Girls in Stem and Higher Education

By Crystal Benner

PART TWO

In my first post, I introduced the topic of women in STEM and described my earliest steps on the journey to becoming a female scientist. Here I describe my first experiences in higher education.

Moving into young adulthood, I knew that I needed to pursue some type of degree to be able to support myself. I had always enjoyed science but I felt unsure of whether or not I would be successful in that type of higher educational degree, so I chose a to obtain an associate’s degree in medical assisting as a stepping stone. Primarily I wanted to see if I could successfully complete the degree, and secondly I wanted to know if I would enjoy that type of career. As it turned out, I graduated at the top of my class and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. However, that didn’t spare me from difficulties in gaining employment as a recent graduate. Due to the high turnover rate in the career assistance department of my school, I had very little help to support me in externship placement or in my job search after graduation, and it took me a year of applying on my own while working full time to obtain my first medical position. I worked as a waitress while I was pursuing my degree and for that year after graduation. There is a common professional hurdle that most students don’t know much about, but that is very prevalent for graduates in any level or profession: experience required for hire and no employers willing to provide roles to gain said experience. It is very frustrating and demoralizing after so much hard work and accomplishment to enter a marketplace where no one seems to want you.

Advice: There are some things that you should investigate before starting a degree program, so that you have the best chance for success. First, check into your prospective school’s career placement assistance. See if they offer assistance, not only in resume preparation or distribution, but also by directly contacting employers and arranging meetings. If you can find an institution with this service, it is extremely helpful. You’re more likely to be seriously considered for a position if you meet people directly versus just being another piece of paper in their stack. Secondly, see what internship or externship opportunities are offered. If they are arranged within your school, ask for information on which companies participate and see which of those may actually be looking to hire. One of the best ways to get your first job is through internal hiring after an internship. Essentially, you are completing onsite training and can immediately contribute to the company upon hire. Internships are a precious resource, so carefully consider your choice, and if you arrange your own outside of the university be sure to assess their willingness to hire interns after graduation. Proactively educate yourself on the opportunities available to you so that you can strategically secure the internship that gives you the best chance of employment upon graduation. Do not underestimate the importance of work experience! Whether you are directly hired from your internship or you join the masses independently seeking employment, having that industry experience can be a deal maker or breaker.

Next time, I will discuss my undergraduate experience, my decision to study abroad for my master’s, and some tips for those who may wish to have an international educational experience.

Crystal Benner is an analytical chemist, writer, and social advocate living in the Greater Philadelphia Area. She has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, a master’s degree in forensic science, and has worked in corporate industry as an analytical biochemist. A long time advocate of women’s/human rights, Crystal has been a dedicated contributor to the support and development of girls and women in professional roles. She also cares deeply about animal rights, and volunteers her time with the Philadelphia PSPCA.

 

Girls in Stem

By Crystal Benner

PART ONE 

Women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions. You may have heard mention of this in recent conversation, as the topic is beginning to gain steam in the media. I believe that the best approach to improving the current statistics is twofold: increase awareness of women in STEM (giving girls role models to look to), and address current roadblocks to gender equality in the workplace.

I will begin this blog series by describing my professional journey as a female scientist, providing some tips for success based on my experience, and introducing the discussion of challenges faced by women in the STEM workplace today. It is my hope that if you recognize any of the difficulties or challenges that I describe in your own experience, that the series may help to provide some insight into how you can move past them or at the very least, assure you that you are not alone.

When I was a young girl my parents encouraged me to pursue my dreams, whatever they might be. I was told that, if I put my mind to it, I could be anything I wanted to be. What I didn’t have growing up was any female role models in STEM fields, so even though I had the encouragement to go after anything I wanted, these career options did not fully enter my consciousness. Despite my great love of learning, throughout middle school and high school I developed a frustration with math. I felt that the things that I encountered on exams were not made clear by the lessons or homework preceding them. I became fully convinced that I simply wasn’t good at math, and as a consequence I avoided taking chemistry in high school because I heard it centered heavily on mathematics, choosing instead to focus my scientific training on biology. I made passing grades but I only completed the minimum amount of required math courses for high school graduation, which left me with some catching up to do when I started my college career.

Advice: If any readers have had similar experiences, I want to say: Hang in there! Seek out whatever resources are available to you now and know that once you get to college you will have access to many more resources, such as student learning centers with tutors and professors with office hours to discuss issues with you. My issue was mainly that the way instructors presented the material in my younger years was not the way that my brain processed it best. I found that professors were much more willing to discuss the coursework from multiple angles which was helpful in identifying the misunderstanding and what approach was useful in communicating the information.

In the next installment, I will describe my introduction to higher education.

Crystal Benner is an analytical chemist, writer, and social advocate living in the Greater Philadelphia Area. She has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, a master’s degree in forensic science, and has worked in corporate industry as an analytical biochemist. A long time advocate of women’s/human rights, Crystal has been a dedicated contributor to the support and development of girls and women in professional roles. Crystal also cares deeply about animal rights, and volunteers her time with the Philadelphia PSPCA.