According to the university’s official website, STEM majors comprise almost 50% of all students at UW, with almost half of those identifying as female. As we know, female representation in science fields is particularly new, with the work of women researchers having been historically overshadowed by men. This means that we always welcome the presence of a new RSO inspired by the empowerment of women in science professions. This year, the University of Washington will gain a chapter of a newly-created organization, the Women in Science Society.
Established in 2018 by an undergraduate student at San Diego State University and flourished from there, the Women in Science Society is dedicated to the advocacy of women in all science professions, providing them with a community of like-minded individuals and extracurricular and career guidance.
This past week, I had the chance to talk to Alicia Feichtenbiner, a Neuroscience and Classical Studies student who is also the President of UW’s own chapter of the Women in Science Society to learn more about their mission, purpose, and drive in empowering women in science:
- When and why did you decide UW needed a chapter of the Women in Science Society?
“When I first got the email looking for a President for the UW Chapter of WSS last spring (2020), I looked through the Registered Student Organization (RSO) list to see if there was anything similar already established. I was very shocked to find that there wasn’t. There were more specific groups for women in engineering or specific areas of science, like WiSE and Girls Who Code, but not one for women of all sciences. I felt like this was a serious lack of community for women in science, so I applied to be President. I wanted to create a space where females of all backgrounds and fields could come together to share in the common experience of being a Woman in Science. A lot of clubs like this are very STEM focused, and I felt like there wasn’t an inclusive place for women in both natural and social sciences to find the same kind of community, and so I thought WSS could be that space on UW’s campus.”
- What is UW WSS’s mission/goal? What do you stand for?
“UW WSS’s mission is “promote, educate, motivate”. The purpose of the community is to uplift and engage women of all backgrounds and encourage success throughout all fields of science. Personally, I stand for equity in all fields, and I think creating an expanded community across multiple fields of science is really important, not just for women, but all underrepresented groups. I want to place a special emphasis on connecting all areas of science because I believe they are interconnected. We all have something to learn from each other, even if it seems like our fields/career paths are totally different. You can learn more at the website (https://www.womeninsciencesociety.org/).”
- What kind of person should consider joining the society? What can they gain from the experience?
“Anyone who is looking to embody the mission of WSS – encouraging female success in male-dominated fields – should join the society. I encourage people of all gender identities, not just female-identifying persons, to join because I think our best professional development comes when exposed to a diverse range of perspectives. Not only can women find a supportive community in this club, other gender-identifying people can be exposed to the perspective of their female-identifying peers in order to create a more welcoming learning environment. I hope to help inspire a generation of people uplifting women in fields in which they are historically held back and underrepresented. It’s important to me that WSS helps to both break stereotypes about women in science and to provide a space in which women can honestly talk and relate to others about their experiences and struggles.”
- Why do you think it’s vital that we empower and build a community for women in science, specifically?
“As a woman in science, I have experienced low expectations and negative stereotypes many times. Without a strong support system, it can be hard to continue down that path. It has often felt like my peers were waiting for me to fail in a way they didn’t expect of my male counterparts. I think a lot of people didn’t even know what they were saying when they commented on how it was impressive I was able to keep up with my male classmates or that it was surprising how well I was doing in the “hard STEM classes”. While very few people have been outwardly negative toward me, the small comments added up until I began to feel surprised that I was able to succeed as well. I began to doubt myself before each assessment, and I felt like every time I missed a question, I was proving those around me right – I didn’t belong there. Luckily, I have a great role model in my mom, who is a woman in science herself and has been incredibly successful as an engineer. I was fortunate that I had someone to look up to and had a strong support system who helped me through quite a few moments of doubt. However, not every woman-identifying person has access to those resources, and that can put them at a disadvantage in their academic journey through the sciences. I think it’s vital that we create a community for women in science so that representation grows and more women are able to find mentors and peers for support. I hope that someday, girls everywhere aren’t faced with criticism or doubt for following a career in science, and that they feel encouraged to pursue whatever career they love, especially in historically male dominated fields.”
- What advice do you have for women entering into male-dominated industries?
“My best advice is to focus on yourself and find people you trust to support you. It’s not always going to be easy, and I’ve found that when it gets difficult and other people’s opinions start to cause me to doubt myself, the best thing I can do (and what I encourage others experiencing similar situations to do) is focus on my own work and success. It’s sometimes hard to do this without having others in your corner reminding you that you are just as capable of success as everyone else in your class, field, or program. My friends and family have been a tremendous help, and I’m so grateful that I have been able to cultivate such a strong support system. The most important thing about being a women in science is that you believe in yourself and work for what you want. Also, it’s important to remember that even in male-dominated fields, most individuals do not want to see you fail. Don’t be afraid to reach out to male classmates for support, advice, and friendship! Most of your peers, even those who are well-represented in the industry, have doubts and question themselves. Instead of tearing each other down, work with each other to be supportive. There will be some people who want to compete and see you fail, but there are also plenty of people who want to see you succeed alongside them and will help you get there. Find a support system, both within your field and outside of it, that encourages you to be the best student you can be!”
If you’re a student at UW Seattle interested in science and supporting women in the profession, consider joining the Women in Science Society! You can find their instagram @wss.universityofwashington or visit the official website at https://www.womeninsciencesociety.org