Well, if you are an avid news reader, like me, you may have come across the latest campaign to entice girls to pursue careers in science. This video distributed by the European Commission shows fashionable young women, interspersed with images of makeup, glassware, and models of molecules. Honestly, this video looks to be more of an advertisement for cosmetics than science.
So to this, I ask, who are the women of science, really? Speaking for myself, I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a perpetual learner, a teacher, and a molecular biologist! All of these characteristics combined make me who I am, drive my curiosity and compel me to explore the world of biology. Sometimes dinner conversations with my husband delve into the genetics of what gave our son blue eyes and his pet peeve concerning the terms “clear” versus “colorless”, but we still discuss popular music and politics like the rest of the population. I am a real person, who happens to love a good geeky conversation!
I have always felt welcome to explore science and knew I was going to be a scientist since I was 4 years old and my brother was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Of course, back then I thought I would help cure this disease and, in reality, I found a new path and have had my hand in many research projects including studying the neuroplasticity involved in learning and memory, the compulsions and psychological addiction of cocaine users, the language used by our genome as it creates human life, and most recently, the development of new therapeutic agents for common diseases.
Speaking more generally, woman in science explore everything ranging from the role of genetics in brain function, to the formation of compounds used to treat disease, and yes, even the formulation of cosmetics! We are an integral part of the scientific community and therefore, an important part of the outstanding discoveries that affect life as we know it! However, there is an apparent, or possibly a perceived, lack of women scientists which fuels an ongoing movement to make science appealing to the female population.
In my studies and research, I have seen many women thrive in the field of biology and through my husband, I have met many strong women chemists, so, I am disappointed in this portrayal of females in science and hope that the general public knows, on some level, that woman are deeply involved in much more complex scientific questions than the color of lipstick and matching our safety glasses!
I find this video very superficial and far from positively influential for women considering science. If anything, this video is quite a turn off, implying that men are the “real” scientists and women are just pretty little things that dabble in science as long as we can still look good doing it. I hate to break it to you, but science can be long, grueling hours. It can leave you cross-eyed from reading journal articles and if you have a weak stomach you may want to avoid certain projects, but even with all of this, science is unimaginably interesting and rewarding. It can lead you places you never thought possible and contribute to society in profound ways.
So to girls considering careers in science, I say, follow your dreams, make your own path and don’t let yourself be discouraged by stereotypes. Know that it will not always be glamorous, but it will always be interesting. It will take effort on your part to make it happen, but as we say in my family, hard work always pays off! If you love it, you can do it – it is not a just a “boy’s thing”, but a girl’s thing too!