In the grandeur of Buckingham Palace, where history and tradition intertwine, Jessica Wade, a beacon of change in the realm of science, stood out as she received the prestigious British Empire Medal. A 33-year-old physicist from London, she found herself in an ironic twist – being recognized for her relentless efforts to transform the landscape of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) for young women.
Jessica has become a phenomenon, an irresistible force championing gender equality in science. Her remarkable journey involves crafting over 1,600 Wikipedia entries, unveiling the forgotten narratives of women scientists who never received the acknowledgment they deserved. In her twenties, she embarked on a mission to amplify the voices of underrepresented scientists, both women, and minorities.
As her Wikipedia entries multiplied, so did her advocacy. Awards and medals adorned her path, and she even earned praise from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. Yet, not all within the Wiki community welcomed her initiative. Some entries faced deletion, challenged by influential contributors who argued that these women weren’t widely known. Jessica countered, affirming that the lack of recognition was precisely the issue – these extraordinary women should be celebrated.
One such battle centered around Clarice Phelps, an African-American nuclear chemist whose contributions were hidden in obscurity. Despite challenges and deletions, Jessica’s perseverance prevailed, and Phelps’ story found a permanent place on Wikipedia.
In her own Wikipedia entry, now a testament to her impact, Jessica’s story unfolds across ten printed pages. However, her focus remains steadfast on propelling the next generation of women scientists forward. She advocates not for flashy experiments but for meaningful mentorship, guidance, and support.
Jessica emphasizes that the notion that girls lack interest in science is a misconception. Instead, it’s about making them aware of diverse career possibilities in science and garnering support from parents and teachers. Currently, women comprise only 28 percent of the U.S. STEM workforce, and the need to not just increase the number of girls entering science but also ensure their longevity in the field is paramount.
High school science teachers play a pivotal role, according to Jessica, and addressing the shortage of skilled specialists is crucial. She calls for transparency in school policies on bullying and harassment, affordable on-campus childcare at universities, and inclusive measures for admissions, grants, and promotions.
Reflecting on her inclusion in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, Jessica envisions a future where young women scientists become commonplace at such ceremonies. Her hope is for them to revel in the moment as she did when honored by the royal family, an experience she aptly describes as “pretty wild.” With her mother by her side at Buckingham Palace, she even cheekily brought a Tupperware to carry home a piece of royalty for her father – a gesture that beautifully encapsulates the spirit of a woman determined to change the face of science while appreciating the joy in each step of her journey.
Last modified: January 29, 2024