Back in high school, science was my least favorite subject. My brief encounter with Freddie the Frog in the dissection lab convinced me to steer clear of any future courses that involved dead things or material that was as deadly boring as it was irrelevant. That pretty much did it for science, at least as it was taught in 1970s suburbia.
Thirty years later, I love science. I can't squeeze enough of it into my day. At some point, someone struck down that law that said that science must be earnest and tedious -- and, of course, I grew up and gained the ability to control what kind of science materials I choose to read. All the science I read is for fun. No one is making me read anything for my own good. That's the difference. I can zero in on aspects of science that are directly relevant to my life today. I can research the effects of sleep deprivation, celebrate the fact that coffee has been kicked off the vice list, and pour over those fabulous photos of human ovulation that emerged earlier this month (the coolest science ever, if you're into female reproductive biology—and, if you're not, well just back away from the link).
Sometimes I wonder if I might have chosen a slightly different career path -- if I might have been one of that small percentage of girls in my high graduating class to pursue a career in science rather than the arts -- if someone had shown me photos of fallopian tubes rather than dead frogs way back when.
It might not have made a difference, but at least all the forks in the road would have seemed equally viable when I was considering my career options. When I look back, I don't remember there being other forks other than the one I took (the one that led to a degree in history and women's studies). Maybe the other paths hadn't been blazed by enough women – or enough women I could relate to – for me to notice that those paths even existed.
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What got me thinking about science today were these two intriguing studies -- one about oxytocin and one about Canadian women and their menstrual cycles. (The latter cycle talks about a whole lot more, but I'm just focusing on one single stat in this particular column.)
All-powerful oxytocin. It sounds like the patented ingredient in a miracle cleaner, but oxytocin is actually that fabulously versatile hormone that triggers labor contractions, the breastfeeding let-down response, the blissed-out feeling that new moms enjoy (when their not too stressed out to feel blissed-out), and that urge we get to speed-dial every female we know on the Planet when one of girlfriends is in distress. Now researchers from the University of Zurich have discovered that oxytocin comes to our emotional rescue under other circumstances as well: it's the hormonal juice that allows us to give people (and life) a chance again when someone has fed our heart into the paper shredder. Yep. Oxytocin is also "the trust hormone" (makes sense) and it works particularly powerfully in women (ditto).
Irregular is the new normal. A study conducted by Harris/Decima on behalf of First Response Easy-Read Ovulation predictor kits and Early Result pregnancy tests found that 79 percent of Canadian women have periods that vary in length from one cycle to the next, a situation that can make it difficult for a woman who is trying to conceive to predict her most fertile days. If the majority of women have irregular cycles, why do we still like to pretend that a regular 28-day cycle is the norm? It sounds to me like yet another biological fairy tale.
So what do you think? Have we been sold a false bill of goods about what's "normal" in the land of menstrual cycles? Are you a member of the oxytocin fan club? Are you more fascinated by science now than you were during your growing-up years? Do you think today's science curriculum does a better job of making science interesting for kids? Girls still aren't as drawn to certain types of science courses and careers as boys. Should we be concerned or should we accept this as "just one of those things."