Jonathan Eisen, so nice to know you are a Pete Seeger fan! I enjoyed your post and the song. I'm not a huge fan of folk [as you might have guessed!], but Pete Seeger's contribution as a civil rights activist and also as someone who stood up to McCarthy is legendary. I see the Guardian has a nice piece on him. My grandmother was a Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson fan in the 30's, 40's and 50's.
You mention women engineers and women in STEM. I've noticed that many women out there in twitter land are discussing issues such as the difficulty of equal access to conferences, the difficulty of combining young children and tenure, and other challenges. It's good to see the more open discussion (compared to when I was in school).
Regarding the song, to be honest, I have never felt that there was a conflict between being feminine and being an engineer. Let's just say that I am not sure what feminine is and I don't spend much time thinking about it, but creating a conflict between ones' gender identity and their career prospects is bound to be tiring.
So my "day job" is "mixed signal circuit design engineer." What that means in real terms is that I put transistors together to do things like amplify, stabilize, acquire lock, detect frequency and phase, reject noise, filter noise, shape signals (in time and frequency), down and up convert (frequency) and convert the analog realm (real world) to and from the digital world (computer world). These mixed signal circuits are in all communication electronics products including cell phones, laptops, disc drives, routers, modems, wifi, metro networks and long-haul networks. All audio, displays and cameras have them. They are also in virtually all medical equipment and especially in imaging equipment. Even DNA sequencing equipment has some mixed signal circuitry at the front end.
The work encompasses everything from running mundane simulations all the way to fundamental research on understanding issues such as metastability using stochastic techniques.
I like what I do and I am well paid.
The area is quite theoretical. As a result, the field seems to attract people who are both technically and intellectually bright. I work with people from all over the world.
As a women in this field, the biggest challenges are work/family issues, at least in the early years. Chips (silicon) generally are designed on very demanding schedules. It is not uncommon to have to put in long hours which are often incompatible with the school schedules of children. It is hard to take time out.
Women also struggle with risk perception issues. Chip design research teams and managers are always gauging risk, especially when the cost of a single mask set can easily exceed several million dollars. A single error can mean months of debug and delay time and mask re-spin costs. Delay to production translates to lost design wins in a highly competitive market.
Over the years, I've done a lot of reading on the challenges women face in science and technology. Only a few sources stand out as providing an honest, multifaceted and meaningful discussion on the topic. To my mind, the MIT studies on Women Faculty in the Sciences are good.
One book towers above anything else I've ever read. The book is The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science by Londa Schiebinger.
Jonathan, recently I've noticed that you've written several articles on women in science and technology issues. There's also been some good discussion on C. Titus Brown's blog Living in an Ivory Basement. It's is a tough topic to discuss, but the effort is appreciated. I think you're in Davis, but if you're in the city sometime on the weekend and you want to grab a coffee and check out the Mission, my contact info is above.