“There will be huge advances in medical devices, technology for social change, and software aimed specifically at solving women’s issues. And women will lead these advances!”
Dianna Cowern is the creator of Physics Girl, a resource for fun physics videos and other science materials. Physics Girl started as Cowern’s post-college personal project, and has grown into a resource for teachers, a source of entertainment for physics nerds, and a way to share a passion for physics while advocating for women in STEM.
Driving tractors on a farm in Hawaii where she grew up somehow led Cowern to science and engineering pursuits. Nicknamed “happy pants” in college, Cowern researched dark matter with Prof. Jocelyn Monroe as an undergraduate at MIT. As a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, she studied low-metallicity stars with Prof. Anna Frebel. Cowern then took her happy intern pants to GE where she worked as a Software Engineer designing mobile apps. Eventually, she turned to YouTube to begin exercising the nerdy side of her brain as Physics Girl. Soon after, Cowern landed at UCSD as a science outreach coordinator.
In addition to bringing physics to the masses, Cowern loves to surf, SCUBA dive, and play the ukulele.
What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing your specific field?
If you’re interested in working as an astronomer or physicist, take lots of math classes! If math is not your favorite subject, find a creative way to strengthen your math skills. There are so many people and websites that can make it feel like math is just a bunch of fun puzzles.
Talk about the challenges you faced as a trailblazer in your field … or … Tell us about a time where you failed and how you overcame it?
My freshman year classes at MIT were a rude awakening. From high school, I was accustomed to: 1) doing my homework, 2) reviewing a little, and 3) taking the tests in class. Easy! I tried the same method with classes at MIT and I failed many of the first exams. I failed my first math exam, my first physics exam, and I was sure I wasn’t good enough to make it through MIT. But I chatted with my peers and found a lot of them were struggling, too. We were learning how to learn. We all learned to study (HARD!) together for the exams, to work through problem sets together, and to recognize that failure is just a step toward finding a better way.
Where do you anticipate the next big opportunity for girls in your field and what can they do to position themselves for success?
I’d say the next big opportunity for girls in STEM is in software engineering. There will be huge advances in medical devices, technology for social change, and software aimed specifically at solving women’s issues. And women will lead these advances!
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Celebrating Women in Science
February 11th is International Women & Girls in Science Day, so please join us in honoring these amazing women by sharing their stories and reminding every girl interested in STEM that with the desire, access, and a little persistence, they can do anything!
To read more about our tribute to the Women of Science, click here.