Reflections on Yesterday’s Writing Prompt

I found yesterday’s writing prompt to be really interesting and thought-provoking.  For those that missed it, it was to write the personal statement that you would not send in.

I took the first thing that popped into my head and wrote about how I love biology, but how it has never been a subject I was comfortable in.  I have always felt more confident in any other subject except science (and math).  Through my academic career, I have always second-guessed myself in these subjects and have caught myself countless times thinking and worrying that I wasn’t smart enough to pursue that subject.  However, I decided to stick with it and I’m glad I did.

After writing my thoughts down, we had to turn to the person next with us and share.  My partner (who I will not name because I don’t want to embarrass her) is also a woman pursuing a science-related degree.  The shocking thing was that she confided in me the same exact thing – that she too was intimidated by the countless science classes she’s faced with and often second-guesses herself too. As much as this was comforting, knowing I’m not alone, it was also really alarming and puzzling. It really got me thinking.

This seemed like much more than a coincidence to me. What is it about science that intimidates us as women? Why do we so often feel discouraged? I think both of our intimidation and hesitance is just another example of how women are discouraged (and sometimes excluded) from the fields of science, math and tech.  It has been in the media a lot lately, how women really need to be encouraged to enter those fields because there simply isn’t enough women there now. Also it has been suggested that more women entering those types of fields would help lower the gender gap in salaries because those fields tend to pay more.  However, today, there are still stereotypes and prejudices that keep them away and discourage them. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

1. This is something Professor Lucenko RT’ed on twitter, about a woman discussing her career in computer science and the discrimination her daughter faces taking computer science classes: https://www.usenix.org/blog/my-daughters-high-school-programming-teacher

2. Lack of female in twitter’s IT staff, Lack of women in Silicone Valley – Here’s some reasons why: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/technology/as-tech-start-ups-surge-ahead-women-seem-to-be-left-behind.html?_r=0

3. This one’s not as recent, but once I saw it last year, it has been in my mind since. Gender bias in science – a controlled study shows that with male and female applicants with the same qualifications applying for the same job – men are more likely to be hired and viewed as more competent and hireable.  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/unofficial-prognosis/2012/09/23/study-shows-gender-bias-in-science-is-real-heres-why-it-matters/

4. This next one is a little more on the silly side, but I think it sums it up very well:

Overall, women need encouragement to pursue what they want to do – especially if it’s math and science. They need to not feel intimidated and discouraged. In my second year of college, I was so close to switching my major – I had a head full of doubt that I would be able to make it. However, at Suffolk Community College, I had two amazing female science teachers (one biology teacher and one chemistry). It may should cheesy, but I was so inspired by them, they were such great role models and I truly believe that seeing them is what made me stick with it. Not only do we need more women in math, science and tech to break the gender gap – we need more role models inspiring more young women like myself.

 

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3 Responses to Reflections on Yesterday’s Writing Prompt

  1. breannanappi says:

    Haha oh my goodness! It is sad that women are still struggling. It is terrible that men think that women aren’t as good as them. Then again, that is just because they are jealous that we are better than them right? Haha.
    I like the picture you posted, sad but true.
    It is true that there are mostly men in these professions when we are just as good at them. I think it is more than just people thinking that we are not as good. Sometimes I feel that women do not find too much interest in those kinds of jobs. I mean of course they do but I think compared to me, less women are interested in that. That is not good either because that leads to a higher male population in the fields and then that makes it harder for women to get jobs or even feel comfortable in the field being surrounded by mostly men. It is a truly complex situation!

  2. elizabethparisi says:

    This was such a well thought-out post with great links! Now, I know that this is what you wrote about for the personal statement that you would never, EVER, send. I wonder though, is there a way that this could work for you? While I agree that you might not want to say that you don’t think you’re smart enough to pursue a science degree (because it sounds like you are!) I think that your argument that women feel uncomfortable in those kinds of fields is so well-supported. It sounds like you’re not actually bad at science of math (you’ve made it this far, haven’t you?), but that you are very critical of your performance and worry that it doesn’t come naturally to you.

    This reminds me a lot of what has been called “stereotype threat”, a phenomenon that takes place when someone is made aware of the group that they belong to and act according to stereotypes. There was a very interesting study which you can find here: http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/carnegie/learning_resources/LAW_PGCHE/SteeleandQuinnStereotypeThreat.pdf. In it, the participants were informed that they would take a math test designed to recognize gender differences in math ability (which made the stereotype threat high for the women), even though both tests were actually the same. The women performed significantly worse on the math test when they were told there would be gender differences than when they were given the same test and not reminded of the stereotype that women are bad at math. I’ve heard of similar studies where they would make women take a math test in a bathing suit or in regular clothes. The women wearing bathing suits did significantly worse and, as the researchers would interpret it, this was because they were being made aware of their feminine form and insecure about stereotypes when wearing a bathing suit. However, I think that in this study other things could’ve made them worse at math like their butts sticking to the chairs or wishing they had gone to the gym that week!

    Still, I think that you made some good points in this post, and I actually think that something like that COULD work for you in a personal statement. The fact that you acknowledge that women have less of a presence in your field shows that you wish to be an ambassador, to overcome the stereotypes and your own insecurities to be the best damn scientist-lady you can be makes quite an inspirational story! I think this article goes well with the rest of your post, discussing the reasons that women drop out of the science and tech fields: http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156664337/stereotype-threat-why-women-quit-science-jobs.

  3. ktbmuether says:

    Thanks for your response, Liz! The two links you posted are great and definitely provide great examples of what I was talking about! I especially found the example in the first link about how women do worse on math tests when asked to take them in their bathing suits fascinating. I was consider going down that road for my personal statement, about how in the future I wanted to be a good example for young women (like the women who were great role models for me).. but I was worried about it coming off as cheesy and not personal enough.

    Thanks for your response too, Breanna! You’re absolutely right – fields that are male-dominated do make it harder for women to get into that field. You see this A LOT in medicine (in particular, surgery and cardiology). These fields have been historically male-dominated (due to a lot of reasons that I won’t go on about here) and because of that, it is harder for women to find mentors in these fields and if they do find a mentor, women often find themselves excluded because these fields have a “men’s club” kind of feel.

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