Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | February 26, 2012

Getting (and keeping) girls interested in science and math

I spent yesterday working with a group of amazing middle school-aged girls, showing them  what I do in the lab, and then having them do some scientific investigations of their own. I love working with that age group – it’s such a critical time, when culturally, girls are pushed away from anything that involves science or math. It is great to see a group of girls who are excited to try things out and ask questions, and even just do some science. I could write for pages on this topic (and I am sure that I will, in many future posts). I’ve been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I devoured technical books when I was in elementary school. I was constantly asking questions about my surroundings and learning as much as I could. Unlike most scientists and science students I have encountered, I never had a science teacher who was a great role model for me, who made me want to go into science. It’s always been something I wanted to do. Given the duds of science teachers from 5th through 11th grade that I had (and really, my only GOOD science teacher was my senior year of high school, in a subject that I don’t even really like*, for that matter), it’s really surprising that I am in science at all.

Our society is incredibly good at convincing girls, around late elementary school and middle school, that they shouldn’t show that they are smart. That being good at (or even just interested in) math and science is not as “girly” and appropriate as, say, writing poetry**. Being Autistic, I think I missed most of the societal pressures – they just went right over my head, for the most part, and my perseverations kept me focused when I did get hit by them***. However this isn’t the case for most young girls, including many on the spectrum, who want nothing else but to fit in and have people stop bullying them for being different. We Spectrumites are rather good at camouflage – it’s an important survival technique, but it can have extremely detrimental effects. One of the reasons I have done so well in the lab I’m in, is because of the older graduate students who are all incredibly intelligent, engaging, and enthusiastic women in addition to being great scientists. I have had some of the best positive female role models and quasi-big sisters in these women, who have shown me on both a scientific and personal level that being a woman in science is not just “ok”, but wonderful.

For this reason, I have spent, and will continue to spend much of my life (from age 13, in one particular situation, and from age 16 for the rest), mentoring younger girls, and helping them to keep an interest in math and science. Even if that interest doesn’t translate into going into a scientific career, just showing them that it is OK to ask questions and think scientifically, and that really, “Math Doesn’t Suck”, is super important. It reminds girls that they can do whatever they want to do, and that they are smart, capable, and all around worthwhile, intelligent individuals. If they decide to go into science or math down the road, that’s great, but it’s not my main motivation – if they grow up and decide that they want to become a businesswoman or author, or anything else, that’s great too, because at least they had options, and the chance to do what they enjoyed, regardless of what their career choice becomes later on. And so, I will continue to volunteer and devote as much time as I can to mentoring young women in science, and trying to be the best positive role model I can be, to pass along the gift that others who came before have given me.

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*I really love learning about the subject in question, I just definitely don’t want to go into it for my career. I’m actually pretty good at it too. I just don’t like actually doing it.

**I have *NOTHING* against writing poetry. It is something that is rather beyond me most of the time, but I have the utmost respect for those who do write poetry and other creative-writing styles. I don’t think that being good at poetry and science are mutually exclusive – in fact, I think that they probably go very well together in many people. It was simply an example that is a contrast to the more traditionally “male” subjects (and that in and of itself is incredibly problematic… one’s gender should never define what one’s interests are).

***My mother’s goal for me for quite a long time was a “MRS. Degree” – she seems to have quasi-accepted the whole scientist thing for now, but who knows… another subject for another post.

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Responses

  1. I’m so glad you are doing that —mentoring the girls in science fields. It’s so needed. I chuckled, because my science teacher in 7th grade used to let me write poetry the whole class period; I just had to do extra credit assignments by reporting on articles. For me, though, I had to write to feel safe. Especially in a lab with unpredictable happenings. I applaud you for your efforts and recognizing the need.

  2. […] Getting (and keeping) girls interested in science and math. […]

  3. I think it’s great that you’re helping to shape today’s youth. With awful reality TV being in their face all the time, today’s girls need a good role model now more than ever.

    I also can relate to knowing about my ‘place’ as a female in society due to my AS. It just didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t be interested in science or math. I am very interested in Science and always have been. Math, not as much, but that’s more due to a dyscalculia than stereotypical thinking.

  4. Maybe it was only the popular girls who cared what other people thought. Which could be why I excelled in math and science.

  5. Have you ever heard of occupational science at all? It is actually a science that a lot of OT professionals and students are/have studied during their time as students in OT school. I love studying this science (ironic considering my first love is math) because it gives me a holistic understanding of why things are the way they are in life and how me as an OT can help people based on this knowledge.

    • Huh, I’ve never heard of occupational science before. It makes sense. And math and science are really well tied – there’s a false delineation I think, between them.

  6. Occupational science is actually a very abstract science. Not much math at all. If there is math, it usually has to do with showing statistics to prove/disprove existing theories.

  7. I am spending some more time to read your previous posts (as I am doing my research now). A lot of what you mentioned in the post before this is what a lot of people like myself (as an occupational therapy practitioner… not as an aspie) do in order to provide the help that they deserve. The exception is that we do it in real time usually and we have to think on our feet based on the information our clients give us. I think if you have a chance to get to read some occupational therapy and occupational science journals, you will find it as a very dynamic science.


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