The miracle cure, the solution I was looking for.

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The aisle in the pharmacy promising cellulite cures, fat burning tablets or weightloss supplements always surprises me. There are so many products all claiming to have the miracle cure. Everyone loves a quick fix, but do these products actually work?

A dimple by any other name

Cellulite is the term for dimpling of the skin, usually  located on the hips, buttocks and thighs, resembling orange peel texture. It is often associated with rapid weight gain, but can be found in both overweight and normal BMI people. It is more common in women, and generally appears after puberty. While not a serious medical condition, its associated stigma can cause distress in many people. Hence, the plethora of anti-cellulite creams.

Coffee with cream?

Most anti-cellulite creams contain agents that stimulate and tighten the skin, to reduce the dimpling appearance, while others target fat cells. One study compared a placebo (or dummy cream) with an anti-cellulite cream containing caffeine and ginger root extract, amongst other things. The investigators found no physical differences but respondents reported high satisfaction with the product, meaning that they thought it had worked.

The jury is still out on whether these creams do actually work. There are a huge number of studies out there and the results are inconclusive. Some studies have shown results to the surface of the skin, or to fat cells, while others have not.

In the studies that show a difference, it appears that these creams only work temporarily. Also, it is not known if the active ingredients of the creams actually reach their targets or a just absorbed by the epidermis.

One article wrote that the current theory of the industry is that more is better when it comes to active ingredients, and so the creams will often contain ‘skin firming’ ingredients, caffeine, as well as ‘slimming’ ingredients. In many cases, the positive benefit felt by users is increased skin softness and smoothness, not a reduction of cellulite.

To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised by the amount of literature available on anti-cellulite creams! Am I sold on the evidence that the creams work? I’m not sure. It appears that many of the active ingredients can reduce the size of fat cells, or tighten skin, but whether these are lasting effects, we don’t know.

It is important to consider that a quick fix is just that, a temporary quick fix that doesn’t address the underlying problem. Although cellulite can be genetic and be found on people with a low BMI, it is exacerbated by fat tissue. This means that lifestyle decisions can impact cellulite. At the end of the day, diet and exercise are a more long-term solution to cellulite reduction.

One article concluded:

Treatment modalities for cellulite range from topical creams to invasive procedures, such as liposuction.

There is no single treatment of cellulite that is completely effective.

Future treatment options for cellulite depend upon our understanding of the molecular basis and hormonal influences of cellulite adipose tissue.

Kahn et al, 2010.

Final thought?

As long as these products do not contain dangerous ingredients, and improve people’s outlook, what is the harm? The bigger problem is that often these products make claims that do not have the evidence to support them. In terms of the pharmaceutical industry, rigorous studies are being conducted, however many of the purely cosmetic products are unregulated and unverified, so I guess the final thought is this: pick your products wisely and assume that they may not work, nor have hard science behind them!

Sources

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Saman_Ahmad_Nasrollahi/publication/307540381_Assessment_of_an_anti-cellulite_cream_A_randomized_double-blind_placebo_controlled_right-left_comparison_clinical_trial/links/586f307e08ae6eb871bec9ae/Assessment-of-an-anti-cellulite-cream-A-randomized-double-blind-placebo-controlled-right-left-comparison-clinical-trial.pdf

Draelos, ZD. Science and the Validation of Cosmeceutical Formulations. Journal of cosmetic dermatology. , 2014, Vol.13(3), p.167

Khan, Misbah H., et al. “Treatment of cellulite: Part II. Advances and controversies.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 62.3 (2010): 373-384.

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Cargo cults

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Picture this: flight control towers, satellite dishes, head phones, radios, and even planes, made entirely out of bamboo and grass!

This is not some strange amusement park, this was the response of indigenous people in the South Pacific after the abandonment of western military bases at the end of WWII.

If you build it, they will come

Although there are previous of reports of Cargo cults prior to WWII, the rising of cults following WWII is the most widely documented. At the heart of this phenomenon is the interaction of one culture with a more technologically advanced culture. When the US (and the Japanese) arrived in the South Pacific, their appearance signaled a rapid and dramatic change in lifestyle and societal structure for the indigenous cultures. First and foremost was the sudden appearance of western goods or “cargo” being dropped with regular occurrence by planes. To the locals, these regular cargo drop-offs were akin to a supernatural occurrence.

