Earlier this year, while I was sequestered in the bat-cave studying for my qualifying exam, I came across something very distressing. As has been widely reported, only 13 percent of the people editing Wikipedia articles are women. Though there are endless articles debating the causes, my interest lies elsewhere: What can be done to change this?
I believe that more women would be involved in editing Wikipedia if it were a social activity, rather than an insular one, so I hosted a WikiWomen party at my house to make the experience collaborative. In attendance were five female chemists: myself, Anna Goldstein, Rebecca Murphy, Chelsea Gordon and Helen Yu. We started the night with a dinner, over which we discussed the experience of being a graduate student and how writing for Wikipedia compares to teaching undergraduates.
To get everyone’s creative juices flowing, Anna made us the Golden Peach (the official drink of WikiWomen): 1 shot Ciroc Vodka, ½ shot DeKuyper Peach Schnapps, 1 shot Sprite. After dinner, we all whipped out our laptops (and power cords) and set to work editing Wikipedia. Anna was the only attendee who had edited Wikipedia before, so the rest of us set to work watching tutorials on YouTube and reading Wikipedia editing guidelines. While somewhat discouraged at first by the long list of rules, we were quickly laughing and helping each other by sharing what we had learned.
We decided to start with what we know best: our own research, and the life and times of our research advisors. Anna created a page for her mentor, Peidong Yang (though, curiously, a page already existed for him in on the German Wikipedia). Rebecca created two new pages related to her research project: magellanine and Lycopodium magellanicum, Helen worked on her search for a graduate research group, creating a page for Linda Hsieh-Wilson at Caltech, and Chelsea created a page for her research area, bioorthogonal chemistry. We also edited existing pages for Carolyn Bertozzi, Ken Raymond, bioorthogonal chemical reporters and Wikipedia’s list of chemists.
There was an ulterior motive to starting with these familiar topics: as a graduate student who is often made to feel stupid by my research, I take solace in Martin Schwartz’s idea of “the importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Though research can make me feel stupid, learning how to do something new and teaching it to others is really refreshing. We reveal the sometimes-hidden degree of our own expertise when we can share it with anyone in the world with an internet connection. It was fun to expose science and our research to others while relaxing with friends. As Chelsea put it,
It was a very empowering experience, and helped me to realize how much science I really know… definitely confidence-building. Graduate students are in the perfect position to contribute to Wikipedia—we are all experts on something!
If you would like to join the next WikiWomen party in the Bay Area, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ladies, let’s claim Wikipedia!
Reprinted from the Berkeley Science Review with permission.
Photo from Flickr user Mike Licht under Creative Commons 2.0