Citation politics

We may want to believe that citation practices in STEM are unbiased, but the evidence out there says otherwise. It speaks to the politics and privilege that have pervaded peer review and the published literature.

Here is just a handful of recent examples:

What can we do?

There are a few things that we can do in our citation practices to make a difference. First, if we recognize that citations are power, then we can exercise that power in our own reference lists. When we write articles or otherwise disseminate our research outputs, we can choose to break away from citing the usual suspects and cite responsibly. One easy to remember rule of thumb is the Gray test. Our works pass the Gray test if they cite and discuss the scholarship of at least two women and two non-white people. We can also consider including citation diversity statements.

Second, we can be representative in the works that we recommend to others. For example, here is a Gender Balance Assessment Tool that is available to check that our reading lists are not mostly works written by male authors.

Third, when we find ourselves in a position to judge the work of others we can let go of our reliance on citation metrics. We can commit to evaluating works on their scientific merit and consider alternative metrics not based on citation counts.

Of course, we can also talk about citation politics with our colleagues. There is lots to think about and discuss!

Find more citation politics resources and readings, along with sources for alternative metrics on the Impact Measurements guide.

Books on display in May: Women in STEM

This month’s print book and ebook displays spotlight women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The books are about remarkable women who made advances in their fields, despite the challenges of oppressive systems and all of the forms that harassment can take. They tell the stories of women in STEM who did not quit.

The print book shelves can be found on the main floor of the Redpath Library Building, in the McLennan-Redpath Complex, during the month of May. Take a look at the selected titles in our catalogue list for the Women in STEM print book display.

The Women in STEM ebook display has an additional 100 titles to explore online.

Beyond books, I want to highlight two electronic videos in the McGill Library collection that are worth your attention: Ms. Scientist, and Picture a Scientist.

Ms. Scientist, 2018 film (43 minutes)

Around the world the fields of scientific research and development remain a male-dominated environment. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics less than thirty percent of the world’s researchers are women. Many women enter a career in science but leave because of roadblocks and challenges. Canada wants to change that. Brandy Yanchyk’s documentary Ms Scientist explores how Canada is trying to get female scientists to stay in the fields of science and progress to the top. Ms Scientist looks at the successes and challenges that Canada’s female scientists face. The film delves into their lives and examines the obstacles that are hindering their success such as balancing family and work, sexual harassment and unconscious bias.

Picture a Scientist, 2020 film (1 hour 37 minutes)

Picture a Scientist is a feature-length documentary film chronicling the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. A biologist, a chemist and a geologist lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, overcoming brutal harassment, institutional discrimination, and years of subtle slights to revolutionize the culture of science. From cramped laboratories to spectacular field sites, we also encounter scientific luminaries who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all.

For more links, visit our Women in STEM page on the Redpath Book Display guide.

Have a lovely May!

Science Literacy Week goes virtual

Next week is Science Literacy Week!

It is a week when we get together across the country to share our love of science, and at McGill Library we have a wonderful virtual program to share with you.

Monday, Sept. 21

  • 2 – 3 p.m. The Art of Communicating Science to Non-Specialists [register]

Wednesday, Sept. 23

  • 10:30 – 11:15 a.m., Urban Heat Island Effect [register]
  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Keeping Up with Artificial Intelligence – AI Literacy [register]

Thursday, Sept. 24

  • 5:30 – 7 p.m., Science Literacy Week Book Club: Data feminism, by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F Klein. McGill users can read the e-book here. Everyone can read this book open access online here. [register].

Sunday, Sept. 27

But wait, there’s more! We have lots of ‘science at play‘ resources for you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for daily colouring pages and puzzles made with images from items in our Rare & Special Collections. Or how about a scavenger hunt? Take photos of any of the items on this list during Science Literacy Week and tag both #SciLit and @McGillLib on social media.

Science Literacy Week scavenger hunt:

  • Interact with old tech: cassettes, mini-discs, laser discs, rotary phone, etc…
  • Find something with ‘patent pending’ or a trademark
  • Animal tracks
  • A native plant
  • A native bird
  • A rock bigger than your hand
  • A cumulus cloud 
  • Something made out of natural fibres 
  • Someone riding a bicycle 
  • Make a shadow puppet
  • A rainbow 
  • Something being reused or recycled
  • Condensation
  • A fossil
  • A data visualization
  • A DIY project
  • An example of each of the 6 classical simple machines:
    • Lever
    • Wheel and axle
    • Pulley
    • Inclined plane
    • Wedge
    • Screw

You will also find 360 videos and DIY viewer information on our guide.