When the war ended and the military bases were abandoned, the regular cargo drop-offs ended. In response to this sudden stop in cargo, charismatic leaders arose, promising that more deliveries would come. Thus, began the cargo cults. Leaders promised that more cargo would arrive if the cults beginning to mimic the day-to-day behaviour of the US military. Hence, the elaborate bamboo airstrips, control towers and planes being contructed in an effort to promote the appearance of cargo.

 

 

cargocult

The religion of material objects

Religious dogma was cobbled together consisting of beliefs that the foreigners were linked to the gods, hence the miraculous deliveries from the sky and the incorporation of western culture into their religious practice, as well as the building of the bamboo airstrips. The leaders promised that the “western objects” could be obtained by supernatural means.

Scholars and theorists argue that the cargo cults are actually apocalyptic cults, where the end of the western goods signalled the apocalypse or end of times. Others argue that the cults are in fact a religion centered around object worshipping. This based on the fact that objects carry a self-concept-based meaning i.e. high religious value is placed in an object, where the sudden change in the availability of the object can change the meaning of life for individuals. For example,  the beginning of the end of days or of a new millennium.

A new era of cargo cults

In my research for this post, it became clear that there is a new era of cargo cults. One of the first new age cargo cults mentioned was Burning Man. The association of Burning Man with a cargo cult is based on the fact that Burning Man centres around a bartering system of objects and goods, and thus despite being touted as a festival of inclusion and decommodification, it is in fact a place of object worshipping where giant wooden effigies are erected and symbolically burnt.

The second new age cargo cults mentioned were those of the clean eating and (obsessive) lifestyle/fitness movements. These movements have a core belief that is almost doomsday-ish or end-of days-ish in its fanaticism. Devotees believe that if you don’t follow the practices i.e. are vegan, or only eat raw food, don’t consume sugar and so on, you are only consuming toxins, will become sick, and basically are signing your death certificate! Whilst not like the popular image of a doomsday cult, nor the South Pacific cargo cults, these movements have a core element of object worshipping and end-of days mentality that put these movements directly into the court of cargo cults.

Final thought:

To me, it seems that there are cargo cults everywhere, with object worshipping working its way into our daily lives.

At the heart of the South Pacific cargo cults was a charismatic leader making promises that more cargo would come if they changed their culture/lives. In a similar manner, in modern western society, we are promised by charasmatic sales people, inventors or personalities that buying a (new phone, shoes, TV, computer, car etc) object, or adopting certain practices will change our lives, stave off unhappiness or alter our position in society.

Isn’t this similar to the cargo cults??

Sources:

For an interesting article around cargo cults and science, read here.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/42584916/bad_endings.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1510408550&Signature=VzVcms3t4diPdqdpsD%2FGQ9C8%2F68%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBAD_ENDINGS_American_Apocalypsis.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Eric_Arnould/publication/247560620_My_Favorite_Things_A_Cross-Cultural_Inquiry_into_Object_Attachment_Possessiveness_and_Social_Linkage/links/00b49530f30aca7923000000/My-Favorite-Things-A-Cross-Cultural-Inquiry-into-Object-Attachment-Possessiveness-and-Social-Linkage.pdf

The fork in the road

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Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

The fork in the road

2394723984

Sorry everyone! There has been a gap between posts due to the fact that I had a big decision to make……

It continues on from my earlier post on grieving for your career, and the article in Nature Blogs. I finally found a job, not as a researcher but as a medical writer. A good job utilising my hard-wrought skills from my time as a researcher and PhD.

But even though I was ready for a change and I was excited to start on a new path, I still felt guilt, and shame. Why, you ask? I felt that I was giving up on trying to maintain a research career, that I had failed as a post doc or as a career researcher. This is despite the fact that I have been at the bench for more than 15 years! I felt that people who were still in research, successful researchers and academics, would look down upon me and judge me, or view my change in career as selling out…

To make matters worse, after I had started my new job, I got offered a senior researcher position at a good institute, in a good lab…Now what was I going to do?

I spent more than two weeks agonising over the decision. Do I move back to my country of birth, but to another city? Do I start all over again, setting myself up, making new friends? The project was so appealing, and it would my project, one that I could grow with.

