Getting More Minorities and Women Into Science
Today I read a post by See Jane Compute on diversity. This topic is one of my passions. As of yet, I really haven't had the chance to influence this area, other than serving as a role model, and writing this blog.
I entirely agree that it is really difficult to get underrepresented groups into the science, technology, math, and engineering fields (STEM). I'd like to talk a little about my experiences in this area.
My mom is a chemist and my dad is an MS physicist. Most of my family is in engineering or medicine. I have two aunts who are engineers and three uncles. You could say that my family is supportive of women in STEM. I have always been interested in science and engineering and my family has always been encouraging. When I was 10 I wanted to be a meteorologist, 12 an ichthyologist, 15 an engineer, 16 a chemical engineering, and low and behold I am!
When I was entering my senior year of high school I had to make some choices. I was in yearbook, french, and AP science, and math. I wanted to take AP chem and AP physics. To do this, I needed to drop either yearbook or french. I decided to drop french to allow me two take both sciences. I was also enrolled in AP english and AP BC calc. My counselor thought that it might be too 'hard' to take two sciences in the same year. She advised me to drop AP chem and continue with french. I told her, "look I want to be an engineer. I'm going to college next year. If I can't handle two sciences and a math now, I'm in big trouble." Reluctantly, they let me take both sciences. I made all A's.
The point is that I did not receive encouragement. The counselors thought that I couldn't handle a load that was inconsequential compared to a standard college load. When it came time to apply for colleges, I applied to MIT. I think I might have been the first one (at least in years) to do so. The counselors again thought that I was 'aiming too high.' I was accepted (although I didn't attend for financial reasons). They were really shocked. But the only reason that I was successful, was because of the constant support of my family. If I had not had this backing, I am quite sure I would probably be a linguistics major or something. [nothing wrong with linguistics. I actually love it.]
In undergrad, I received a great deal of support from society of women engineers. We were really quite a group. The older students set up tutoring for the younger ones. We hung out together. We went to national conferences together. The recent grads helped get jobs for the graduating seniors. It was something else. Many of those from my network went on to grad school and are beginning faculty positions like myself. This support made my success possible, because I felt comfortable in the environment, because of the other women supporting me.
In grad school, my advisor was a woman. I had a mentor who was a senior professor with four children from newborn to age 10. I participated in preparing future faculty programs and WEPAN. I had support at every turn. Even when I had my children, which is a bit unusual, my colleagues were nothing but supportive and happy. [well mostly, a few of the male profs did make some offhanded remarks.]
Despite all my fears that I won't achieve tenure, can't maintain work life balance, and will never see my children, I am a 'success' story. To achieve this, I had extraordinary amounts of support. Unfortunately, the environment for women and minorities is hostile [see my post just what is the bias against women in science]. Each student that we ferry through the pipeline will require someone at every step of the way saying you can do this, others have done this, other women/minorities, this is your place, you are normal. And that, as Jane said, is hard.