Deborah Berebichez: TV's 'Science Babe' & Top 10 Woman in Tech

"Science Babe" Deborah Berebichez On Her Career In Physics And The Importance Of Science Education

Deborah Berebichez grew up in Mexico City in a sheltered environment. When it came to choosing her field of study, she experienced that often times it is social reasons that keep women from entering the field of sciences and tech: Because family and teachers told her it was an appropriate and "feminine" career path to take, she began to study Philosophy.

But true passion can only be suppressed so long. After a few semesters, she turned to the United States to pursue her love for science and study Physics. Even though people had said "As a woman, you won't get far in science", she eventually became the first Mexican woman to earn a Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University.

Deborah Berebichez now works as Vice President of Risk Analysis at Wall St’s risk firm MSCI. As The Science Babe she brings her love for the science of everyday life to broader audiences – via science TV shows for National Geographic and Discovery International and her own web series.

With her work for the initiative Technovation Challenge, she introduces girls around the world to the world of natural sciences and technology and encourages them to pursue their very own career goals. She was named one of the Top Ten Women in Tech in 2011.

TNW: So far, what has been the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome in your career?DB: I think the biggest obstacle was to not have a lot of support from my close friends and family when I chose to pursue a career in physics. Their concerns that physics could be a taxing and challenging profession were legitimate.

But sometimes you need people to believe in your dreams even if they seem irrational at the time!

TNW: Why, do you think, is science still a male-dominated field?

DB: I believe that historically, women just haven’t had the same opportunities as men. But that's not just in science but in other fields as well. Though conditions for females in science have improved, the environment is not always the most friendly towards women. I truly believe women are as capable of doing mathematics and physics as their male counterparts.

But there is a lot of work we must do to change the social stereotypes of females in science and we should work hard to make science exciting and fun as a career choice for young girls. You can see that there is still a long way to go if you check out this quote from www.livescience.com:

"The proportion of women receiving doctorate degrees in science and engineering has increased slightly in recent years, and in 2003, women accounted for 30 percent of the doctorate degrees in science and nearly 9 percent of those awarded in engineering, according to a National Science Foundation report. However, relatively few women continue on to high-level faculty positions. In 1972, women made up just 3 percent of full professors in science and engineering fields, a figure that inched up to 10 percent by 1998, according to the NSF."

TNW: How important are role models and mentors for girls and young women?

 DB: I am often amazed at how strong the impact of an effective mentor can be. The best example for this is the program I collaborate with in the US called "Technovation Challenge". It is a great program that teaches hundreds of high school girls from under-served communities how to code science-based mobile apps. At the end of the program the girls compete for a grand prize and can get their app developed professionally by Google.

It is a very powerful experience to compare the teams of girls before and after the six month program. The girls gain self-confidence as they are empowered by their own abilities, their work and their interaction with solid mentors. 

I also believe that good mentorship should follow certain rules and should be a focused endeavour.

TNW: In one of your videos you explain the "Physics of High Heels". Why is it important to make science fun for everyone?

DB: Because there is an unfortunate stereotype that "physics is boring and complicated." I try to break up this stereotype by designing programs that deliver scientific content in easy and engaging ways. My aim in connecting physics with mundane events such as daily activities and fashion is to show that science is not just about a complicated equation on a blackboard that nobody can understand.

Science is about curiosity, about having fun while discovering how nature works!

More about "Science in Stilettos" in this article on Wired.

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