WikiWomen: A new kind of party

Earlier this year, while I was sequestered in the bat-cave studying for my qualifying exam, I came across something very distressing. Widely reported from the New York Times to the feminist blog Jezebel, the study has been done and the verdict is in—only 13% of the people editing Wikipedia articles are women. Though there are endless articles debating the causes, my interest in the issue lies elsewhere: what can be done to change this?

I believe that more women would be involved in editing Wikipedia if it were a social activity, rather than an insular one, so I hosted a WikiWomen party at my house to make the experience collaborative. In attendance were five female chemists: myself, Anna Goldstein (your favorite blogger on BSR), Rebecca Murphy, Chelsea Gordon, and Helen Yu. We started the night with a dinner, over which we discussed the experience of being a graduate student, and how writing for Wikipedia compares to teaching undergraduates.

The first group of WikiWomen, hard at work

To get everyone’s creative juices flowing, Anna made us the Golden Peach (the official drink of WikiWomen):
1 shot Ciroc Vodka
½ shot DeKuyper Peach Schnapps
1 shot Sprite

After dinner, we all whipped out our laptops (and power cords) and set to work editing Wikipedia. Anna was the only attendee who had edited Wikipedia before, so the rest of us set to work watching tutorials on YouTube and reading Wikipedia editing guidelines. While somewhat discouraged at first by the long list of rules, we were quickly laughing and helping each other by sharing what we had learned.

We decided to start with what we know best: our own research, and the life and times of our research advisors. Anna created a page for her mentor, Peidong Yang (though, curiously, a page already existed for him in on the German Wikipedia). Rebecca created two new pages related to her research project: magellanine and Lycopodium magellanicum, Helen worked on her search for a graduate research group, creating a page for Linda Hsieh-Wilson at Caltech, and Chelsea created a page for her research area, bioorthogonal chemistry. We also edited existing pages for Carolyn Bertozzi, Ken Raymond, bioorthogonal chemical reporters and Wikipedia’s list of chemists.

There was an ulterior motive to starting with these familiar topics: as a graduate student who is often made to feel stupid by my research, I take solace in Martin Schwartz’s idea of “the importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Though research can make me feel stupid, learning how to do something new and teaching it to others is really refreshing. We reveal the sometimes-hidden degree of our own expertise when we can share it with anyone in the world with an internet connection. It was fun to expose science and our research to others while relaxing with friends. As Chelsea put it, “It was a very empowering experience, and helped me to realize how much science I really know… definitely confidence-building. Graduate students are in the perfect position to contribute to Wikipedia—we are all experts on something!”

If you would like to join the next WikiWomen party, please email me (Piper Klemm). Ladies, let’s claim Wikipedia!

Piper J. Klemm (@piperjklemm) is a graduate of Trinity College (Hartford, CT) and a Ph.D. Candidate in Chemistry at UC Berkeley. She is also the Membership Chair of Zoo II (@sfzoo2), supporting the San Francisco Zoo.

Leave a Reply


  1. Pingback: Women, Let’s Claim Wikipedia! : Ms Magazine Blog

  2. Sandy DJ

    Hi Piper,
    Very inspiring article! Any chance that a WikiWomen Party will be happening in the NY city area? Or perhaps a virtual Party?

  3. Yeah, let’s do a virtual party! Actually, google+ hangouts are the perfect thing for that. Sandy, you should get a group together in NYC and we can share some cross-coast wiki love.

  4. Nice article! As a wikipedian I am for anything which can improve participation

  5. How did it make you feel when Steve Quinn repeatedly tried to indicate that the article about Linda Hsieh-Wilson was suitable for deletion? This is a legitimate question, because “biting the newbies” is seen as one major reason why Wikipedia’s editor base is in such decline. New editors (boys, girls, men, and women alike) are treated with hostility too often.

    If you would like to read more about the unprofessional aspects of the Wikipedia culture and its governing body the Wikimedia Foundation, follow the link in my name above.

  6. Hi Mr. Kohs,

    It was very frustrating to deal with that. It was frustrating on a personal level- here we just sat down and spent the time to do this, but also on a professional level. Professor Hsieh-Wilson is a very successful and lauded chemist, who happens to be a woman and an excellent role model.

    However, this is where the nature of the collaborative process of WikiWomen kicks in. Being surrounded by supportive people, we were able to not let that article get deleted and but also not be personally affected by it. People who edit often use this team approach to get the articles they want, however, we are working in the same room and have the physical and emotional support, not only computer contact. I believe that the collaborative and supportive environment of WikiWomen events all over the world will alleviate at least the sting of the bite, if not the bite all together.


  7. This is awesome! There are other women Wikipedia editors on campus, as well as a new Wikipedia club. You should check out the site and join the email list!

    The club would be more than happy to collaborate on or help folks host WikiWomen nights and other empowering events, please drop us a line!

    – Matt

  8. Pingback: In my free time, I’m re-writing the lyrics to mmmbop to be N-BOC | STEM_Wonk

  9. Pingback: Let’s throw more Wikipedia editing parties — Wikimedia blog