Lindsey Busby is a graduate student at a private college working on completing her masters degree in science to become a Nurse Practitioner. This title puts her scope of practice at the same level as a general physician. The choice Busby made between going to medical school, or her current graduate program relied largely on things most college students worry about.
“Mainly, since I was already a nurse, all of that time I spent doing work towards my BSN would have been wasted. The cost was a factor too, medical school is insanely expensive. Graduate programs are definitely expensive too don’t get me wrong, but med school is another level of pricey. You can’t work in medical school. Some of them literally make you sign a contract that says you won’t. And I have bills to pay so that isn’t really an option,” she said.
Women pursuing scientific careers and higher education opportunity can face challenges male students may not have to deal with. Women seem to be less visible in these career fields which leads to the question; who are the modern women driving science today?
Lise Meitner worked with Hahn researching fission up until 1938 when Meitner had to flee Austria after it was annexed by Germany before the start of World War II. Her research continued despite diminished resources.
Following the second World War, Meitner was referred to as “the mother of the atomic bomb” ironic considering how opposed she was to the development of atomic weapons.
With people such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson working to excite and educate people about the field of modern science, many wonder does the world have a female DeGrasse Tyson?
Nina Tandon holds a PhD in biomedical engineering and is the founder and CEO of a company called EpiBone. Her company grows human bones in a lab that can be used for skeletal reconstruction.
“Tandon has done some absolutely amazing things. She created precise and “personalized” bones from stem cells and she’s working on heart tissues as well. I think it’s awesome,” Busby said.
Tandon’s research into tissue growth could mean one day someone needing an organ transplant to live, may be able to have it grown rather than waiting for a donor organ to become available.
During a Ted Talk, Tandon said, “Let’s take the example of the heart, the topic of a lot of my research. What makes the heart unique? Well, the heart beats, rhythmically, tirelessly, faithfully. We copy this in the lab by outfitting cell culture systems with electrodes. These electrodes act like mini pacemakers to get the cells to contract in the lab.”
According to data collected in 2015, women make up less than 24 percent of the of the workforce of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the U.S.A study published the following year from the National Girls Collaborative Project shows in 2016 women made up 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, suggesting a five percent increase.
However, most of the science-based careers women work in are primarily biological sciences and social sciences, with women only making up about 11 percent of physicists and seven percent of mechanical engineers.
Phoebe Sulzen has a degree in engineering and has also spent time interning with NASA. “I think it is much easier for a man with any personality type to succeed and be recognized in STEM. With women, it is much trickier. Speaking in generalities here and not saying this is always the case. Too outspoken and people may not respect you. Not outspoken enough, and you won’t get listened to.” She said. “If you have just the right amount of assertiveness, confidence, and so many other factors (and yes, one of these is not letting family get in the way of your career), and if you do something really big, then you can be recognized for your accomplishments.”
Many experts point to long-held biases against women in the fields of science for such low numbers in these career fields. While the culture is changing, implicit bias and stereotypes still impact women pursuing a career in STEM.
“Sometimes it sucks being the only girl on the team and sometimes there are unintentional sexist undercurrents that come into play, but in general all the coworkers and managers I have worked with actively work to educate themselves on unconscious bias and embrace the diversity provided by having a female on the team.” Sulzen said. “ I truly wish that everyone wanting to learn could be given this opportunity. To not be judged off how much they know but how much they want to learn and to be treated as valuable and worthy.”
The American Association of University Women is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization using fact-based research to drive equality for women in STEM related fields. Catherine Hill, a PhD, is the former vice president for research at AAUW. Her report, published with AAUW, explained how the threat of stereotypes affect female performance.
“A female student taking a math test experiences an extra cognitive and emotional burden of worry related to the stereotype that women are not good at math. A reference to this stereotype, even one as subtle as taking the test in a room of mostly men, can adversely affect her test performance,” the report said.
Organizations like AAUW are actively conducting research into what policies can be enacted to not only lessen but eventually remove inequality in STEM fields. Some solutions include encouraging high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available. This encouragement promotes the idea that intelligence can be developed, meaning our intellect can grow and people can becoming better at learning.
“I think when younger girls are really interested in science, they’ll find what motivates them, internal motivation is generally stronger than external motivation,” Busby said.
Tandon was taking college-level calculus class at the age of 14 and credits her father with motivating her to pursue math and science.
“I remember my dad telling me that I was good at math and science and if I didn’t study them it would be a disservice to women because everything in society is telling girls not to,” Tandon said in an interview with Vogue Magazine.
People are driven to succeed at things they are passionate about and will overcome great adversity to reach their goals. As more women become leading experts in their fields, they influence and encourage the next generation to push that much further.
Busby said “I think that if more young girls were exposed to women in science and the awesome things they’re doing, especially if that was on the same stage as Neil Degrasse Tyson.”