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Update: Karen Nyberg actually replied to this on twitter... yay, win! Thanks for the retweets friends!

Dear NASA:

Can we reframe Karen Nyberg's astronaut profile just a little bit?

Here's what I mean... the article starts out like this:

Mention the words "NASA Astronaut" and you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist.... Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg, an accomplished woman preparing for her second mission to space this May. Nyberg holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, which may lead people to believe she is focused solely on technical matters, but as with many, there’s a softer side to this Midwesterner, one that may catch many by surprise.

Then it goes on to describe how Karen Nyberg likes to sew and quilt.

I get your intention... you're trying to show that a girl can be an engineer, DESPITE her feminine hobbies. Sort of like that guy in college who told me he'd never dated a girl as smart as me before, but he could probably learn to deal with it.

As you might guess, that relationship didn't work out. And if engineering was really a job that required me to push the sewing lobe of my brain to the side, I wouldn't be able to stick with that either. Who'd want to? I don't want to live a split personality life, doing the hobbies I love at home and doing the opposite during the day.

Society sends too many messages that there's one image of an engineer, and you must fit into it. For me, that meant that even with great test scores, I felt really intimidated my first few years of college when the guys around me would brag about their car stereos, and I just wasn't into that... did it mean I wasn't meant to be an engineer?

The sewing I'd done since I was 10 years old should have helped lend me CREDIT in my own mind, to beat the impostor syndrome. My good friend mrs_dragon, a fellow engineer who sews, was the one who finally pointed out to me how you can't love quilting if you hate math. We are assembling puzzles, solving problems, negotiating materials. Engineering requires gobs of creativity, wrapped around practical applications... who's got more of that than a girl who sews?

So of course we're engineers! I've got a masters degree in electrical engineering, a pilot's license, lead an avionics team responsible for systems integration on five models of business jets, I've got crafty hobbies... and as of last Friday I've got TWO daughters, so this topic is even more important to me.

This quote just rubs me the wrong way:

“I love to create,” said Nyberg. “I would really like people to see you can have a job like this, which is very technical, and still have hobbies that are not.”

Karen Nyberg, you are a brilliant, number-crunching engineer. And a super-smart scientist. Of course you sew, it's who you are, not just a side of you. And that's what we should tell little girls. Sewing is technical, and it's part of what makes you a great engineer.

Tweak that article just a smidge for my daughters, will you NASA? That way maybe someone will see them create something soft and beautiful, and they won't say "Well there have been engineers who sew, maybe it could work out." They'll say, "Look at what you've made! Do you know that this means you might make a great engineer someday?"


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
May. 9th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
1) I consider engineering to be extremely creative. That's one of the things I like about it.

2) Almost all of the women engineers I know do some sort of crafty hobby.
May. 9th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
As the "BioActress" as I was called in college, I love this post. I was always trying to explain why my double major of Biology and Theatre was NOT weird, but made perfect sense.
May. 9th, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
Want me to try to pass this up the food chain internally?
May. 10th, 2013 12:31 am (UTC)
Heck yes!

Want me to screen this comment so they don't discover your secret online identity?
May. 10th, 2013 12:37 am (UTC)
They already know. My LJ's locked for a reason. :)

(Had a weird stalker-ish problem a few years ago that ended up involving NASA security)
May. 10th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
So... Karen herself actually replied to this on twitter! So I guess it's been seen, she didn't specifically say they'd be re-writing anything but hey, somebody knows. still wouldn't hurt to have the concept spread around a bit though.
May. 10th, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
Oh cool! Since it sounds like she wrote it, I bet she will revisit and revise! :)
May. 10th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC)
SO MUCH THIS! (But you already knew I'd say that ; )

I really hate the fact that making "soft" things is seen as non technical. Everytime we hire my supervisor mentions his preference for people who grew up on farms (like him) or who have other "hands on" hobbies like working on cars or woodworking. And everytime I want to scream. Yes, those are directly applicable to what we do (we get hands on with our parts, we use tools, but not everyday and those skills CAN be taught. I was.). But every time I wonder WHY he hired me. I am the only one in our department without that kind of experience. But I have plenty of experience making patterns and sewing and gluing and printing and painting. It looks a little different but the basic skills (planning, pattern making, assembly, problem solving, etc) are the same. (Sorry we are hiring interns right now and I've been listening to this drivel all week. Driving me batty!)
May. 10th, 2013 02:47 am (UTC)
(Also this "Mention the words "NASA Astronaut" and you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist.... Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg," makes it sound like she ISN'T a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist and that makes me mad!)
May. 10th, 2013 02:48 am (UTC)
haha simulpost!
May. 10th, 2013 02:47 am (UTC)
All the things you said and another one:

"you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist.... Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg"

Which immediately implies that she's not a brilliant number crunching engineer or a super smart scientist! All you gotta do is tweak it: "...super smart scientist.... such as astronaut Karen Nyberg"

Sewing is all about math and topology and the creativity it takes to be a scientist!
May. 10th, 2013 05:03 am (UTC)
In addition to quilting, garment pattern drafting and construction is pretty technical - you're taking a sort-of 2D object and making it a 3D object that has to move with a human body. I don't know if any of my classmates in engineering could have done that. And strapless tops? Statics and Dynamics 101.
May. 10th, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
Can I share this post on the social media? It's amazing. I think you're on to something with this sewing=proto-engineering thing you've mentioned a couple times, and this fleshes it out very well.

Girls are great at math, we just don't always get credit for the types of math we're more likely to do. :P
May. 10th, 2013 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'm sort of on a kick with it this year, you could say :)

Anyway sure! All my posts go out on twitter for retweeting excitement: https://twitter.com/spacefem/status/332565382470717443

Actually it even got a reply from Karen so I call it a win!
May. 12th, 2013 11:52 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh I agree.

Seriously, how can anyone consider sewing non-technical? It's creating a three-dimensional structure out of flat manifolds by imposing boundary conditions. It's applied geometry. It reflects how we understand the shape and future of our universe. My hobby of sewing is a reflection of the way I like to think as much as my work as a theoretical astrophysicist dealing with curved spacetime is. In practice sewing is careful attention to detail and using machines and hands to shape materials and it should be considered as technical a hobby as soldering and woodworking and auto mechanics.

This is something I'm prone to rant about.
May. 18th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC)
Knitting is the same way - it works a lot better if you can do math and have a good sense of topology.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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