What was the catch, you ask? It came down to the insecurity of funding in research, and the length of the contracts. Faced with the permanent position that I had just accepted, in an industry that also has a lot of potential for growth, a short-term contract paled in comparison. Oh, but it was a tough decision! I love being at the bench, and I love Australia, but I love writing and communication, and I love Paris…Finally, I ended up talking to a therapist to help me work through the decision.

This was actually more beneficial than I thought. The therapist identified patterns in what I said and thought about myself, regarding my identity and where I fit in the world. I have always seen myself as a scientist, and getting the PhD made me feel like I was part of an elite group. Deciding to change careers made me feel like I was losing a part of myself, and that maybe I wasn’t ‘special’ anymore. But, I am and will always be a scientist. The therapist pointed out that the way I think, and the way that I approach problems is because of my time as a scientist. He commented that my identity won’t change just because I am not at the bench…!

My new job is very science-heavy. I do just as much writing and literature searches as before, except I am not at the bench.

It seems to me that researchers and scientists often forget that there are alternate careers that utilise our skills. Junior researchers, PhD students and post docs are more than aware of it, but moving into an alternate career requires mentoring. something that often, albeit not always, is lacking. This is why when we are unemployed, we have no idea how to find these other careers. Leaving research is often not considered, and sometimes feels like it is not encouraged unless it is because a lab head thinks you ‘won’t make it‘.

There is that toxic phrase again!

Final Thought

So what is the moral of this rambling prose? Buried deep in the writing, somewhere, is the thought that we scientists should not feel ashamed or guilty for leaving research to pursue other careers! whether we realise it or not, we have been shaped by our time in research, and this is what makes us desirable candidates for many jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are easy to find. It took me 6 months, a lot stress and internet searches to find my job, but there are other options. It is about time that there was more support for helping people leave research without making them feel embarrassed or like failures.

End of rambling prose.

The potential of youth

cord-blood-aware-fanconi-anaemia1

Previously, I wrote about defying ageing with a focus on miracle creams and lotions. The general consensus is that you cannot stop the ageing process.

However, recently an article popped up in my inbox discussing about how the blood of young mice can rejuvenate older mice. Cue images of horror movies where older people are harvesting young people for their blood!

In reality it is far more complicated than injecting the blood of a young person. We need to know how the young blood factors are acting to ‘rejuvenate’.

The potential of umbilical chord blood

In this particular study the older mice who had received plasma from the umbilical cord blood (UCB) of young mice had more neural connections forming, and showed improved memory and learning compared to control mice.

The researchers found that there was expression of a UCB-specific protein in the hippocampus of the older mice who had received the UCB plasma.

Previously, studies have only been able to demonstrate the ‘rejuvenating’ effects of young blood on older animals through a technique called parabiosis, which is where the circulatory system of two mice are joined (ewww!). Obviously, ethically there would be issues in humans, and in animal research it is a proof-principle technique that is also not overly practical. So knowing that we are able to identify factors in the plasma that can ‘rejuvenate’, is a big win.

UCB can also repair damaged tissue

This same year, another article demonstrated that stem cells isolated from human UCB can prevent kidney failure in rats suffering from acute kidney injury. Currently, human UBC cells are used to treat a range of diseases such as

  • Immune deficiency
  • Leukaemias
  • Blood diseases such as Aplastic and Fanconi Anaemia
  • Metabolic storage diseases
  • Thalassaemia

Final thought

It is undeniable that there are properties of young blood that can ‘defy the ageing process’. In terms of medical research, it seems that these factors will be able to counteract age-related memory loss, and promote repair to damaged organs. Unfortunately, UCB relies on tissues being donated, and has obvious limitations as well as ethical considerations. At the moment these experiments are ‘proof-of-principle’ but pave the way for more UCB-factors to be isolated that may help promote tissue rejuvenation. Think repairing damaged spinal chords!

And, let’s face it, eventually the cosmetic industry will jump on this band wagon to promise ‘age-defying’ treatments!!

Side note

Many hospitals collect human umbilical chord blood. Please consider donating your child’s umbilical chord blood and tissue for medical research or to be used in life-saving treatments.

Australia: www.abmdr.org.au/auscord

US: http://www.parentsguidecordblood.org/en/donate-cord-blood

UK: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/cordblood

Europe: http://www.eurocord.org/eurocord-registry.php

March for Science

march-for-science

On Saturday April 22nd, I participated in the March for Science. I was expecting, given it was an election weekend in France,  not be many people would march. I was proven wrong, and it was great to see that the march had a good turnout!