Still more! Homecoming and Redpath Museum has their own lineup of virtual events. We have added them to our online calendar so be sure to check them out.

See you soon, friends (virtually).

An active Science Literacy Week

This year, Science Literacy Week will keep you moving. Beginning September 16, there are tours lined up, a game-based session around data management, a hands-on Excel workshop, interactive sound demonstrations, and exhibits to explore.

Here is the daily rundown of downtown activities organized by the Library:

Monday, (Sept 16): Montreal’s Urban Heat Island: Tour of temperature sensors on campus

Tuesday, (Sept 17): Tour of the Maude Abbott Medical Museum

Wednesday, (Sept 18): Sounds in the City + Treasures from the History of Science in Rare Books and Special Collections

Thursday, (Sept 19): Tour of the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning + Discover the cure! An introduction to the fundamentals of data management

Friday, (Sept 20): Chart Making in Excel: Going Further by Telling a Story with your Data

Register for an event today!

We also have exhibits going on so don’t miss out on those. You will get the opportunity to test out your map literacy in the Redpath Library Building, and check out a science book in person or online.

Exploring McGill on a rainy day

I’m taking advantage of this rainy day to tune in to the Mini-Science 2018 episodes: Women in Science at McGill (and beyond). This seven-part series was recorded and made available on the McGill YouTube channel.

YouTube is the place to go If you have ever wondered if you could watch lectures and events that have taken place on campus. Videos include public forums, competitions, and conference presentations.

Apart from the main channel, there are additional options on YouTube for webcasts related to science at McGill: AstroMcGill, Separating Sense From Nonsense (McGill Office for Science and Society), Montreal Neuro, and McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

If you have time, I highly recommend the first episode of this year’s Mini-Science – History of Women in Science (below). In it, Principal Suzanne Fortier tells an engaging story about her experience growing up in a small town in Quebec and her unique path to science. There were a total of three books in her home, but to find out which three you will have to watch.

Enjoy the rain!

Women and the Google Doodle


Thanks to a SPARK study done last year you might have noticed the famous Google doodles have been featuring more women!

In 2014 SPARK studied the doodles being placed on Google’s homepage and found there was a distinct lack of diversity among the historic figures being celebrated. In fact between 2010 and 2013 only 17% of doodles featured women, and of that 17% only 4.3 % were women of colour.

History is learned in a variety of ways from a myriad of sources, including those fun images showing up on your Google home page! By leaving out women, as history so often does, Google was underrepresenting a group that makes up half the world’s population; a group that has also made significant contributions to science, technology, politics, literature and every field in between.

Since being made aware of SPARK’s study Google has made an effort to equally represent both men and women in their doodles. When SPARK went back to check Google’s progress they found the women are now being featured as often as men.  Just this past week Google featured trailblazing journalist Nellie Bly. To learn more about Bly check out the doodle, .

For more information on SPARKS study click the following link,

Women in Engineering – Inspiring the Next Generation

Close your eyes and picture an engineer. What do you see? A man in a suit? A young lad in a hoodie? A train driver?

Or do you picture a woman?

When a female such as myself enrols in college and selects a major such as engineering, the reactions she hears range from “Really? I would never have thought so” to “Wow, you must be REALLY smart!”

Indeed, the persistent bias towards women in male dominated fields can be damaging to one’s self-confidence, and self-confidence is something that one needs in order to tackle the growing responsibility as we advance in our careers. Maintaining confidence is crucial to success. However, finding this inner strength becomes a challenge when anatomy determines whether you are taken seriously. Because I am female, I know that I automatically have to prove my worth in such a field. And this is the core of the problem that we face today.

There is no easy way to explain why more women are not encouraged to follow these career paths. I took physics on a whim in high school out of simple curiosity, but had the sheer luck of falling in love with the subject. The difficulty but ability of physics to explain so many things around me – yet with so much left to discover – left me thirsty for more. However, I was perplexed as to why I had never even considered a career in engineering until then; was it because I had never heard of a female engineer on the news? Was it because there was a total of around 7 girls out of 30 in my physics class?

