Final #IAmAWomanInSTEM

As a part of our #IAMAWomanInSTEM learning and service initiative, the ambassadors created service projects to help in encouraging more women to engage in the STEM. My group created a “Humans of New York” style Facebook page featuring photos and stories of different UK women in STEM fields. Each group member collaborated and interviewed their own mentor, friends, professors, or other professionals in the field. While this doesn’t seem to be a “service project” at first glance, the work we did was surely thought through, impactful, and educational.

We started at the drawing board. On the second day of class, my group of 5 women at UK, all majoring in STEM topics, first discussed the potential of our project. Our teacher, Brittany, let us know that our service area was media. As millennials, this made us very excited. The group bounced back ideas on each other. From possibilities of creating a Twitter account, to making a YouTube series, we soon found out that the #IAmAWomanInSTEM initiative already had these. In order to incorporate media into our service project, we decided that we had to be more specific with our goal. Instead of operating an ongoing social media page, we decided to have a 3 week series of pictures and stories about women in STEM and call it “Women of STEM UK” (Instead of “People of New York”).Coming up with the initial idea was easy, but we had to find a way to accomplish it.

With the rigor of science majors, we were all busy students so we had to complete this project in a feasible way.  We budgeted out how many interviews each ambassador was to perform and when they should perform it by. Each ambassador was in charge of interviewing three women in STEM. These interviews were tied to deadlines which would be the determining factor of what gets featured on the Facebook page. We would each submit our interview to an online Canvas group and begin to discuss which interview best fit the needs of our project  and how we could improve upon it. The interviews were selected and then paired with a photo of the woman who was interviewed. We then uploaded the interview to Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter. Through each of these sites, we were able to share the links with our friends, family, and others with the easy widgets of social media. Overall, the project was a success and my group was very satisfied with the result. We had over 100 “likes” on the series and many “shares”. This was quite touching because it displayed how people understand the gender barriers that face women in the STEM field and wanted to help.

As posted earlier on this blog, women in the STEM field (and many other fields) are often held back. Throughout my participation of the #IAmAWomanInSTEM initiative, I learned that the barriers that women must face are all very much prevalent and HAVE NAMES. This was interesting to me, simply because women face so many gender biases in the workplace we had to make names for them. The following is a list of the gender biases and a description of them:

1) Prove it again- Women have to prove themselves over and over again to show their male counterparts that they belong where they are. Their successes are discredited and they have to continually prove themselves.

2) The tightrope- Women have to act masculine to be taken seriously, but are expected to be feminine, so they walk a tightrope of not being too much of either one.

3) Maternal wall- When a women wants to have a child, their competence is questioned and there are fewer opportunities. People think that once a scientist has a child, their career is over.

4) Tug of war- Women have to compete against one another for the “woman spot.” Older generations of women also feel as though they can treat women poorly because they were treated that way throughout their education and career.

5) Isolation- Some women avoid socializing with colleagues so they can be taken seriously. Others try and hide their personal lives. Mainly women feel isolated in the field especially black and Latina women.

These gender biases held the theme to our project. We asked the women interviewed to address these gender biases and how/if they affected them. The result of this, again, was shocking. Almost every woman interviewed talked about how they had personally experienced several of these biases. These were women performing research and teaching classes of 400+ students–women that have clearly demonstrated knowledge and dedication to the fields of science and math. By sharing their stories, it became clear to me that gender biases are real– especially in the STEM fields.

When one thinks about science, technology, engineering, and math–one often associates it with forward thinking and acceptance. Do to the nature of science, we are headed in the forward direction. Everyday there is a significant new discovery or piece of technology. However, it is clear that this field is still shaky when it comes to gender inclusion. From the beginning of elementary school, boys and girls are taught that a “mad scientist” is an old man with crazy hair. They are also taught that men are the architects, doctors, and computer engineers of the world. These ideals are carved into our brains from the beginning and we have all learned to accept them as reality. Even I, as a woman pushing for women’s equality in STEM, still picture a scientist or a doctor as a man–simply because that’s all I was taught growing up. This way of thinking is poisonous. Women are often too discouraged to enter the science field—and from many studies that we learned about in this service learning class–this discouragement stems from a lack of support. By implementing programs such as the #IAmAWomanInSTEM, we are able to discuss and spread awareness about these gender biases–hopefully making people more comfortable with the idea of a woman programmer, scientist, or doctor.