Even though the March for Science originated in the US in response to funding cuts for research, the sentiment has been echoed around the world. Researchers everywhere, including Europe and Australia, are facing reduced funding, reduced support and a lack of recognition for the hard work they do.

Being a scientist is not a stable, long term career by any stretch of the imagination. Yet we persist with it out of passion, and out of understanding that society will not move forward, nor will issues such as (gasp) climate change be tackled, if we don’t have researchers. Thus, the need for continued funding.

So maybe each country, and even each researcher had a different reason for marching on the 22nd, but I for one was glad that people were motivated to do it, and for others to see just how many scientists there actually are!

Images of the March for Science (Paris)

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The Paris March for Science.
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“Breaking News: Science is more ffective than magic (p<0.05)”.
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This may have been my favourite! “Sticking your head in the sand is not a solution to Global Warming…Your ass will still get hot!!”
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“Effect size, not hand size, matters!”

Final Thought

The images shown are from the March for Science in Paris. Thanks to Rebecca Whelan and Rachel Macmaster for the photos.

The myth of the tissue-destroying white-tailed spider

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Warning: if you do not like spiders, or are squeamish, maybe don’t read this post!

When I was at university, I found a red bump on my elbow that progressed to an actual hole. Many doctor’s visits and anti-inflammatory steroid injections later, I had an impressive scar and perhaps, an impressive story.

A persistent myth

My doctor told me that the hole was the result of a white-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina) bite, which causes tissue necrosis. Anyone in Australia has heard about people being bitten by a white-tailed spider and ending up requiring multiple skin grafts, or in the worse case scenario, amputation! In actual fact, spider bite-induced necrosis (necrotic arachnidism) is linked to only one spider, the Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), which is found in the southcentral and southeastern areas of the United States. A compound found in the spider venom creates an acute immune response that results in inflammation-driven tissue destruction.

The link between the white-tailed spider and tissue necrosis is in fact an urban legend that has persisted since the 1980s.

So if the white-tailed spider doesn’t actually cause tissue necrosis, how did I get a hole in my elbow?

The jury is still out

The theories put forward focus on mycobacterium ulcerans infection at the bite sites resulting in an ulcer, or Staphylococcus aureus infection resulting in cellulitis (bacterial skin infection).

It is unlikely that the majority of the cases are the result of a M. ulcerans infection. Firstly, this type of infection is predominantly localised to tropical areas, and is a highly contagious infection. Secondly, studies have shown that the white-tailed spider venom does not carry this bacterium.

The second theory, that the tissue necrosis is from S. aureus infection resulting in cellulitis, is more likely. I couldn’t find a straightforward answer, but it seems that most researchers and clinicians feel that the S. aureus infection occurs from entering at the site of broken skin, i.e. a bite site that someone has scratched.

Final thought

So, despite a lack of evidence linking the white-tailed spider to necrotic arachnidism, the myth persists. I mean, what is going to have viewers glued to their TV or clicking on links:

“I lost my leg to a spider bite!” or, “I scratched a spider bite and now I have a bacterial infection!”

??

Tip: don’t enter tissue ulcer into Google images if you are of a weak constitution…!

Sources

This post was inspired by a recent post in Australian Geographic.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Scott_Weinstein2/publication/263096757_A_phoenix_of_clinical_toxinology_White-tailed_spider_Lampona_spp_bites_A_case_report_and_review_of_medical_significance/links/546d38d50cf2a7492c55b3df/A-phoenix-of-clinical-toxinology-White-tailed-spider-Lampona-spp-bites-A-case-report-and-review-of-medical-significance.pdf

http://www.ijam-web.org/article.asp?issn=2455-5568;year=2016;volume=2;issue=2;spage=256;epage=259;aulast=Fegley

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maria_Lima4/publication/302556178_Phoneutria_nigriventer_Venom_and_Toxins_A_Review/links/5785002008ae36ad40a4b43d.pdf#page=45

http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0002770

https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/186_02_150107/joh10634_fm.pdf

Disclaimer: the image used in this post is of the common ‘jumping spider’ and is not a white-tailed spider.

