To date, 607 people have won the Nobel Prize in the STEM fields (chemistry, physics, and medicine). 20 out of 607 winners have been women. Is this because women have not made more than 20 significant scientific contributions to the world? Or is it more likely that stereotypes, bias, and sexism have pushed women scientists out of receiving the recognition they deserve and that they still cast shadows over the accomplishments of women scientists today?
Did you know that DNA was discovered by a woman named Rosalind Franklin? The credit is given to two men who, until they saw Franklin’s work, could not solve the puzzle of the double helix. The two men won the Nobel Prize for their work with DNA after Franklin had passed away. A similar story turns up in the case of Chien-Shiung Wu. Her work in theoretical physics helped to overturn what was once an accepted law of physics. The two men who had worked with her won the Nobel Prize in 1957.
True, Nobel Prizes are not the most important accomplishments in the world, but they are very close to it. It would be a different story if this was the only area of life where women are underrepresented in STEM fields. But it’s not. A stereotype lingers in the world that women are not good at science and math.
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I am a junior chemistry major, and I have had experiences in the classroom and in the lab when I felt as if my thoughts or ideas were not accepted because I am a woman. I know that many of my friends who are also women STEM majors have also experienced this sort of sexism in classes and labs. I refuse to accept that I am not smart enough and uncapable of doing everything that a man can, and I refuse to accept that science is a “man’s job”.
I know that I have the capability to do amazing things in chemistry and to serve as a role model to young girls interested in science. My confidence has grown since I began college, and I know I am studying chemistry for a reason. I’m not sure why yet, but I know I want to make the world a better place with my knowledge and curiosity. I want to break stigmas and stereotypes and see women scientists receive the recognition they deserve.
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As Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (and who also received a second one as well), once said, “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”