Yes I’m a Woman, And Yes I Like Science

Have you ever heard the name Rosalind Franklin? Franklin was an English chemist and biophysicist who played an instrumental part in the discovery of DNA structure – Watson and Crick used her unpublished work to develop the double helix model of DNA we know today. What about Margaret Hamilton? Hamilton was a computer scientist and systems engineer. Oh! and she was the Director of the Software Engineering Division, which developed on-board flight software for the NASA Apollo moon missions.

*Margaret Hamilton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on November 22, 2016**

 Those are only two women, out of thousands, who have helped reinvent the sciences. Unfortunately, even with so many intelligent, innovative women contributing to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, there is still an enormous gender gap. It’s a known fact that throughout history, women have not had equal representation or recognition in the sciences, compared to their male counterparts. Sociological experts attribute the disparity between genders in the science field, to what they call a “leaky pipeline.” They note that females who originally start out with an interest in pursuing a science profession, will change their major within the first couple of years of college. As a woman, I know too well that the pressures of society placed on females are heavy enough to fill a mind with self-doubt.

The flawed, old rules of patriarchal social structure have always labeled women as the child baring nurturers; the neck to the head of the house. Even now, despite all our leaps forward and social reconstruction, there is still a palpable air of judgement towards professional women. Suddenly, our “motherly instincts” are playfully questioned. People ask if, besides a career, do we ever aspire to marriage or kids— as if our self-worth as humans specifically rely on these concepts.

I am a woman currently pursuing her Masters in Human Biology, and I plan to one day see my last name followed by those magical letters * M.D./P.H.D.* While most people are extremely encouraging or proud when I share my aspirations with them, I have noticed some people respond with a bit of confusion. Two occasions really stand out to me. The first occurred about a year ago; I was still a senior in my undergrad. I was at work and during our lunch break, colleagues and I were sharing our plans for school and the future. When it was my turn to share, I simply said, “I’m getting my Masters in biology.” Someone then asked me, “Oh, do you want to be a teacher?” While their question was very genuine and calm, it still took me by surprise. Although I completely respect the education professions and owe where I am today to some great teachers, I personally have never even considered teaching. I just looked at them and said, “No, I actually want to get into medicine and do research one day, you know, like a scientist.”  In which they replied, “A scientist? Wow you’re like the type of person you read about in a book. A scientist? Who says that? That’s really cool.” Their awe towards my goals really had me feeling elated, but the more I think about it, the more I question their response. Why was it so surprising? I am just your everyday person who wants to be someone in life and make the most out of opportunities; I just happened to pick biology as my path. Would they have said the same thing if I wanted to be a nurse, or if I indeed wanted to be a teacher?

I recently encountered the same situation. A couple of months ago, my boyfriend and I visited some distant relatives of his. It was the first time I had ever met them, and of course they were interested in knowing about me. I told them where I was from, what I thought about being new to the city, the traffic, and, of course, I talked about school. As the day progressed, one of the family members took me aside and asked me if I could explain what my major was in more detail. I said, “Sure, I’m studying Human Biology, so I’m concentrating on anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, etc., in other words more about the human body, than I did in undergrad.” I remember they sort of just nodded their head and squinted their eyes at me, and couldn’t help but ask, “OK, but what can you even do with that? Are you planning on teaching?” *Sigh* “No,” I said, “I just want to work in a lab one day.” At this point I was trying really hard to remain pleasant, as they responded and said, “Oh, do women even do that? Are you one of the few girls in your program? Your mom must be proud.”

*I wonder if Marie Curie was questioned this much *  

Again, I can’t help but think their bewilderment is just to the fact I am a female. My boyfriend has a degree in computer science, and I will bet my car that he has never been questioned about his career choice.  Although these situations frustrate me, and I know I am not the only one who goes through this, I realize that my presence, my physical and intellectual being, is making a difference. I also know, or at least hope, that in some sort of way, I have changed the way my work colleagues and my partner’s distant relative think about women and science—even if it was just for a split second.

As I further my career, not only will I contribute to science, I will contribute to ending the gender gap.

I want to be here.

I need to be here.