women's studies class focused on critiques of science—a mind-altering experience
- living in a country where you don't speak the language
- getting stuck on a mountain and not knowing how to get down
- making and capsizing a homemade raft in a riptide
- scaring off a cougar from killing my dog

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?

Feminist science and technology studies, and engineering studies. Right now that means using feminist theory to analyze how engineers define "engineering," how those definitions tend to reproduce gendered divisions of work and ignore many of the problems and contexts of women's historical work, and how those definitions get reproduced in the engineering curriculum.

Last book you read?

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Sunny, 72 degrees, breezy by the ocean. A morning spent reading on the dock, an afternoon spent hiking, sailing, or swimming. And no one getting killed.

What's your greatest habitual annoyance?

People telling me to "shhh." THIS.WILL.NOT.WORK.AND.IT.ANNOYS.THE.LIONS.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Harry, but not that Harry. Harriet Vane. Mary Russell. Undoubtedly others.

Your favorite heroes in real life?

Brenda Laurel. Alice Waters. Bill Moyers. Riverbend.

What's your fatal flaw?

Anxiety about small things. Inability to let little things (big things too!) hang over my head. Worrying. Did I mention anxiety?

Who are your favorite writers?

I'm going to interpret this as focusing outside my work realm. Robin McKinley, Laurie R. King, Dorothy Sayers, Michael Pollen, Terry Pratchett, Mark Bitten, the Moosewood Collective, and Jane Austen.

What would you like to be?

A musician. Able to better reduce my environmental footprint. Employed in the same city as my husband. Fitter. Funnier in print.


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