In Part 2 of her interview last week, Liz Heinecke talked to us all about her different projects, including her blog, Kitchen Pantry Scientist; her work with NASA; and her new book, “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.” With everything she has going on, it’s truly a wonder she finds time for it all!

 

In the third and final part of her interview, Heinecke talks all about women in STEM. She starts us off by discussing the importance of women realizing that careers in STEM can be flexible and that there is a wide variety in the paths which they can choose to pursue.

 

MUIPR: Your journey is so unique. You have taken such a fresh approach to continuing your career in science, even after leaving the “formal” world of science research. How important do you think it is for women to realize that STEM does not have to be as rigid as we commonly think it is; that these fields have the potential to be flexible if you get creative, and it’s possible to pursue them on your own personal terms to some extent?

LIZ HEINECKE: I think it’s extremely important for women to realize you don’t have to take the traditional route. One reason I ended up not majoring in science in undergrad was because I thought, “Well, you either go to medical school or you work in a lab.” And at the time, neither thing was attractive to me. I didn’t know about science communications. I didn’t know about science writing; some of these things I would have loved. There is a wide world of things you can do. Many of them, like science writing, [are things] that you can do full-time or part-time, if you apply yourself and get good at it. You can make science fit into your life. I think there are more opportunities now than when I was in college, and it’s also important to realize that you can love science and you can make it a part of your life without making it your everything.

 

Heinecke believes doing science at home with kids creates the perfect environment for them to experiment freely and to really feed their curiosity while having fun (kitchenpantryscientist.com)

Heinecke believes doing science at home with kids creates the perfect environment for them to experiment freely and to really feed their curiosity while having fun (kitchenpantryscientist.com)

MUIPR: Right. Science doesn’t have to be your whole life to be a part of it.

HEINECKE: Yes, and there is no one that I admire more than women who get their PhD’s and go into academia because I have seen many women go that route and that is a hard route, and you have to want it. You have to work hard and you have to put up with a lot, and those women are my heroes. But this is what has worked for my life, and I feel very fortunate that I still get to do science. Through the whole time that I was at home with babies and in that particular battlefield, I was reading the Science Times and following science news. I think it’s just so important to keep science an active part of your life and your mind. It’s so fantastic for women, and I try to tell everyone that you don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy science and to do science with your kids. As humans, we’re all curious, we all want to explore the world, we all want to experiment and try things; it’s part of the human experience.

 

MUIPR: Definitely! Now, a point which is brought up in a lot of the major conversations on women in STEM is the importance of getting girls interested in subjects like science and math and fostering their curiosity from a young age. Why do you think it’s essential for parents to recognize how simple and fun it can be to introduce their kids to science and to create scientific learning opportunities in everyday situations using everyday objects? What are your thoughts on the specific importance of getting girls involved in science activities like those you write about on your blog and in your book?

HEINECKE: I am passionate about all kids [being involved in science], but with girls especially, you hear that they’re not treated the same as boys at school in science and math classes. Home is a safe environment for all kids to use inexpensive ingredients — even if it’s just going out into your backyard and digging up worms — to do amazing experiments and try whatever you want. Nobody is judging you, nobody is grading you. I think it’s so important for kids to feed their curiosity and learn to be creative at home. Even with girls, you know, they talk about their peers and think, “Oh, well, I like science but I don’t want my friends to think science is weird,” or something like that. If you’re at home doing science, though, you can do whatever you want. You know, I say, for a birthday party or for a holiday gift, buy your kid a Tupperware cup, baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, corn starch, and let kids just play with stuff and find out what happens when they try different things. I think science in school is fantastic but kids just simply don’t have the freedom that they have at home. And also, [it allows parents to involve] kids as young as two- and three-years-old. I mean, I was talking about it in my book how I was doing a lot of science with the kids when my youngest was probably two and my oldest was maybe five or six, and while my older kid would be doing the science at a higher level and learning more, my youngest was still a part of it. Kids learn in all different ways, and a lot of it is through touch, through smell; science lets you experience these things in so many different ways, and it appeals to all different kind of learners, which is great.

 

Heinecke has seen all kids approach experiments with the same enthusiasm, which has led her to feel like science should actually be considered an equalizer as opposed to something which is influenced by gender (amazon.com)

Heinecke has seen all kids approach experiments with the same enthusiasm, which has led her to feel like science should actually be considered an equalizer as opposed to something which is influenced by gender (amazon.com)

MUIPR: I know making science a big part of your kids’ lives has always been important to you. You even started Science Wednesdays in your house, which is awesome. What have you learned about girls’ potential to get involved in and develop a passion for science by watching your own daughters take part in these activities alongside their brother? How has your experience watching them echoed the same ideas we’ve talked about a bit– that girls are no less inclined to pursue, or capable of pursuing, science?

HEINECKE: Yeah, I would say they all approach the experiments with equal passion, but for example, my son doesn’t have great small motor skills. So he didn’t like writing in his science notebook. He loved the experiments; he loved the vocabulary. I mean, it’s very much the individual kid. My daughter, who is close in age to him, would love writing in her notebook and drawing the experiments; she’s very visual and loved the artistic approach to the experiments. Meanwhile, my youngest — and at that time she was really so small — she just like touching it, drawing designs with corn starch on the table. Each kid approaches things individually. My girls seemed more interested in anything that has to do with animals, although my son loves marine biology. My son is obsessed with the weather and loves doing weather experiments, [while] the girls love doing the chemistry experiments. But all three of them equally love it, and all kids — I work with both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts — equally love mixing two things together to see what would happen, and they all make the same excited sounds when the balloon inflates or the solution bubbles over. I have seen differences in personality in terms of how kids approach things, but I’ve never met a kid who wasn’t excited when they did a science experiment. I see science as a great equalizer.

 

MUIPR: Where do you see yourself going down the road? Once your kids are grown, will you consider heading back to lab work, for example? What’s your plan?

HEINECKE: I’ve actually been thinking about this lately. I would like to continue finding ways to educate kids and make it easy for parents to do science with their kids. Right now, I have a new experiment I’m dying to try because I think kids will love it. But I also really like writing, and I can see myself doing more science writing. Also, I’m interested in writing fiction for middle school kids with female main characters that incorporate science into the story.

 

MUIPR: That would be so great!

HEINECKE: I think that with people realizing the importance of STEM for kids and for our country, basically, people are more interested in it, and publishers are more interested in having books with STEM incorporated into them. I would love to write books with some girl main characters that incorporate science stories. I think lots of times, people love learning science through story. It’s one of the best ways you can approach it, and girls often love fiction — I’ve seen this with my own girls. My son loves non-fiction, but my girls always love fiction. Giving science to girls through story [would be great].

 

Be sure to check out Heinecke’s blog, Kitchen Pantry Scientist, and look for her book, “Kitchen Lab Science for Kids” at your nearest bookstore or online at barnesandnoble.comIt’s the perfect guide to making science a fun and regular part of your daily routine and for satisfying the curiosity of the kids in your life!

 

Check back next week to see who we will be featuring next in our Women Leaders in STEM series!

 

If you are a woman working in STEM and are interested in being featured in our ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series, shoot us an email at blog.muipr@gmail.com or tweet me @tamarahoumi