When you take a step back, the STEM field is only one area where women are marginalized. Gender biases are very prevalent in politics, business, and even art. Women often have a much higher standard to which they must meet to overcome these biases. Many people don’t want to address these issues because they don’t think they exist or they simply don’t want change. However, after partaking in this class, I have learned that these biases do exist and proving to people that they do is an important factor in making a change. This service learning class was very beneficial to me as a woman in STEM. While I personally feel like I have been given nothing but encouragement by my peers and family to pursue this career, it is definitely beneficial to know what other women might be facing and what may happen down the road. Knowing a barrier can help you overcome it and this project definitely informed me.

I loved meeting all of the women involved with #IAmAWomanInSTEM, from professors to students, these exceptional women are all truly inspiring. By pushing for equality in the STEM fields, a broader scope of subjects can be addressed and different point of views can be incorporated in advancing our understanding of the world. It’s also important, however, to address that biases don’t only happen to women. The world is full of biases towards minority groups, religions, and even certain ways of life. By dedicating time to understand one, it it easier to understand the others. I think everyone should be knowledgeable of these biases–simply because it will help to create a more fulfilling life for everyone.

-KK

 

Just Asking

This isn’t a post about gender barriers in academia, but more about academia in general.

We’ve all been in a class when subject matter is being taught and some obscure question comes to mind. Many times, we will choose not to voice this question and forget about it. Other times, we may resort to sleight-of-hand googling it under our desk. Then, there is the very rare occasion when a question is so pressing that we must ask the professor. The possibility of getting a semi-inspiring answer this way is always a shot in the dark. Often times the question is received incorrectly and the answer is just a repetition of what the professor has already said. But, sometimes, the professor takes your question and gives you the answer you had no clue you were looking for. This is the best type of moment. Knowledge explosion.

The beautiful moment described above is a delicacy in academia. Of all of the  thousands of questions that run through our heads during a lecture, only about 1% are answered by the professor in an accurate and enlightening fashion (may or may not be accurate). This is a pretty good representation of how college students perceive the collegiate world. When I talk to my friends about their studies, they often express feeling like nomads searching for some glimpse of a happy future. Some aren’t doing too well with their classes and others are succeeding with disgustingly high GPAs. No matter what the GPA, however, there is a shared misconception about the availability of resources and aid when it comes to academic success. In fear of receiving answers that are simply irrelevant or they don’t want, students are too discouraged to just ask.

There are many opportunities in academia that are insanely cool and impressive looking such as getting involved in research, getting TA positions, leadership opportunities, and even internships. These opportunities are so abundant that administrators are searching hard for students to take them. However, us students fear asking about these opportunities– when that’s all we need to do to get them.

Example:

If you are interested in research, it would be very beneficial to get involved with it. Getting involved is an easy two step process:

1. Research research opportunities at your institution online.

2. Ask researcher via email about potentially getting involved.

If the researcher responds and says they are not looking for anyone in the lab, that’s okay and you can repeat the steps. If the researcher asks to meet with you, you’re probably in, and it was that easy to begin an amazing educational experience.

So, from all of this, let’s conclude that we should all ask more questions. Who cares if the answer isn’t something you were hoping for, all that matters is the opportunity that you gave yourself with a simple question.

 

KK

 

 

It’s Pretty Chilly in Class

Cold woman

Girls and boys, put on your sweatshirts because the classroom is getting a tad bit cold.

I’m currently in a math class that is predominantly  (3:1) male. While this fact alone poses its own obvious issue, there is another characteristic of this class that is slightly chilling. The seating arrangement is comparable to a middle school dance. Boys are on one side while girls are on the other–except in this case boys take up 3/4 of the space. Along with this separation, there is a blaring silence between the two sections. This could be considered a good thing because it implies that students are engaged in their studies  and don’t get “distracted” by the opposite sex. However, this lack of interaction comes with a passive aggressive competitive edge which poses many dangers for the equality of the sexes.

Throughout lecture, the professor will ask questions to the class. Often times, due to the high concentration of males, a guy will answer the question. This answer will often include a number with some coefficients supported by mathematical reasoning. Other times a girl will answer the question. This answer will also include a number with some coefficients support by mathematical reasoning. However, the response to the girl’s answer is radically different than the response to the boy’s. It isn’t rare to hear a comment from other classmates after a girl answers a question. These comments come from both sexes, male and female. Many times, the comments aren’t about the answer itself (which is usually correct). I have heard comments like “Her voice is annoying.”, “Well isn’t she smart.”, and “Wow a girl actually answered a question.”.

