On February 11th, it was the International Day of Women in Science.
Deborah preparing a sample for analysis (KRW Consulting, Dec 2018)
The notion of women not choosing to enter in a science, math or engineering discipline is the failure to encourage teen girls is pure balderdash. My sis, Ginny, had interests in physics and math ranging back to the 7th grade, in the late 1960s. She was the “go-to” girl if you needed help with math. Yes, she is that good. The male students, who were perceived to be more knowledgeable than Ginny, well, they weren’t. Ginny can explain a complex math concept in easy to understand terms. Having difficulty with a math problem? She shows you how to solve it. As an undergraduate, Ginny was highly sought as a tutor, making a fair bit of money along the way. She has continued as a private tutor to present.
When her daughter was failing to pass the required math proficiency test for placement at university, Ginny sat down worked out every problem in the study guide. She quickly found the problem – the study guide was replete with errors. The math department was selling an error-filled guide. In turn, she showed the department chairman all of her work and the mistakes in the guide. The problem, as she saw it, was leaving the guide to be constructed by engineering graduate students who overestimated their own math skills and proficiency. But, moreover, they did not care. The department contracted Ginny to rewrite the study guide. And, that led her to pursue her MS degree, specializing in numerical and statistical analysis. When her mentor retired from the University of Colorado, Dr. Blade introduced Ginny as his “best student ever”.
Over the 10+ years of teaching at the university level, she has noticed incoming undergraduates were ill-prepared for university-level mathematics. The students, believing their high school AP coursework made them ready, they were not. They had problems understanding algebra, the basic foundation for calculus.
In my own family, science is part of our life. Andrea, my first wife, her nursing degrees are “science heavy” with chemistry and biology coursework. They are comparable to chemistry and biology degrees layered with nursing. Laurie, my wife, she’s a trauma surgeon. Her undergraduate degree is in biochemistry. Our three daughters, Elizabeth has a chemistry degree while Deborah and Tara both have biology degrees. With the girls in med school, there was no push for them to pursue a medical career or enter the sciences. They studied what interested them. Most surprisingly, though, was how closely aligned their interests are.
Tara pipetting a sample aliquot into a reaction flask (Biochem Lab – University of Colorado, Feb 2017)
Bringing women into science, math and engineering is to stimulate their imagination, “Hey, that’s what I want to do.” It worked for Andrea. It worked for Laurie. Andrea did not want to follow her dad into the restaurant business, which was fine with him. He did not want his personal dream to become the dream of his children. “America is the home of dreams – you can become whatever you want to become.” If not for nursing, Andrea has said it would be a life of having to settle. Laurie had poor grades. It was a field trip to a hospital on career day in high school that seeded the notion she could become a trauma surgeon. If not for that field trip, she might be coaching high school football. Laurie was already running the scout team in high school, and was a better passer than her brother Tom, who was the JV and varsity quarterback in high school. And, it worked for our daughters.
Ginny said programs to encourage girls into science do little for them. Calling the science fields, math and engineering, STEM, does little. The acronym trivializes the individual disciplines. Teaching a young girl how to code a webpage is okay, but it does not take them to the next step – why science matters. Diseases deemed to be incurable have become curable, treatable or immunized against. It has introduced raw computing power into handheld devices (smartphones and tablets) for the purposes of entertainment and convenience. And, much more computing power can be found on the desk. Science can offer solutions to the more daunting problems.
Elizabeth finishes preparing a rack of samples for analysis (KRW Consulting, Aug 2016)
It is about discovery. It is about learning. It makes no distinction about who you are, or where you’re from. It is about human endeavor.
The greatest thing about science, it is stepping into the unknown.