Towards a more inclusive STEM

Being in a STEM field is hard. Being a woman in a STEM field is even harder. For the past eight years, my interest in science has been met with questions and doubt.

When I was first applying to college for physics, most people responded with shock.

In my first college physics course, we were told to split into groups to work on a quiz. I joined a group with two men who proceeded to ignore what I had to say the entire time.

When I was tutor at a community college, one tutee refused to get math help from me and instead asked a fellow male tutor.

When I tell people that I have a bachelor’s degree in physics, I’m met with, “Wow, really??” and “I didn’t expect that.” Explaining to people that I’m pursuing a Ph.D. in Hydrology, I’m met with similar responses.

These instances are frustrating and discouraging. I’ve been in a STEM field for the past six years, and by all measures of success, I’m doing damn well—I have a first-author publication; I have field experience; I can code in Python; and, maybe most importantly, I haven’t given up.

However, I still underestimate my abilities. And I know I’m not alone. In a recent piece published in Advances in Physiology Education, researchers found that in an undergraduate biology class (a field that is typically more female-dominated than most other STEM fields), the average male student sees himself as smarter than 66% of the class, while the average female student sees herself as smarter than only 54% of the class.

Reading about this study and seeing the disparity invoked so many emotions within me:

Anger. I’m angry that women tend to see themselves as lesser than their male counterparts, even when they are just as, if not more, capable and smart.

Sadness. I’m sad that it’s still true that fewer women than men pursue careers in STEM fields.

Motivation. I’m now feeling more motivated than ever to be a role model for young women considering joining a STEM field. I don’t want STEM fields to continue in this direction, and I want to show young women that, despite these unfortunate experiences, it’s possible to continue in STEM and thrive.

To my fellow STEM-ers:
We need to do better. We need to be better. Let’s work together to ensure that the future of STEM will be inclusive of all people, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, and ability. Below, I’ve linked to a few excellent articles that discuss concrete steps we can take as a community to become more inclusive:

How to involve more women and girls in engineering
Women in STEM Begins With Girls in STEM: 7 Ways to Support a Generation of Scientific Young Women

Breaking the STEM ceiling for girls

This post was inspired by an article published on April 4. Read it here.

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