Some days, it feels like actual college is the least of my worries. With the pressure of getting a job out of school constantly looming above, everybody seems to be in a competition for extracurriculars, volunteer work and internships to sweeten their resume. As the fields of science, technology, engineering and math continue to evolve, the demand is met with an ever-growing supply of eager STEM students. Being one of those students, I can attest that saying you’re in STEM is a lot more fun than actually sitting in a lecture about how to calculate the tension in a string. There is an inherent competitive aspect of the field, but there is also solidarity in our collective sleep deprivation and marginalized experiences as women in male-dominated spaces that make us stronger together instead of pitted against one another.
Being pre-med is tough. Or rather, being pre-med while also being one to say yes to every brunch invite, gym session, concert and beach trip is tough. However, being pre-med without all those things has its own set of challenges. As soon as I got to college, with every fun opportunity at my fingertips, it was important for me to establish balance from the get-go, making sure I wasn’t losing sight of my long-term goals but also letting myself indulge in the things that made my day-to-day life enjoyable. Despite the prevalence of hustle culture and students making martyrs of themselves for a good grade, I learned that I’m no less of a serious pre-med student if I’m having bottomless mimosas with my roommates on a Sunday morning instead of having eye strain from looking at my computer.
Maybe the perception of things like mimosas and relaxation as feminine, while hard work and ambition are traditionally masculine, is the reason why the women in STEM trope exists in the first place. After all, as a male co-worker once said to me in high school, why would I want to be a doctor when I can just be a nurse? It’s less school, less stress and more flexible for when I’d inevitably want to start a family and have children, right? Even to this day, there are social barriers to women taking up professions in male-dominated fields and their efforts are constantly undermined because it’s still an outrageous idea that a woman would want to put herself and her career first. That feeling when you can count the number of girls in your STEM lecture on one hand, while all the other seats are filled with boys with inflated egos, is shared between us all.
There are unique challenges to being a woman in STEM and oftentimes it may seem like we can only be one or the other: either a woman or a serious STEM student. But the thing is that we can all do both. Femininity and grit are not mutually exclusive, nor are family and career. Claiming to be a woman in STEM is definitely a lot easier than actually being one, but it’s endlessly fulfilling to do both. You should’ve seen the look on that guy’s face when I repeated that I’m studying to be a doctor. Not a nurse, not a physician assistant, not just any clinician, but a doctor. It’s empowering to be a woman in STEM knowing how hard it is to be one, but at the end of the day, you’re doing the damn thing.