Rock the Boat!

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Monday, June 24, 2019


Giavanna Jadick

Surprise, I’ve figured everything out! Behold, my dear reader. I’ve acquired my crystal ball, and I’ve seen the future—I’m going to be a Boat Rocker.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little. “Boat Rocker” isn’t necessarily the best defined future profession. But my aspirations are starting to crystalize, insofar as I am becoming more comfortable with working towards realizing my own goals without fitting into predefined boxes so much. At one event this week, while asking a question, I mentioned that although I am a physics student, I crave practical outlets for my vastly theoretical scientific knowledge. One panelist jokingly suggested I become an engineer (that got a good laugh). But, another attendee, a retired aerospace engineer, had a more serious idea. He pulled me aside and we chatted for a while about how to identify your own niche and use your unique talents to excel in life. He told me, “Whatever you do, rock the boat!” I like the idea of being a Boat Rocker. After all, I am a very independent person; I have many new ideas for projects just waiting to be pursued. Time to set the ball rolling.

     Boat Rocker Rule #1: Be your own person.  

In the spirit of rocking the boat, I have decided that as a scientist, it is important that I start collecting more data on the things I do this summer. I have two ideas. Experiment one: gender ratios of panelists and question-askers during presentations. Being on the Hill, there are innumerable public talks and roundtables available for me to attend, and I have tried to take full advantage of this. A lot of the presentations are geared towards policy wonks, but I have been to my fair share of more technical talks, too. I have loved getting to hear from experts about the cutting-edge innovations in their fields, ranging broadly from nano-biosensors to artificial intelligence to nuclear cybersecurity. I’ve made it my goal to ask at least one question at every talk I attend (I encourage everyone to do this—it forces you to focus in on the hard content of each presentation and think about it critically). However, after I went to my first few science events, I started to notice that I was frequently among only a few women in the audience who chose to participate in the Q&As. Perhaps this has just been my own confirmation bias, noticing demographical peculiarities and exaggerating these outliers. Perhaps it’s something bigger. By the end of the summer, the numbers will tell.

     Boat Rocker Rule #2: Ground your reality in facts.

Experiment two is less boat-rocking: my daily commute times. But hey, it’s another tab in my fun spreadsheet (“BIG_DATA.xlsx”). Maybe it will yield some interesting findings!

Another big thing this week was volunteering at Astronomy Night on the National Mall. It was an awesome chance to engage in some community outreach and learn some new demos! Outreach is one of my favorite things I do at Duke, and it has been one of the most meaningful opportunities I’ve had to teach physics. I love teaching and wish I could do more of it. Teaching is just another way to learn. I was not very familiar with the astronomy demonstrations, so I started the night off at the science trivia station. This was decently fun, teaching tricky little “did ya know” facts to bystanders willing to test their knowledge (would you have guessed there are one thousand times more trees on Earth than there are stars in the Milky Way? I wouldn’t have). But, by the end of the event, I found myself drawn to the variety of experimental setups. Optics and soundwaves and stars—oh my! I wanted to learn how each one worked, and by the end I was working a station explaining the life cycles of stars using balloons, tin foil, and tacks.

There is nothing like watching someone learn science, right in front of your eyes. My station attracted a lot of young kids (probably because of the balloons), little boys and girls alike. It was exciting to see everyone drawn to learn physics, no one shy to learn or fearful of their own inabilities. I have seen so many of my peers grow discouraged with physics, thinking they lack innate aptitude for more mathematical fields of sciences. It is well established that when people believe a field requires innate ability, the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities drops significantly. And yet, when we have less diversity in STEM fields, we also have less innovation and lower productivity. I have always felt very strongly about the importance of inclusivity, especially in physics, and volunteering reminded me of the work that still needs to be done. It also gave me hope for the future.

     Boat Rocker Rule #3: Shape reality for the better.

The SPS intern team makes quite the group of budding Boat Rockers, immune to typical social incongruities. On Thursday, we watched Hidden Figures, a movie about the brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s, and on Friday, I heard from astronaut Major General Charles Bolden, Jr., on the commercialization of low-Earth orbit. On the other hand, on Saturday, while teaching kids about the fabric of the universe at Astronomy on the Mall, we were informed that according to the cosmic rules of our “celestial sphere,” apparently spacetime cannot bend, because pixels do not do that (hmm…) and on Sunday (does 1 AM count as Sunday or Saturday?), we watched Behind the Curve, a documentary about flat Earth conspiracy theorists. What other group could possibly be so bold and so unencumbered by dogma to yield themselves to such contradiction? I’m in good company.

     Boat Rocker Rule #4: Engage with all views, from the sound to the suspect, and evaluate them for yourself.

Too much happens for me to cover everything I do in these blog posts, but I always want to try to share it all. Inspired by scientist turned chef extraordinaire, my fellow intern Joseph Tibbs, I’ll finish off this week with a rapid-fire rundown, in order of increasing magnitude: I got lost in the Capitol Hill tunnels exactly once, went on two runs by the waterfront, sat in a trolley with three congresspersons, ate four slices of homemade pizza, solved five crossword puzzles from the Washington Express, went to six events on the Hill, prepared eight hearing binders, watched eleven minutes of Cooks, wrote sixteen letters in purple pen, and—an innumerable number of times—explained how popped balloons coated in tin foil are actually neutron stars (it’s a metaphor).

Keep rocking the boat,

Giavanna Jadick