Four things I have to deal with daily as a woman in STEM:
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m halfway through my junior year of double majoring in meteorology and astrophysics, two predominantly male fields. Over the past few weeks I’ve attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CuWiP) and the Women’s march on Washington. These events have not only opened my eyes to realize what I’m really going through as a woman in STEM, they’ve inspired me to start speaking out about my experiences. So, here’s a few things I deal with every day in my fields:
1. Imposter syndrome: a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Everything that happens to go right is by chance. Aced that exam? I got lucky. Answered a question correctly in class? Probably will never happen again. Whenever someone thinks I know what is going on in a class or how to solve a problem I think, “Surely they must be misunderstood. There is no way I know more than them, therefore if I answer their question it will be wrong and hinder them.” So I don’t even try to answer. I just say, “I don’t know” and move on. Every time someone asks to see my homework solutions I hand them over saying, “They’re probably wrong.” I genuinely don’t understand how I’ve gotten this far in my double major, and every time I look back I see a history of pure luck, not hard work. Every time I write an application, all I can think is “They will see through your facade. Your resume is fake. You’re making false claims in your essay. Even if they do accept you, once you start the program they will see right through you and be disappointed. If they accept you, they’ve made a mistake.” These thoughts are constantly swirling through my head, to the point where I’ve lost motivation to pay attention in class, since I shouldn’t be there anyway. I shouldn’t even try on my homework because I’ll always fail in the end. Which brings me to my next hardship:
2. Stereotype threat: “a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group. If negative stereotypes are present regarding a specific group, group members are likely to become anxious about their performance, which may hinder their ability to perform at their maximum level.”
This is a new concept to me that really hit home when I heard about it at CuWiP. On countless occasions I’ve avoided joining predominantly male study sessions/homework sessions (even with my closest friends) because I was afraid I would appear stupid and not know anything, which of course must be true because I am a woman. This has most definitely affected my test scores and overall course grades over the past few years. Going back to focusing in class and working on homework; there are days when I literally can’t hear the professor speaking because my brain repeats on-end “you are a failure”. Whenever I sit down in front of my homework it’s “you don’t know this, you will never know this. Give up now”. Every day my motivation dwindles down a bit further. If so few women have made it this far then it’s only a matter of time before I’m discovered as a fraud and drop out too.
3) Subconsciously sexist friends and classmates.
Most of my friends are male. That’s just how it works when 70-90% of the people in your classes are male. Most of my friends are also sexist. I know they don’t mean it and they certainly don’t notice it, but they treat me drastically different from the rest of the crew. I am left out of personal projects because it’s assumed I wouldn’t be interested in helping out. I’m excluded from group study invitations. I’m ignored in academic conversations and receive surprised expressions when I actually chime in. When I point out concerns for being a woman in STEM all I get in return is silence. Occasionally I’ll even have my questions blatantly ignored. It’s assumed I don’t notice when they only make fun of female tv meteorologists, claiming they don’t know any meteorology and are only hired for their attractive looks and hot bodies when I’ve never heard them make fun of a male tv meteorologist.
4) Being the only woman in the room
I realize this doesn’t seem like it should be a big issue, and it certainly isn’t for some of my fellow women in STEM, but I notice it every damn time. A piece of me falls every damn time. I do not feel safe in a room surrounded by men. Not because I’m afraid of being assaulted or harassed, but because these moments are when the imposter syndrome and stereotype threat run strongest in my already belittled mind. And it happens all. the. time. I’ve stopped hanging out in certain areas, such as the astro lounge, because I know if I go there I will most likely be the only woman. I also know that being in any closed area with a large percentage of men holds a higher chance of hearing a derogatory comment (about women in general), being ignored, and hearing inappropriate conversations about things such as sexual assault (you know, “locker room talk”).
All of this is only just breaking the surface, but what I’ve learned over the last few weeks is that silence will fix nothing. For the longest time I thought all of these feelings were either normal or just a “me” thing. Attending CuWiP made me realize that no, this is not just me. This is all women, and these are issues that needs to be voiced and fixed. While I’m still afraid of speaking up in person, I’m going to try my best to call people out on their bullshit whenever I can and feel safe to.
These guys were probably my first serious music obsession, & every time I listen to this song/this album I have to wonder how much of an impact they had on my writing. Human’s familiar with my poetry might be able to hear what I’m getting at. To others, just sit back & enjoy the mellow happy.
You may have seen me accidentally post this on Friday :3 So I didn’t post much over the weekend so I could it.
I chose this song just for that first two seconds. Every person my age in America should know this intro - this piece of the end of the nineties is engrained in all of our heads. I hope. All of those Smash Mouth songs/covers, and just Pop/Punk from the era in general, planted into heads through Nickelodeon and crappy comedy movies. Oh the good times that were had