Today’s blog is written by guest blogger Jessica Laux, a production scientist at Promega Corporation. Jessica spends most of her time in clean rooms. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Natural Science-Animal Sciences.
I was always a very stubborn, defiant child. This is evidenced by the fact that my very first word was “NO!”, which I screamed at the top of my lungs after I had been scolded for pulling all the pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards. Years later, I still scream “NO!” at times, though I’ve refrained from making a mess of the kitchen lately. That same defiant spirit contributed a great deal to my chosen career.
At a ripe age of ten, I determined I was destined to become a great doctor. My preparation for this career involved writing morbid stories where I brought the dead back to life, as well as poring over the pages of a medical diagnostic book I had claimed as mine. I was not deterred by my inability to understand the big words. I was still able to draw the detailed human anatomy and skeletons with an impressive precision. A couple years later, an adult whom I trusted told me that science and medicine were fields for men only. This same person encouraged me to pursue my artistic talents instead.
I was upset and disheartened. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do what I wanted, or why only men were allowed in the special club. I had been taught by my parents that I could do whatever I put my mind to, and I had already decided it would be science. So of course, being the little rebellious child I was, being told “no ” only made me want it more. I wasn’t going to let the icky boys have all the fun.
When it comes to STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), males are still dominating the fields. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report in 2011, less than 25% of STEM positions are held by women What is the cause of this, and what can be done to increase the percentage of females in these fields? The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported from 2000-11 in Earned Bachelor’s Degrees, by Field and Sex that in 2000, women obtained only 20% of all engineering bachelor’s degrees. However, they have also earned 46% of all natural science degrees. These numbers have remained very consistent up through 2011. Is this simply a demonstration of female preference and interest, or are there other factors at play?
Some speculate the media and traditional gender roles are to blame. Young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science. The subconscious bias that math and science are exclusively “male” fields is still prevalent today. In order to combat this, parents and teachers can expose girls at an early age to a variety of fields and interests. More visibility would highlight the accomplishments of female scientists and engineers, and help cultivate interest in these fields through hands on workshops for children. We can dedicate ourselves to changing the stereotypes, which I believe prevents women from tapping into their true potential.
Organizations are popping up across the country to encourage girls with an interest in math and the sciences. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) organized more than 150 STEM programs in 35 states in just one year. Over 10,000 girls and their families were able to participate in either weeklong or day programs filled with hands on activities and information about the variety of careers open to them. Girls in Tech (GIT) is a global organization that focuses on the promotion and success of women in technology. They offer a variety of programs, such as a 48 hour app-building contest, and a bootcamp to teach women entrepreneurial skills to create their own start-up company. It’s an exciting time for girls to get involved in the STEM careers, and hopefully programs such as these will continue to grow. I know as a young girl I would have loved to have the encouragement of strong, intelligent females to push me to do what I loved. In the end, I never became a world-renowned doctor. However, I did become a scientist, and I think that’s just as good.