The previous weekend, I attended the SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) conference in Washington, D.C. with two of my colleagues. SACNAS was founded to help minority groups in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) achieve success in their fields. Although not part of an ethical minority group, as a female, I am still considered a minority in my field.
The conference had multiple programs featuring female speakers in STEM careers, and I was curious to see what these women had to say. Unfortunately, I had mixed emotions in response to their messages.
I was really disappointed with the attitude of one speaker in the first panel. She went so far as to blame her advisors lack of support as the reason for leaving her program with a master’s degree instead of a PhD. But when asked if she had sought support or mentorship elsewhere, the answer was no. This was a disappointing message to hear, but it really got me thinking about the responsibility I have for my own success. As a first year PhD student, I face a new set of challenges I must overcome to advance my career. So far, I have learned a few things worth sharing.
To the women getting started:
You are probably the minority in your group, and it may be difficult to find someone you feel you can relate to. However- finding a role model or mentor is YOUR responsibility. If you want someone to invest their time, knowledge, and experience in you, then it’s up to you to pursue it. You have proved that you can compete, and that you belong by getting the job, or accepted into graduate school. Putting your heart and soul into your work/studies/research is just as crucial. People want to help those who demonstrate their desire for success.
To established women:
You are a role model. Newbies are watching your performance, your interactions with others, and how you present yourself. If you are successful, they will emulate you. Take this opportunity to evaluate your own behaviors. Most importantly, make an effort to let younger females know that you are available to them. This is as simple as introducing yourself and smiling when you see them. They will see you as approachable, and will likely come to you for advice.
To men in the field:
We are not fragile- we can take constructive criticism, and need to hear it just as often as our male peers do. We expect to be treated as equals, which means you should expect us to work just as hard, and expect as much productivity from us. You might not be female, but if you are successful, well respected, and liked, we will look up to you to. You are just as qualified to be a mentor as any of your female counterparts.
When it is all said and done, the potential for success is in our hands. We determine how hard we work, how we present ourselves in a professional environment, and which relationships we seek out. I would love nothing more than to see more women successful in STEM careers. But this will only happen if we hold ourselves accountable for taking steps to ensure our success.