All watched over by machines of loving grace

moss-cloche-closeup

I recently saw a documentary at the Palais de Tokyo as part of their exhibition entitled “All watched over by machines of loving grace.” The documentary, by BBC journalist Adam Curtis, was a fascinating insight into systems theory, cybernetics and ecology.

So of course, I took to the trusty scholarly search engines to find out more.

A (vicious) circle

Early scholars of the movement described nature as an electrical circuit, with amplifiers and dampeners of the natural order. In terms of ecology, systems theory described nature as a self-governing machine that responded to changes in the environment and adjusted to maintain a natural balance. In essence, an ordered cycle of life.

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A systems theory cycle

This is called a feedback loop, i.e there is a cause and an effect. Following on from this, there can be another factor that then influences the original input.

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Feedback loop

Cybernetics

No, I’m not talking about robots!

Cybernetics is at the heart of systems theory, describing nature as a system that can be controlled and managed. Cybernetics considers nature in the bigger picture, looking at the response of the environment to changes.

Cybernetics introduced the concept of ‘negative feedback’, where in order to maintain equilibrium, where the output result that feeds back into the network is out of equilibrium, and is reduced to maintain the steady state.

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Negative feedback loop

Earth as a spaceship

Cybernetics spawned the early environmental movement in the 1970s. This was based on the modelling of the ecological feedback loops. Scholars and activists realised that if a steady-state of ecological systems could not be maintained, irreversible damage or a catastrophe would occur.

This produced the idea of the earth as a spaceship. A self-contained object that required all systems to exist and work in harmony in order to maintain a sustainable environment within the ‘spaceship’. If not, water, air, or food would be compromised. In fact, cybernetics also contributed to the development of the Doomsday Clock. This is a metaphorical countdown to the end of the world based on the (dis)equilibrium of the population and our environment.

It’s not just science fiction

Systems theory feedback loops are used in everything from psychology (understanding people’s responses to the environment around them), to machine learning and computers and, to the development of the internet.

Final Thought

The most fascinating focus of the documentary was the realisation that man’s reliance on machines in order to ‘improve’ our quality of life as well as increase productivity in industry, has destroyed the idea of an ecological cybernetic system. The early theorists failed to anticipate that the negative feedback loop would not adjust to a rapidly changing human population, one that was at disequilibrium with its environment. This can be seen in the rapid extinction of animal and plant species, as well as the wealth of some countries versus the absolute poverty of their neighbours.

It really was such an interesting documentary, and I urge you all to watch it (link included in first section).

Sources

Bernard C. Patten and Eugene P. Odum. The American Naturalist, Vol. 118, No. 6 (Dec., 1981), pp. 886-895

http://www.its.dept.uncg.edu/hdf/facultystaff/Tudge/Bronfenbrenner%201995.pdf

http://maft.dept.uncg.edu/hdf/facultystaff/Tudge/Bronfenbrenner%201977.pdf

https://staff.washington.edu/jhannah/geog270aut07/readings/population/Ehrlich%20-%20Population%20Bomb%20Ch1.pdf

 

 

Honouring innovative women – the EU Prize for Women Innovators

international-women-s-day-2017_lrg

As we all know, yesterday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. But what exactly does this day mean? Does it mean writing a social media post thanking your mum, discussing gender inequality in the workplace, or attending rallys’ and protests? Yes, if it raises awareness. Me, I watched the live stream of the EU Prize for Women Innovators.

woman-innovators

Awarding female innovators

EU commissioner Carlos Moedas spoke that there were two reasons a prize like this is important: 1) to recognise the achievement of women, and 2) talk about female role models. As he said, in the history of the Nobel Prize, only 5% of the recipients have been women.

My interpretation of this is that we need a day to recognise and award the achievements of women outside of, and separate to, the achievements of men. Maybe some people are scoffing at this statement. However, as long as the majority of the awards in Innovation and Science go to men, separate recognition of women is needed.

During his speech, Commissioner Moeda commented that the irony of him ‘commanding women to inspire other women’, was not lost on him. He also said he hoped that women in innovation would “make their passion contagious to other women….and let it inspire another generation of women”.

I ask you, who are your role models? Are they male or female? I tried to think of who my role models were. And do you know what? None really came to mind. Does this mean that I never had a role model, or does it mean that there was no mentoring and fostering of passions and interests? I’m not sure, but after watching the live stream and hearing about the awardees, I hope that there is a new generation of women who are inspired by female role models.

