The 33-year-old physicist, who lives and works in London, has become somewhat of a phenomenon in her very personal crusade to encourage more women to pursue STEM-related fields.
As a young woman recognized for her contributions to science, Jessica Wade stood out when she was welcomed to Buckingham Palace to receive the renowned British Empire Medal. Interestingly, she was there to be recognized for her attempts to change the gendered status quo in science. The 33-year-old physicist, whose doctorate research at Imperial College in London has been widely cited for advances in digital display technology for TV, computer and phone screens, has been active in her personal crusade to encourage more women to pursue STEM, reports TODAY. "I’m tirelessly pro-equality, and spend all my free time working with the Institute of Physics and Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to increase the representation of women in physics," she told Diff in a 2018 interview.
Dr. Wade has authored more than 1,600 Wikipedia articles for historically underrepresented women scientists and is enthusiastic about the need to encourage young women to pursue careers in science. She became well known when, while still in her 20s, she started creating Wikipedia biographies about female and marginalized community scientists who never received recognition from employers, peers or the general public.
She explained that this started becoming a regular thing in 2018 when she issued a challenge to herself: "When I woke up on January 1, 2018, I figured I’d set myself a challenge: one page about an awesome underrepresented group working in science and engineering every day that year."
Dr. Wade spoke and published more about gender equality in science as the number of her Wikipedia entries increased, first to the dozens and then to the hundreds. She won many awards and accolades for her work and was even cited by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. However, not everyone in Wiki-world liked her. Several of her entries were deleted by other Wikimedians (the term for the most influential contributors and editors on the platform). Dr. Wade explained that some of the women she profiled weren't particularly well-known, and that itself is the main issue as they ought to be well-recognized. Clarice Phelps was one such instance. Dr. Wade learned about the young, African-American nuclear chemist and prepared a Wikipedia entry regarding her work on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovery of a new periodic table element. However, she had to repeatedly support the Phelps entry as detractors attempted to get it removed from Wikipedia. Wade ultimately prevailed, and Phelps' entry is now permanently reinstalled on Wikipedia.
"I get really sad when my pages get nominated for deletion—not because of the time investment, but because the people I’m creating are genuinely brilliant and don’t deserve to have their notability questioned," she said.
Dr. Wade revealed that her favorite biography was that of Gladys West, the Black woman born in the ‘30s who did original mathematics that formed the cornerstone for modern-day GPS. "She didn’t even know she was doing it! I saw a tweet about her in Black History Month, made the page that evening, and then a few months later she got picked by the BBC as one of their 100 women," she said.
A few years ago me + @Sarah_Morgan_UK realised that a major scientific society's thesis prizes were all going to men. Their awarding criteria weren't clear and their decision making processes were not transparent. We reached out! And...they acted. And the stats are different now.— Dr Jess Wade 👩🏻🔬 (@jesswade) October 11, 2022
Dr. Wade is continuing her work to promote the work of women scientists while also advocating for the next generation to receive encouragement. She claims that girls don't require "whiz-bang" experiments during school assemblies because nothing changes once guest scientists perform their demonstration, pack up, and leave. Instead, consistent guidance and mentoring on what and when to study are needed for young girls and students of color.
“People assume girls don’t choose science because they’re not inspired,” said Dr. Wade. “Girls are already interested. It’s more about making students aware of the different careers in science and getting parents and teachers on board.” She concluded with the following advice: “Ultimately, we don’t only need to increase the number of girls choosing science, we need to increase the proportion of women who stay in science."