On the Inside, Looking In

Defiance for scienceThis year was the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote, for most modern females the thought of not having this right seems so far fetched because why should we not? It’s the same as feeling perplexed about the fact that there is still a gender pay gap. Now, there has been progress in closing the gender gap in other ways, particularly the representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or just simply STEM. Even though we have more representation in these fields, are we seen as equals or is there still work to be done?

For years science and engineering fields have been seen as a “Man’s World” and one that women weren’t welcome in. But as things changed for the better, it became clear that females could not just rival but also better their male counterparts, as everyone says a little healthy competition never hurt anyone. Pioneering female scientists such as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Lise Meitner, to name a few, paved the way and proved that women deserve a voice in the world of science. But what happens when you join the club?

Between 2004 and 2014 there was a drop in women graduating in STEM-related degrees in the United States, Europe also followed this trend with only 4 countries claiming that 15% of STEM graduates were women. But why is this happening? As we gain gender equality you would expect the number of women pursuing STEM subjects to increase. Engineering companies have been known to offer more money to female graduates in order to entice them in and make the job seem more appealing. However, while the financial benefits are clear it might knock your moral compass off slightly and make you wonder if you got the job through pure talent or to meet a quota.

I myself am coming to the end of a 5-year Physics degree and over the last half decade I have definitely had many academic ups and downs. It all started when I was in school and was inspired by my wonderful Physics teacher to pursue Physics beyond the classroom and that I did. In 2013 I arrived at Glasgow University very much the epitome of a fresh faced fresher, somewhat sheltered from the difficulties that females in my area of study face.  It was only when I reached my third year that I came to fully understand what it was like to be a female in a male dominated course. I felt naïve by the fact that it had taken me so long to notice, despite the fact that in my very first lectures it was clear that we were outnumbered. It became a running joke amongst my male course mates and I, but obviously there is a real issue with under representation not just in physics but also in other STEM courses, particularly engineering.

I would say that I have never intentionally been made to feel on the sidelines but I have experienced situations where I have felt that I am the odd one out or I haven’t felt confident enough to speak out in a lecture. However, I believe it is more to do with society’s thoughts and views on females in such an environment and so how these transpire into the learning dynamic. Times may have changed but the perspective hasn’t, many people can be stuck in their ways and not see that their actions can be classed as old fashioned. In a metaphoric sense I have found that, on occasions, my voice has not been as loud as my male peers. I can see that for the students of the future this could be very off-putting.

With political movements such as Times Up and #MeToo campaign, gender equality or lack there of between the sexes has never had more attention and more backing from both genders. I am proud to identify myself as a woman of science and I couldn’t be happier to be near the finish line and almost be a STEM graduate. However, it would be wrong for things to change just to keep the masses happy about gender equality. I for one am a person that takes pride in my own work and I would never want to be prioritised or favoured to meet a quota or because I am female. I don’t necessarily want my voice to be the loudest in the room I just want to feel respected and feel like I am truly part of the world that I have been studying in for the past 5 years. In general, we clearly still have work to do but we are moving in the right direction and that’s an important thing to focus on. A change is definitely in the air, and it’s about damn time.

-Caitlin Young


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