Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Girls be Ambitious!

This morning as I came out of my flat onto the newly shoveled snow, another “foreign scholar” emerged from her door, speaking Japanese quite easily with the snow shoveler. I passed and said “good morning” (she was not Japanese), and we gathered at the stoplight. I asked her if she spoke English, and she said yes, then we conversed all the way to her department, Civil Engineering, quite close to my building, Science 4. Lots of fresh snow this morning.

Catia is from Brasil, she is an urban planning/transportation engineer. She did her doctorate here at Hokkaido University, then spent some time in the UK working for a private company, and now has been hired back here as an Assistant Professor. She said she is part of the hiring effort to bring more women into the science and engineering faculty, and thus to encourage more Japanese women to pursue degrees in these fields. Hence also the “Girls be Ambitious” brochure I was pleased to find the other day, written to encourage young women into the engineering fields at Hokkaido U.

Because Catia mentioned she is now working on the issue of bicycle transportation in Japan, in relation to car traffic, I had lots of questions about the rules, etc., here where bicyclists seem to own the sidewalks, and more rarely ride on the road. Actually, Catia would rather be working on other aspects of urban planning, but this bicycle project has been currently assigned to her. We talked quite a bit about the differences between bicycle use here, in the UK, and in the US [I’ll have to ask about Brasil sometime!].

Time flew by, and we parted with at least first names and the numbers of our respective dwellings. She is married, she says, to a Jordanian, and she invited me to stop by, and suggested we share dinner some time. That was nice!

The other day I went to a series of presentations by graduate students, post-docs and visitors to this group (Volcanology and Seismology, the former being geophysical aspects of volcanology). The talks were in Japanese, of course, but I could read many figures and follow some parts of talks, especially ones with diagrams and graphs, etc. GPS measuring of volcanic inflation, for example; I took a few notes to keep myself focused. The easiest to understand was by my host Tanioka’s student Ioki, who is modeling the 1958 south Kurils earthquake and tsunami. She also was the only other female in the room. There are “only” 13 listed faculty members in this group, and they are all men. The other graduate students and post-docs in the room were also men.

It’s not so unusual in my full-career experience to be so out-numbered, though nowadays, for example, in a session at UW including volcanology and seismology (and tsunami studies), there would be lots of women. Japan has some catching-up to do. And they need more role models, which is why they are encouraging visits and hires of women scientists and engineers from other countries. I look forward to interacting with Ioki, as well as Aiumi in Nakagawa’s group. So far, that’s all the women I’ve met here except for Catia today, and Olga from Russia, another of Nakagawa’s graduate students.

Girls be Ambitious!

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