These comments drive me insane–especially when females make them. They may be due to the small amount of women in class, so it is surprising and rare when a girl answers a question, but it is still frustrating to think that people actually feel this way towards women who are simply participating. Another reason for those comments could be the competitive tension. This competitive tension is the “chilly” factor that was talked about earlier. Many times girls and boys will give each other the “cold shoulder” during an academic setting–especially in math and science. Women who display confidence in science are rivals to all. They are determined and very intelligent. When another woman or man views a confident woman, they automatically turn on their competitiveness–which may not end up with the best comments.

We need to be able to perform in class equally and allow each other to answer questions without the threat of embarrassment or picky comments. By accepting that both sexes can be intelligent and hardworking, this gender schism and chilly environment in math and science classes could finally be diminished.

Lady Problems

If the popular rap music from 2015 doesn’t describe where women stand on the totem pole of the social realm, take a look at the research done on the statistics of women in STEM fields. In the AAUW (American Association of University Women) video, “Solving the Equation” (link below) there are many figures that demonstrate the strong bias that many employers have against women in the STEM fields.

For example, a study was done comparing the employment trends between men and women. The same resume was presented twice to different employers (men and women), the only thing different the second time it was presented was the gender of the mock candidate. Below is a screen capture of the results:

2016-01-31

This trend is very obvious and there are many measures being taken to help ameliorate the issue. However, collectively as a society we should make it a priority to educate employers about the importance of a bias-free hiring system. Not only will this help to improve the workplace, it will also shrink the opportunity gap between men and women. With an equal-opportunity employment system, the STEM fields will be more welcoming to women and men. This equality is something that we should keep in mind as we progress.

STEM isn’t the only field that we see this schism, this inequality is prevalent in sales, politics, and even the arts. By stepping forward in the STEM fields, advancing in equality rather than inequality will be a collaborative breakthrough for history.

-KK

 

 

“Introduction: Solving the Equation”, AAUW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am A Woman In STEM Initiative

The #IAmAWomanInSTEM Initiative is a project started at the University of Kentucky in order to encourage more female students to engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. As a brand new program on campus, 2016 is the Inaugural year, the possibilities for the future are limitless. Currently, a whole roster of female students enrolled in the #IAmAWomanInSTEM program are partaking in bi-weekly service classes, are paired with merited female mentors, and are working on planning projects to help break the barriers for the future women in STEM.

Overall, I am excited for the #IAmAWomanInSTEM Intiative. As of now, I’m not too sure how my involvement in the program will be lived out, but I have some ideas about my future project :). On top of my excitement, I am extremely proud of my institution for offering this program to all female undergraduates in STEM. I went to an all girls high school, so female empowerment was very prevalent. This made my introduction to college a bit shocking. Initially coming into college, I couldn’t find many academic programs on campus dedicated to empowering women in science devoted to community outreach. I was shocked by this because I love Chemistry and Neuroscience and would love to interact with other female students with the same interests. The #IAmAWomanInSTEM initiative has filled this hole. I also love that the program has incorporated social media into its backbone. Today, the only way to get a message out is through social media. Whether that message be politics, a thought, news, or even a selfie, the public outreach and response is more incredible than it ever has been. By using social media to promote our initiative, more women will be interested and get involved in science.

Another great aspect about this program is the incorporation of female mentors. These mentors are professionals in the STEM fields including doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. By getting to know somebody who has already found success in their STEM career, I believe that that other students and I will learn that our dream career paths are possible despite what society tells us. My mentor and I have been contacting each other and I can’t wait to get to know her better (she’s an anesthesiologist) and learn from her skills. It’s amazing how willing people are to work with students who have the drive to pursue their goals. These mentor/mentee relationships are a great foundation to build this wonderful program off of.

As the semester continues, I’m sure I will be shocked by the amount of enthusiasm people have for this movement. Since forever, women have been underestimated in the STEM fields. Rosalind Franklin is a big aspiration for me (first x-ray diffraction image of the DNA double helix) and I often wonder how hard it was for her to break the gender barriers in the early 1900s. While the women in science issue has obviously improved over the years, it’s still not enough. The ratio of men to women in many of my science classes is overwhelming and if this ratio is similar in the STEM career fields, I hope to help it even out.

I’m very excited to work on this project.

-KK