Week Two: High Ponytails

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Friday, June 15, 2018


Krystina Williamson

“Pro Tips for Women in STEM: Sometimes you need to put your hair in a high pony to feel like a cheerleader--because in machine shops full of men you gotta cheer yourself on.”

- Maria Macardle


Dear Internet,

I’ve been thinking a lot about physics and culture.*

During orientation last week Brad half-joked about his fear of his degrees being taken away. The recent graduates in the room agreed--they had also had moments where they asked themselves, “What if they made an error in awarding me this?” “Was my college sure that I earned this?”

During a nighttime outing this week to see the Washington Monument, and again in our group chat, the interns and I agreed that imposter syndrome was rampant throughout the physics community. And that’s just the physics culture alone--there’s also the layers of being a woman, of being a person of color, of being low-income, of being first generation, of existing outside the gender binary--the list continues.

As a black woman educator, I’ve also now begun to ask myself, how does/can the racist and sexist history of science, especially physics, reproduce itself in the classroom? What biases do I have about the capabilities of my students based upon whichever cultures they belong to? How do we battle these biases and toxic cultures, which are often so deeply intertwined with institutions of school, government and academia?

A huge chunk of my time this week was spent editing a grant proposal to support underrepresented physics teachers, and by extension, the communities they teach in. As a black female physics educator--it’s an incredibly important and personal proposal for me.

It was probably the most tedious and (surprisingly?) difficult thing I did this week. But as I edited each word, and began my fifth, sixth and seventh re-reading of the proposal, I reminded myself that this was my small way of dismantling the toxic structures within physics. Hopefully the next generation of physicists won’t have to worry about their well-deserved, hard-earned degrees and successes being taken away from them.

On a lighter note, last weekend I had some amazing  ginger eggs with tea-cured salmon when I went to brunch with the other interns. Who would’ve known that that was something you could do with salmon? (And amongst those of you who knew, why didn’t you notify me?) I also went to the Pride Parade (pictured below), and had a couple of movie nights with the interns this week.

Now that I’m fully comfortable with the metro system, I’m going to be a bit more daring in my adventures in the upcoming weekend. This weekend my close friends, Camille and Joy, will be visiting me in D.C. And in about thirty minutes, I’ll be going to the infamous jazz in the park. Essentially, this weekend is gon' be lit. 

I'll be sure to report back, as always, 


 *Okay, to be honest, I'm low-key always thinking about physics and culture. Sue me. 

Krystina Williamson