Girls in Stem and Higher Education

By Crystal Benner


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.