Throughout history, and even to this day, women have been consistently underrepresented, underrecognized, and under-supported in the fields of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math. Take, for example, Rosalind Franklin, the London-born chemist whose x-rays of the DNA molecule, Photo 51, were crucial in allowing James Watson and Francis Crick to deduce the correct DNA structure. Watson and Crick were later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, while Franklin, who had died four years prior to this, was not credited. Franklin’s case is just one of many examples regarding women in STEM who were spurned of their achievements on the basis of gender.
To honor women in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and to celebrate Women’s History Month, Bamboo Telegraph interviewed three of ISM’s very own women in STEM: Ms. Vinter who teaches Chemistry, and Ms. Waldock and Ms. Geoffroy who teach math.
What attracted you to this subject?
Ms. Vinter: I liked being involved in a subject that was so intellectually challenging! I did not find chemistry easy in high school but when I was older and it (eventually) clicked, I started to enjoy, rather than fear, the discovery aspects of the subject. I think it was through science in general that I started to understand that mistakes are NOT actually the worst thing ever, but that you can draw understandings from them and move on.
Ms. Waldock: I was motivated and inspired by my teachers and family growing up. I remember my dad making up math problems at the dinner table and I loved thinking through the solutions with him. In high school and into college I started loving the beauty of math — finding patterns and using logic to explore abstract ideas was really interesting to me during that time.
Ms. Geoffroy: I have always been drawn to mathematics, since I was in high school myself. I liked how it challenged my thought process, forced me to logically think through problems. I have always been fascinated by how different people can look at problems and have totally different approaches but get the same solution in the end.
Are there any great women in STEM you would like to highlight?
Ms. Vinter: I think a lot of work has been done recently on highlighting amazing historical women, but I would like to highlight current women working on science as we speak! My instagram feed is FULL of female virologists and immunologists who keep me up to date with all the [COVID] vaccine information that is available. I’d recommend @kinggutterbaby as a quirky and fun woman to follow who will throw those awesome COVID facts at you in a way that’s actually interesting…and factual!
Ms. Waldock: At Northwestern University I took 12 math courses over my four years and only had one woman math professor, Min Kang. She would lecture for 60 minutes straight and fill every inch of the blackboard, ending the class covered in chalk dust. She was this energetic, passionate, funny mathematician and I always looked forward to her differential equations class. She made math come alive for me and further inspired my own teaching career.
What hardships, if any, have you encountered based on being a woman in the STEM field?
Ms. Vinter: I feel I have been very lucky in that I’ve not experienced obvious hardships like pay differences or resistance to promotions. I do feel, however, that as a woman, I often enter the conversation as the underdog and it’s up to me to prove I know what I am talking about. The issue of gender bias is rife in science and these smaller, less obvious, agressions are what I have most commonly experienced. In my 11 years of teaching science I have never once had a woman try to explain basic chemistry concepts to me as if I would have somehow managed for the past 11 years without knowing them already. I have experienced this repeatedly from men, however.
Why is it important for children, especially young girls, to see other females in STEM fields?
Ms. Waldock: There’s a saying that “you’ve got to see it to be it.” If young people see other people that look like them doing awesome STEM-y things, the more confidence they will have to pursue it themselves. Women make up half of the world’s population, so it only makes sense that half of the STEM field should be composed of women too. Unfortunately, that’s not the case….yet. The paradigm that STEM is a male-dominated field still exists in my opinion, but I do see it shifting. It’s up to rising generations to keep pushing boundaries and getting involved in STEM to contribute to the growth of the field and to contribute to advancements for society.
Ms. Geoffroy: It’s important for young people to have role models and people that inspire them to work hard and strive to achieve their goals in life. It’s imperative that children, whatever their gender or race, see people like them in STEM fields so they know that they too can belong. For young boys, to see females in the STEM field shows them that it’s not just something men do, it’s something everyone can do. For young girls, a female in the STEM field can be their role model and also that is normal – it’s a field for everyone no matter what you look like or your gender.
What is your advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
Ms. Vinter: DO IT! It might not make you a millionaire (or it might?!) like a job in business can, but it is an ever changing, interesting and diverse career option that can be incredibly fulfilling!
Ms. Waldock: My advice? GO FOR IT. Find a mentor to guide you. Find a trusted team with which to collaborate. Ask loads of questions. Be prepared for hurdles but have the fortitude to persevere. Know when to ask for help.
Ms. Geoffroy: There are so many careers that are under the umbrella of STEM – research people in jobs that sound interesting to you, read their books or listen to [their] podcasts. Talk to teachers, ask for contacts of adults working in STEM and ask questions, lots of them! [In university], professors are a wealth of information and are usually very connected with others in the field, so get to know them and don’t be shy to ask questions! Research different summer programs that are STEM related and “get your hands dirty” so to speak. The best way to know if you will like something is to do it! Also, and this goes for any career, don’t be afraid to show you are passionate through hard work and perseverance!
Ms. Vinter, Ms. Waldock, and Ms. Geoffroy’s responses provide first-hand insight into what it’s like being a woman in the STEM field; they reaffirm to us that the gender disparity in these fields is real, but they also highlight how it is slowly shifting, and that the rate of this change depends on the future generations, on us, to keep pushing boundaries and remain strong-willed in the face of adversity.