I digress, I want to discuss the award ceremony.

From the 147 applicants, 12 finalists were selected. Of these 12, 4 awards were given. The first award was the ‘rising innovator award for women under 30′. The recipient was Kristina Tsvetanova. She is an engineer and the cofounder of a tactile tablet for people who are visually impaired.

Third place for the EU prize for Women Innovators was awarded to Claudia Gärtner. She has developed a ‘lab-on-a-chip’ that can be used to detect cancer or infectious diseases and other agents from a blood sample.

Second place went to Petra Wadström. She and her team have designed a solar device that heats and sterilises water!

And finally, first place was awarded to Michela Magas, who described herself as a member of the creative/tech industries, and has been involved in bringing together researchers with the designers, musicians and developers to bridge the gap between academia and industry and the arts and sciences.

Inspiration

In her speech, she stated (and I am paraphrasing) that ‘the role of the female perspective in innovation is driven by an attempt to understand human nature’. So in other terms, women bring a different perspective to innovation.

And if we are going to talk about role models, then her final statement of ‘what you have inside you can lift you over walls and across borders” was truly inspiring.

To hear about the achievements of these women was inspiring, for the lack of a better word, and it made me want to try harder at what I am doing so that I may be a role model for the next generation of women. Even if it is only my nieces that I inspire!

Final thought

And that, my friends, is what these awards, and International Women’s Day, is all about. Empowering women with the knowledge that we can aspire, achieve and receive recognition for what we do, and are trying to do.

The Communication Series: Using communication to dominate or empower

broken-communication

Post-modernism theory

As a result of growth in areas such as education, scientific knowledge and the progress of industry, society has seen an enhancement of life and culture. However with these changes, a problem of domination has arisen. This is when one person uses or withholds information and knowledge from another person in order gain control.

The heart of the emerging theory (consisting of the post modernism and critical analyses) is that organisations need to be flexible and less structured in order to change with society. Scholars write that post modernism uses knowledge, information and language to create a culture where the language can be used to either empower or to dominate.

 The feminist critique of communication

In honour of International Women’s Day, I am going to discuss a sub-genre of the post modernism approach, the feminist critique. This field challenges and questions the ideological and cultural perceptions of female roles in society, and how communication shapes and influences women’s roles within organisations.

Historically, patriarchal dominance has been used in organisations to engender women to particular roles, (for example, secretaries or nurses) positions seen as “women’s work” and perhaps beneath that which a man should perform. Key to this dominance and perpetuation of gender bias is the language used.

Further to this is the structured hierarchy of an organisation, women in more subservient positions, men in positions of power or positions involving decision-making and the relay of information.

Communication to dominate

One study examined taking maternity leave in regards to changes of identity and how workplace interactions affected leave choices. This study highlighted the problem within organisations to attach meaning and identities to the pregnant woman, often to their detriment.

Central to this was the communication used, as there were differences between what was said and what was done. By this I mean that communication between the women and their supervisors and their co-workers, was used as a means of controlling the decisions made by the women regarding their decision to take maternity leave. It was also found that the language used by the supervisors affected the attitude of co-workers to the women taking or returning from maternity leave.

The communication processes were often used to make the women feel guilt, shame and inferiority about taking leave. It was also used to convince both the women and their co-workers that their work performance would be inferior or less productive based on the decision to take or return from maternity leave.

Communication to empower

Here I am going to focus on an example concerning female dairy farmers in rural India, where researchers studied how breaking down patriarchal dominance and empowering women influenced social change within the communities.

Traditionally in these communities men dictated the control of money, interpersonal relationships and the distribution of work. But some villages were part of a program that was designed to provide female dairy farmers with greater education about dairying, running a co-op, and encouraged social clubs to increase interpersonal interactions.

As you would expect, changing the communication processes and empowering women benefited everyone!

Not only was more information about dairying, health and finances exchanged between the women, men in these villages said that there was a positive effect on the collaborative approach to dairying as well as in their family life!

In short, it was evident that when the women were given a voice, the whole village not only benefited but also underwent social changes. In contrast, more isolated women who were not in the social clubs felt less empowered and still felt they were under patriarchal control.

Final Thought

Communication, how it used, delivered and what is said, has the ability to empower or dominate, affect attitudes, culture and identity, and to create social changes to the benefit of all.

What we do not say can be as powerful as what we actually say.