15 May 2017

Our power to inspire and encourage

Posted by shanlon

By Janine Krippner

“That is way too cool to be a real job”. Those are the deflating words I thought when all I wanted to do was live a life when I studied volcanoes. I wanted to work on Ngauruhoe so bad, and I did for my Master’s degree years later. How many of us know that sinking feeling when someone tells us we can’t, shouldn’t, or won’t do something we love? We can be the voice that shouts ‘yes you can!’.

As soon as I learned that ‘volcanologist’ was a real job, I wanted to be one. I knew no scientists in my hometown of Te Awamutu, New Zealand, but I was lucky enough to have a Mum who told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Not everyone gets that kind of encouragement, though, and that’s why I think it’s important for those of us who turn our dreams into reality to be that voice.

 

Recently, results were circulating from a study that found that “…girls as young as 6 start to believe that specific activities are ’not for them‘ simply because they think they’re not smart enough…”. This broke my heart, and yet did not surprise me one bit. You only have to look at how women are portrayed in the media and the added challenges to women in STEM fields to get a glimpse of why this is.

Years of dreaming about working on the Mount St. Helens May 18, 1980 eruption coming true after years of thinking there was no way I could. We have all overcome challenges to get to where we want to go, telling your story can be that inspiration someone needs to hear to take that first step forward. Photo by Simon Barker.

I was already doing outreach to schools to encourage and engage students, but I wanted to do something more specific to address this problem and boost the self-confidence of girls who might feel they weren’t “good enough” for science. I wanted to show them that they can do it because we all started out just like them.

 

I contacted women in my field around the world asking them to describe what they do, why it’s important, and include a message they have for girls. Our response is ‘ It’s all for you, girl! A message to girls everywhere from the women in volcanology’ and our message is ‘You are strong. You are amazing. You are powerful. Believe in yourself and don’t let anyone make you think that you are not good enough.’ This message has so far been read by over 35,000 people around the world and has got responses like “…seeing that so many of you are currently living out my dream has inspired to me to work all the harder to get where I want to be.” and “Thank you… from Moms of little girls everywhere!”. The response I have got has been that this isn’t just inspiring for girls, but also for men and women who were touched by this message.

I am so inspired by the success of this effort, and I see it as a personal starting point. The things that make us unique individuals (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or background) result in additional difficulties that many of us cannot comprehend. We all need to work towards creating not only a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, but one that celebrates our diversity. Each one of us has that power to inspire and encourage change and progress, as long as we each use our powerful voice.

The message from the women in volcanology: Believe in yourself. We all started out small and full of potential like every kid out there, and each child should be told that they can do it.

 

-Janine Krippner is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Pittsburgh researching pyroclastic flows on Shiveluch and Mount St. Helens volcanoes. She engages with outreach on twitter, is a blogger for In the Company of Volcanoes, and does video calls with classrooms on volcanology, being a scientist, and believing in yourself.