From wearing natural hair to work, to realizing that medical school is not for you - women of various backgrounds have recently shared with my fellow classmates and I, not only the hardships of a science major - but the hurdles a woman in the STEM field must overcome. Their career pathways weren't always direct - that golden dream of medical school turning just a bit too molten, impractical, and unrealistic for them - but yet they persevered and pursued the road not planned.
So what wisdom have they imparted? Well for one, you are still a woman. Radical sexism and discrimination aside, you cannot be rid of your gender. You may alter it, you may accept it, you may even choose to ignore it - but genetically and historically - you were perceived to wear the skirt and apron - not the sterile, white lab coat. So as a woman, take a step back and realize that you are going to have hurdles your male counterparts won't have. While history is revolutionizing itself in terms of gender-stereotyped roles, it still stands that you might want a family - and you might be encumbered for a few months. So understand that it is okay to take a break - it is okay, to demand for shorter hours - you can leave and find a better school, job, or maybe even major that will respect what and who you are. Sometimes medical school isn’t for you, sometimes being a physical assistant, is more accommodating for your future goals beyond the dream job.
Because you are a woman. You are not the shadow counterpart of your colleagues or bosses. You are entitled to your rights, to put your foot down, and make sure you get the equality you deserve.
Key word: equality.
Equality, because you are a woman - you will have to balance on the edge of overconfident and humbleness. And what do I mean by that? One night, one student asked the panelists if it was professional or not to wear her natural hair to interview - and to an extent - work. One of the directors of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, Daiichi Sankyo, said that it depends. America is revolutionizing, but other countries are still years behind in gender stereotyping. She advised caution and told the student to let the natural come out, when her actions have spoken for her abilities. The lesson here, is that revolution is a risk. As a whole, the professional world is still predominantly misogynic - and the choice to wear your natural hair, get that crazy hair color, is up to you. Ask yourself this: can you risk it?
However, besides being a woman there were a few key points that were said which could be universally used by everyone.
Network. Network like your life depends on it. In this day and age of technology and virtual associations, a degree is sometimes not enough to land you the job. If your future employers can speak to someone who they know, and who also personally know you – they will. And if the liaison’s word is good, you most likely will get that position. Besides that, networking can also go beyond the word of recommendation and find or even give you an offer for a job.
Learn to understand. Do not learn just go get that A or barely passing, B. If you can understand the material, you will be set for the future. If you only learn to forget after the test, you will struggle in the future. In the sciences, everything you learn from your first year and beyond is used as a foundation to learn bigger and more complex things. So don’t set yourself up for failure and month-long cram sessions in the future. Get the material down now, and let your final, cumulative exam pass by like a breeze. Or something close enough to a breeze.
Understand your worth, understand you are a woman, network – learn and retain, and you will make it big out there future STEM worker.