This feeling of perplexity never left me, but I brushed it off. It was not until an exchange I had during a college interview that this nagging feeling came back in full-force. The alumna (who was a successful businesswoman) hit me with the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer in my entire life: “Why do you suppose there are more men than women in the domains of economics, engineering, and math?” I was left speechless.

So I did some research and I began self-reflecting. I read up on the (lack of) women who had received Nobel Prizes throughout history – how in 2012, apart from the European Union, all of the Nobel laureates were men. How, to date, only 43 women have been awarded a Nobel Prize out of 862 people and organisations who have been named laureates. Why? Because three of the prizes are for science. Women faced endless barriers to entering higher education, with no access to labs, no connections, and few opportunities. That was my first clue – opportunity. So my quest to answering my interviewer’s question continued. Books such as “Who Succeeds In Science? The Gender Dimension” by Gerhard Sonnert have furthered my research, categorising the answer to such a question into two models: the deficit model (women are treated differently in science), and the difference model (women act differently in science).

It wasn’t until I saw this advertisement that I began to connect the dots:

The concept of selling engineering/building toys to girls (with the purpose of increasing their confidence in problem-solving and introducing them to engineering) made it so clear to me that the problem lay in social norms and in a culture that has been created over time. And one way to progress is to educate our daughters differently. When one walks through a girls’ toy aisle, it is pink and full of barbies, princesses and dolls. The legos sold to girls are a feminized spin-off, featuring pink and purple blocks, and characters that do things like sit at home or run a bakery. We are taught implicitly from a very young age that our goal is to become princesses and/or mothers. I myself loved playing with barbies and other typically girly toys, but I equally loved playing with my brother’s train tracks and legos. It was thanks to him that I was exposed to such toys (that were not gifted to me because I was a girl). And the contrary holds true too – he often came to play barbies with me. With the nature vs. nurture debate aside, there is no doubt that advertisers have capitalised on gender preferences, steering each gender to their specified section and ultimately broadcasting a more general message regarding gender roles and expectations in society. Identity becomes ideology.

So maybe there are millions of girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. Is it time to “disrupt the pink aisle”?

Progress is being made and times are changing – as my grandmother says, “you don’t give us enough credit, we couldn’t even vote a few years ago!” I therefore try to avoid thinking negatively about the male-female ratio, because ultimately, I believe that it’s all about doing what you love.

So if finding what you love depends on the opportunities presented to you, would you buy your daughter legos?

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering

In the spirit of McGill’s second Disabilities Awareness Week, I thought that I would bring your attention to this site from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF): Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. This site is where you can find statistics on women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering education and employment. They write a report every two years, mandated by the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act, and have made the latest digest available for download, along with the corresponding data files. The themes of the digest are enrollment, field of degree, employment status, occupation, academic employment, and persons with disabilities.

According to the NSF, persons with disabilities are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce compared to the population as a whole. However, the graph below shows that since 2008, U.S. citizens and permanent residents with disabilities have earned more science and engineering doctorates than in non-S&E fields.


Women as academic authors over the years, 1665-2010

Infographics are visually appealing and effective ways of representing statistics, knowledge, and data, both qualitative and quantitative. Some are static and others are interactive, like this infographic showing the percentage of academic papers published by women over the last five centuries.You can interact with the infographic by selecting which time period you would like to see represented and you can also sort the information in a few different ways. Be sure to read more about the data and how it was gathered, examined, and ultimately represented. This infographic comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education and the data was drawn from JSTOR, a digital archive of scholarly papers, by researchers at the University of Washington.

Image courtesy of

Ladies, get editing!

Last month, in sync with Ada Lovelace Day – an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math – a group of 20 or so volunteers gathered for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the library of the Royal Society in London. Not surprisingly, there’s some gender inequality on Wikipedia so the mission was  to edit and create Wikipedia entries on women who have made significant contributions to the STEM fields. “Making women more visible is a huge job that’ll take a long time. This is a spark. It has awakened a lot of interest,” – Uta Frith, a neuroscientist at University College London and one of the leaders of the event. It certainly awakened my interest and I hope yours too. To learn more about the edit-a-thon, including who got involved, and some of the entries that were added or expanded upon, read this news article from Nature.

Image from