A sign of representation

A student reflects on her choice to pursue a career in a male-dominated field.


Last month, I joined more than 4 million people to march for equality at the annual Women’s March.

As I stood on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I was awed by the passion that surrounded me, and I felt united with other feminists who were also marching across the country.

On that day, I was particularly inspired by the creative signs and banners that paired beautiful colors and designs with powerful political messages.

One sign that struck my friend and me read: “Women belong in the lab, not the kitchen.” We both hope to work in labs as a career after we graduate.

I’m a biology major who aspires to become an infectious disease specialist — a field that would not necessarily have been an option for me half a century ago when women had very limited career choices.

The sign, held by a woman who was probably studying or working in a field similar to mine, reminded me how grateful I am to be alive at a time in history when I can follow my desired career path.

But my father has always pressured me to become a nurse or a teacher, because these are more conventional careers for women. He has never explicitly said my gender was the reason why, but I can detect the implicit sexism. I know he thinks it would be easier for me to get hired in one of those positions. I’m disappointed that even my father would hold these views in 2018.

Unfortunately, women who work in heavily male-dominated STEM careers are often doubted. They also face stigmas because for the longest time, most scientists and engineers were men.

Now, as I look around my biology and chemistry lecture halls, I notice that more than half of my classmates are young women. When I’m sick, I visit my female doctor. And two days each week, I’m taught by a female calculus professor. These small instances mean something to me.

I have never felt intimidated or inadequate because of the men in my STEM classes or the percentages of women working in this field. And the number of proficient female scientists who are currently changing the world of research continues to grow.

Women in STEM prove that the analytical problem-solving skills required in mathematics and science is not based on an X or Y chromosome. In fact, research into genetics that could potentially save millions of lives is being done by brilliant and hard-working women right now. And one day, I hope to join them.

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