Dr. Katie Bouman and diversifying the role model pool

I originally wrote this response on my personal Facebook page, in response to Misty S. Boyer’s post where she writes about the sexist backlash Dr. Katie Bouman has received, regarding her work on the recently obtained black hole picture.

Dr. Bouman’s contributions to this project are undeniably significant. It hurts my heart that someone as distinguished as herself is being doubted or downplayed for any reason.

Even if her contributions were not so paramount, I do still think it is important to highlight her role. Same goes for anyone who doesn’t fit the scientist stereotype. Not for the purpose of giving them more credit than they “deserve” simply because of their sexual orientation/gender identity/sex, but rather to diversify the pool of role models and inspirational figures. There are lots of male role models. Men have always been aware that men can science.

I know I could have benefited from more female scientific role models when I was in high school, and early in my university career. Did they have to be the best of the best in order to be a good role model? No. But knowing that there were lots of distinguished, successful women with fulfilling computer science careers would have helped.

I was scared to begin my post-secondary studies because I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I don’t know if anyone did doubt me, but surely they didn’t have reason to once the grades started rolling in. For what it’s worth, during 2004-2008, the top two students (GPA wise) were a gay man and a woman (me).

Congratulations, Dr. Bouman, and I’m sorry you are facing criticism.