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The Struggles of Being a Woman in STEM

Anytime I mention to someone that I am a molecular biology major, I get raised eyebrows and looks of surprise. I get questions: “Why would you do something so hard?” “Why not pick something easier?”

I get these reactions from both men and women, and since I’ve started college it’s so much more prevalent. I never doubted a career in STEM until I got to college because I always believed that women belonged in the sciences. But I’ve come to see that this is a trend in higher-education stem fields. Even in life sciences like Biology and Neuroscience, where I feel like more women scientists are prevalent, there is still an intense bias. The women scientists at Kenyon I’ve come to know and love are intelligent and strong women that I look up to. But they are also usually people who are less feminine and appear intense and intimidating, probably as a result of not being taken seriously and having to prove their worth. For me, I don’t want to have to lose my bubbly personality when talking about how macromolecular protein structures interact with their DNA counterparts. I also want to know that my professors believe in me and know that I can succeed. This is something that personally, in the last few weeks, I feel has plagued me the most. While I have yet to declare my major, I find it hard because while I want to declare molecular biology, I feel that the heavy coursework in chemistry is “too hard.” As someone who never found myself as not being up to the challenge, I shocked myself this year when I found myself doubting my STEM abilities. 

The truth is, I sometimes feel that the Chemistry department is more receptive to male students, and I feel that some professors cater their way of teaching to methods that the majority of the guys in my Organic Chemistry class learn. It’s a quickly-paced class and we don’t always take the time to apply knowledge or get taught how to apply knowledge more readily. I’m rather expected to sit while we bounce from topic to topic and try to piece it together by myself.

While I understand that this is an upper-level chemistry class at a rigorous school, and this Chemistry class already has a reputation for being difficult, I don’t think that the quality of teaching and accommodating students that need more help should be compromised. I’ve found that the chemistry itself isn’t that hard, I just don’t know how to learn it in this format and have had trouble adapting to it, especially when I feel the pressure of the male dominance in class. As a professor, even just being mindful of how women students feel in a class that is in a subject with few female students, in general, would be of huge help to women scientists who feel that the science is “too hard.” In reality, they are fully capable, but may just not be well-equipped to succeed in classes oriented and more responsive to males.

But nonetheless, I have decided not to give up on STEM. While I teeter deciding my major, I still question whether I am up to the challenge of being a Molecular Biology major, or if I should acknowledge that the extensive Chemistry requirements of the major are “too challenging” to my “female” brain and revert back to being a Biology major. I still have not given in and made a decision. I still have a major declaration form in my binder with a checkmark next to Molecular Biology. Why? Because I realize that women scientists are few and far between, and I may have to work harder and smarter because the system is working against me, but science is my passion and I will not let the world tell me what I can and cannot do. I cannot wait to see the day when eyebrows aren’t raised at the fact that a woman is a molecular biologist, and when the reason why anyone studies it is the same as why I study it: I study it because I love it, and that is that.

Image Credit: Feature, Landon Porter, 2

Rodaba is a senior at Kenyon College from Columbus, Ohio. She is a Molecular Biology major on a pre-med track. On campus, Rodaba is part of the STEM scholars program, a senior admissions fellow at the admissions office and is researching in an immunology lab in addition to writing for Her Campus. She loves to watch movies and tv shows, snuggle up and read on a cozy afternoon, and write of course!
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