Trowelblazing Role Models

This is a guest post by Suzanne Pilaar Birch, a postdoctoral fellow in archaeology at Brown University where her research focuses on human response to climate change in the past. She is one-fourth of the Trowelblazers team, who are working hard to make sure that the contributions of women in the fields of archaeology, geology, and paleontology are recognized.

Science Grrl is all about showing that science is for everyone and inspiring the next generation of female scientists. Over at Trowelblazers we have to agree – one of our core ambitions is to reset imaginations (see here and here). And one of the incredibly important outcomes of resetting imaginations is that it facilitates the recognition of female role models, past and present. A recent piece in The Guardian by Athene Donald and Frank Norman, and efforts like ScienceGrrl and Ada Lovelace Day underscore the importance of female role models in STEM for children and young adults. But it’s also important to consider the role of fictional role models in addition to real-life ones – a fact that’s become clear to us as people have sent us news and invitations to get involved with so many other great initiatives. We like them so much, we thought we’d share a few of the toys, books, and projects featuring female role models that we’ve learned about over the past few months.

Get Involved

Suggested female lego minifigure setsIn early June, we learned about the Lego-CUUSOO campaign for the creation of a variety of sets of female professionals, including a paleontologist, geologist, astronomer, and chemist. With the goal of over 10,000 votes achieved in less than a month, the project will be officially reviewed by Lego. Now, this petition (by Brave Girls Want) calls for the approval of all the proposed sets and draws attention to the lack of female-gendered Lego figures (as low as 11%) and already has over 36,000 supporters at the time of writing. They still need ~13,000 more, so go vote!


Summer Reading

samWhen archaeologist and author Jordan Jacobs offered me a review copy of his new young adult fiction book, Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies, featuring heroine Samantha Sutton, I was happy to accept. This book features young Samantha, who aspires to be like her Uncle Jay, an archaeologist. She gets to travel with him to the site of Chavin de Huantar, Peru, for the summer field season. At the dig, she meets the excavation co-directors (a local male archaeologist and a British female zooarchaeologist) and a diverse graduate student team. Throughout the summer, Samantha learns the ins and outs of archaeology – engaging with some serious topics like the treatment of human remains and archaeological ethics along the way. The mystery comes in when artifacts start to go missing and Samantha, seeing the pressure mounting on her uncle, decides to try and figure out who’s responsible. Each chapter begins with a page from Samantha’s field notebook, and Jacobs proceeds to weave in tidbits of Spanish language and Peruvian culture throughout the story. The book is notable because unlike so many other pieces of writing that tend to gloss over the realities of archaeology and archaeological fieldwork, this book does not miss a beat, and Samantha is a thoughtful, smart role-model for young readers. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment in the series, Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen.

Though we haven’t yet had a chance to read fictional accounts about the real-life geology/paleontology pioneer Mary Anning, there are a number of books (mostly children’s) on the market. Our Twitter followers highly recommend Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt and Sheila Moxley for kids. For (young) adults, Remarkable Creatures by historical fiction writer Tracy Chevalier features Anning and one of her friends and mentors, Elizabeth Philpot, as they make amazing discoveries on the Jurassic Coast.

In the Works

CREDIBL250We recently found out about the Credible Likable Superstar Role Model project by artist Bryony Kimmings, who is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe festival this year. She was inspired to create the alter-ego Catherine Bennett (CB) by her 9-year-old niece, who felt dissatisfied with today’s pop star role models. The result? A palaeontologist who wears glasses and a dino-bone necklace, rides a bicycle, and likes tuna pasta – and is a pop star, of course.

We’re helping Bryony, and her alter-ego CB, bring some real-life palaeontological role models to children across the UK on 12th September. Some of our favourite palaeontologists will meet CB at a very cool London landmark, where they will be interviewed by her about what they do, why they do it, and how they got there. It will all be filmed, and these films will be shown in schools all over the UK. If you’d like to be one of these palaeontologists, drop us a line at teamtrowelblazers at !

We were also excited to learn about Lottie Dolls from the startup toy company Arklu, which features realistic dolls who can stand on their own two feet- literally. The company consulted with British scientists to develop a proportional, childlike body, and her clothing varies from outdoor play to dressy. They also provide backstory for each doll; for example, this autumn they will release their Robot Girl Lottie and her Busy Lizzie robot. Perhaps even more exciting is that we are also collaborating with them on a project for next year – you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out more on that one!

Real-Life Role Models

It seems fair to say that both real-life and fictional role models have a big part to play in how children perceive gender roles and have an effect in determining career paths. The four of us at Trowelblazers have had fun researching real women archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists and their networks, and have a thriving social media community to thank for suggestions and guest submissions to the blog. If you’re in search of some real-life role models, you can check them out on our blog, but it’s important to remember they can also be found in any nearby university, museum, or in the professional field! Places like ScienceGrrl and Ada Lovelace are great places to start too.

Keep in mind, these are just a few of our favorite trowelblazing, fictional role models that we’ve heard of this summer and wanted to share. Let us know if you can think of more by tweeting @trowelblazers!

Trowelblazers is a joint effort by Suzanne Pilaar Birch, author of this guest post (@suzie_birch), Victoria Herridge (@ToriHerridge), Rebecca Wragg Sykes (@LeMoustier) and Brenna Hassett (@brennawalks).