Cambridge-based Science Club for Girls asked a number of women who work in science and technology, including me, to write a letter to our younger selves as part of their celebration of Women’s History Month. Inspired by picking up a soldering iron for the first time in years and making an Atari Punk Console at Music Hack Day last fall, I wrote the following to my 13-year-old self (who, yes, is the dorky kid in the picture), in the summer before I started high school. Note the postscript, which references the first album I remember actively acquiring.
It’s cold and bright here in Boston, and I’m sure it’s hot and bright where you are. Right now, you’re taking Grade 9 math (or, as I’ve learned to say now that I live in the US, 9th grade math) in summer school, before you start high school, so you can get ahead in your math requirements. It’s a good place to start.
You’ve registered to take auto shop and electrical shop at your new school in the fall. I hate to say this, but the classes are kind of going to suck. You’ll be the only girl in both, and the boys are going to give you a hard time, and the teachers aren’t going to notice or care. And someone is going to steal your notes right before the electrical shop exam. (Don’t worry – you’ll do fine. Just make sure you check your math!).
It’s not going to be the best of experiences, but I want you to hold onto how much you love making stuff. Remember when you were really little, and you spent all your time in the basement with LEGO, Tinker Toys, and puzzles? I know that your favorite free-time activity these days is reading, but I want to encourage you to keep finding ways to create things. Keep writing programs for your Apple IIe. Ask our parents for some of the new LEGO Technic. Look in the phone book for a place to buy model rocketry stuff. Setting off explosions kind of scares you, yes. But I also know that you can do things that scare you – that’s why you learned how to weld in metal shop last year, right?
Because here’s the thing: you’re good at math and physics. Yes, I know you haven’t done any physics yet – I promise you, you’re good at it. And that’ll get you really far – through college (whoops, that’s ‘university’ to you) and graduate school. But no one is really going to give you many opportunities to build things, and you’ll really want to, trust me. There’s a distinctive pleasure to holding something that you’ve made, and you’ll get a tremendous confidence boost from it – it’s the difference between, “I’m not sure,” and “Of course I can.” Figuring out how to solve a physics problem is one thing; figuring out how to put something together is quite another. You’ll get lots of practice with the first, but you’ll need to make your own experiences with the second.
So go out there and start making things. And keep making things.
But let me tell you – the future is pretty awesome. Just one example: you know that new Apple Macintosh computer that Ms. Hamilton, the librarian, got this year to catalog the library? And how cool it was compared to all the Apple IIs in the computer lab? You will not believe what I’m holding in my hand right now…
Much love from the 21st century,
PS: Can I ask you a favor? David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the LP that you have? Would you mind hanging on to it? Your future self thanks you.
[cross-posted from here]