By Crystal Benner
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.