8 Things Every Woman Working In Science Will Experience
It's 2013 and I am sitting in my first college class, an introductory physics course. As I shuffle through my backpack, I am overwhelmed by the combination of nervousness and excitement that's found its way deep into the pit of my upset stomach.
My eyes curiously scan the room as other students select their seats. As the commotion subsides, my gaze peers down my row of 40 students. I suddenly recognize I am one of the only females.
“OK, now I understand,” I thought to myself as I experienced my first true feeling of what it's like to be a woman in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). I had heard countless stories of how heavily men continue to dominate the STEM fields, but it wasn't until that moment I actually got it.
I had naively decided these stories were exaggerated. After all, it's the 21st century and woman are flooding into these fields, right? It sure doesn't feel like it.
I attend a university that boasts its diverse student population, however only 26.6 percent of its engineering students were female in 2015. So, what's it like to be one in four, you ask? I'm here to share eight things all women in STEM fields experience or will experience at some point.
You'll definitely experience the “Wait, you're a physicist/engineer/math major?” question and facial expression.
It's amazing to me people still hesitate to take me seriously when I introduce myself as a female engineering student or researcher. I'm petite, brunette and feminine. Women just like me have made revolutionary advances in our understanding of the world for hundreds of years — Marie Curie, Mae Jemison and Jane Goodall to just name a few.
I know this might be shocking, but I can promise you it is possible to be both female and a scientist — mind-blowing, I know.
Men will be intimidated by your field.
Guys, yes, I enjoy solving challenging calculus problems and spending time in a lab discovering novel solutions to cutting-edge medical questions, but there is no need to be intimidated.
If you have also worked hard to chase your passion, then there is nothing to worry about. I won't judge you for your career path selection and I would appreciate if you did likewise.
You will build a strong female support system.
I won't lie to you. Studying engineering can be frightening. You have tough math and science classes to juggle on top of your general electives and are still expected to be a part of an active student body.
It's exhausting both physically and mentally, but it's during those frustrating all-nighters — the ones where you can't solve a complicated differential equation or are stuck working out an intense organic chemistry problem — that you will build incredible relationships with your STEM sisters.
They will comfort you when you want to give up on your thermodynamics homework and will motivate you with promises of future Netflix-bingeing and ice-cream-eating nights.
Coffee is a staple in your diet.
From your 8 ams to your late-night study sessions and any time in between, coffee is always there for you. Did I mention studying engineering is exhausting?
I am convinced that balancing school, multiple jobs, clubs and my personal life would be impossible without my freshly brewed friend.
You will answer the “So, are you a tomboy?” question time and time again.
What does this question even mean anymore?
I am a girl, and I'm a nerdy engineer. I love flowers, and I would totally spend a weekend watching back-to-back “Star Wars” movies.
My favorite color is lavender, and I wear my lab coat more than any piece of clothing in my closet. My favorite college class so far was calculus II, and I try to practice yoga at least twice a week.
Square peg, round hole? I say let's redefine the hole; I am an engineering student after all.
Someone will ask you if you plan to sacrifice your career for your family or vice versa.
Am I unable to have both? As in, together. As in, yes, a mom and a scientist at the same time. For those who doubt me, let me prove you wrong.
And for those who are impatient and doubt me, look around. Some of my greatest role models are women who not only slay it on the science front, but are also extraordinary moms.
People will underestimate you.
I was recently telling a colleague about some of the research I have worked on. After I finished explaining to him the potential the research has to benefit trauma patients, he quickly commented he “had no idea that I was smart.”
I recognized he didn't mean it offensively, but he was genuinely surprised. He bashfully apologized and then tried to explain himself.
He was shocked someone who was kind and happy could also be smart. I don't blame him for it, but it's little daily occurrences like these that remind me women in STEM fields still need to prove themselves in order to rid society of these stereotypes.
You will be successful, and you will inspire others to be successful too.
Believe me, I know it's tough, but it is also incredibly rewarding. As an engineer, you have the potential to make a positive impact on all our communities and — quite literally — build the future for generations to come.
By even just being a part of the STEM community as a woman, you are paving the way for our daughters to also have a hand in shaping the future. That seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.
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