As part of Digital Science’s celebrations for Ada Lovelace Day, for the month of October we are running a series of blog posts where inspiring women in STEM are sharing their personal role models. Anyone can get involved and we encourage you to share your role model on social media using the hashtag #MySTEMrolemodel. 
melMelanie Hamblen has spent her wholelife interested in Biology. By the age of 16 she had over 14 Peterson guides tohelp her identify all the flora and fauna all around her. She lives with herhusband, dog, chickens and bees between Boston Massachusetts and ProvidenceRhode Island. Currently she is involved in project based support for MobiusExecutive Leadership.

“Women are going to form a chain, a sisterhood greater than the world has ever known”

Nellie McClung Canadian feminist, politician, and social activist 1873-1951

For the month of Ada Lovelace day I’ve been thinking about how and why I thought I could become a scientist even when there were not many women in science. Who was my inspiration? It wasn’t just one female scientist, in fact I gathered inspiration from many women who are just plain good examples of people who did what they knew they are born to do and who did not listen to what other people thought. I have been positively influenced by many women during different times of my life. Inspiration can come from one woman in science to start the flame but it helps to have good examples of women who are not afraid to be themselves for us to persevere.

First is my mom: She went to Boston University and studied Geology in the 1940’s, she graduated got married and had four kids. I am the youngest and once I started 7th grade she went to work as a science teacher’s aide in a junior high in a nearby town. She encouraged me to learn about anything that piqued my interest and to try new things. She and her best friend, Ruthie, opened a flower shop and she became a business owner. My mom and Ruthie were Girl Scout leaders together and taught us to think through projects, to be independent, responsible and about the importance of giving to the community. Now, at 85, my mom still volunteers at the Girl Scout museum and at a local farm that grows food for the food pantry in her home town.

Ruthie ran and still runs, at 80, a family owned business and is a landscape architect. She went to Temple for her degree work. There were few women there and no women professors. When she took over the business she had to work twice as hard and prove to customers that just because she was young she was still smart enough to do the job. She was one of the first single women that I know of to have bought a house on her own without anyone else co-signing the loan! She taught me that it is okay to do things on your own if you want to do them. Who cares if no one wants to join you, just go do it.

Another idea she instilled in me is that it is okay to do things that no one else has done.

When I went to college for Marine Biology in the early 1980’s there was only one woman science professor. She was a fantastic teacher because she shared her passion about her subject and made it easy to learn. She was a respected teacher and author by her colleagues and students. She taught me that even if you are the only woman on the team you can contribute to it and be respected. She would say, “If something doesn’t exist that you need, design it and make it!”

Another lesson I learned from her is that when teaching you should show your students your love and enthusiasm for the subject.

During my first job I met a woman who was very special. We made a great team and worked together every chance we got. Even though we were told repeatedly that we were…

“too nice to make it in science”

we contributed very important findings to the circadian rhythm field. She was brilliant and nice, honest and patient. When working with her I felt like there was really no such thing as a dumb question. I learned that you can be nice and still get the work done. That you should be honest to develop true friendships.

Throughout my life and career in science I have received guidance, advice, support and inspiration from many women younger and older than me and I hope I have returned the favor. Ada Lovelace’s mother, Anne Isabella Byron was an innovative educator. She encouraged Ada to use and develop her mathematical brain.

We need to continue work on building the chain of sisterhood that Nelliie McCung spoke about in the early 1900’s. Be a link in the chain.

For further reading, check out this new book about Ada.