Lessons Learned Working with Women in STEM
By Kate Blumenthal
I stood outside craning my neck to stare at the moon. I was in third grade and completing an assignment, where my classmates and I documented through drawings the phases of the moon over the course of a month. I enjoyed it so much, I wrote a letter to NASA and received a package in response including pictures of the moon and other planets.
I loved science. I was curious about the world and wanted to understand how it worked. Then I hit high school and science started to become math heavy. Math didn’t come naturally to me like liberal arts subjects. I was constantly frustrated. Adults and family members directed me to instead shift my attention to subjects that came more easily. “Mommy isn’t good at math either. It is okay, math is hard for girls. You’re great at other subjects. Focus on those and do your best.”
And just like that, any interest and excitement I felt towards science was extinguished. Fast forward to present day, where in my work at the UC Davis ADVANCE program I am surrounded by intelligent, hard-working, successful women in the STEM fields, these memories of loving science have come flooding back. Girls don’t need help becoming interested in science. They already are. Girls need help STAYING interested in science.
4 lessons I’ve learned working with women in STEM:
- You can be interested and pursue things that do not come naturally
So often we are steered in the direction of things that come easily to us – whether a subject in school or hobby. The women I have met each have at least one story of obstacles they had to overcome to pursue their interest in STEM, whether as a student or as a professional navigating their way through a male dominated field.
- There are women scientists, technology professionals, engineers, and mathematicians
As a child, I did not have female science teachers or learn about female scientists. This further instilled the idea that science is for boys. It contributed to me shifting attention to other subject areas and stopped me from trying hard or taking more than the required classes I needed to graduate. A female presence in this area would have made a world of difference. The women that have persevered and continue to pursue STEM are role models that are sorely needed for young girls today.
- There are no boy subjects and girl subjects
This old misconception of “boy subjects” and “girl subjects” succeeds in shutting women out from STEM fields at an early age, and contributes to math anxiety and lower confidence in their skills. The Scientific American has a great analysis of this. Science is for girls. History is for girls. Reading and writing is for girls. Math is for girls. Building stuff is for girls. Community outreach efforts to increase visibility of women in STEM are crucial to challenging the climate and stereotypes that have previously dominated the conversation.
- It’s never too late
This is for all the women that grew up like me – interested but conditioned to think it is not for us. At 30 years old, I am now surrounded by women that prove STEM is for girls. It is not only okay, but AWESOME to become interested and keep learning. Thank you to all the women in STEM who continue to encourage and support other women around them to learn and grow.
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