It’s hard to imagine in the 21st century that there are young women in the United States who don’t know that girls can become scientists. That was my belief, anyway. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to women who taught science classes, women who had professions in the medical field, and women who were experts in their field guiding me through my undergraduate research experiences. There was no doubt to me that a woman could become a scientist. Challenging? Sure. Unique? Sometimes. But I never considered that there were young girls in the world who had no idea that women could become scientists.
Being a woman in STEM is hard. Everyday there are people who tell you that you can’t do something. I had a college professor who told me that I wouldn’t be able to find research experiences on charismatic megafauna (otherwise known as “big animals that people care about”) until I was finished with my PhD, since he had only just barely had his first field experience studying great white sharks after many years researching in the field. You can imagine my delight when I was able to write a note to him on my final exam explaining how I was selected for a research experience with great white sharks for a whole summer in South Africa. He gave me an A- in the class.
But just because someone tells you that you can’t, doesn’t mean you should listen. So how do we get young girls to recognize that women can really become scientists? We need to show them examples of women doing science. We need to introduce them to female scientists and allow opportunities for girls to do real science themselves. There is no expectation that our students will all want to become scientists one day, but at least they should know that they have the opportunity if they ever want to pursue that career.
With over a decade of experience as an educator, I want to share some of the best practices that I've discovered for bringing the real world into the classroom.