Why Don’t I Belong?- A Woman in the Man’s World of Science - Madison

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

"This was the first of many times I felt unwelcome, as a woman, in the world of science."

As a naive seventh grader, I was eager to be attending a new school and taking challenging math and science classes, my preferred topics of study. I relished in the knowledge I was gaining and appreciated learning from passionate teachers every day. I was very involved with clubs and committees at school (some things never change), and I was ecstatic to learn about a computer science team that was going to be meeting during lunch periods. I was set to attend and tried to convince my friends to accompany me. The lack of enthusiasm from my classmates did not faze me, and I rushed to the computer lab as my final class before lunch finished.

As I walked in, there were dozens of people crowded around the computers and others tinkering with wires protruding from open consoles. My stomach turned from excitement, anxiety, and hunger (what can I say, it was lunchtime), and I made my way up to a senior student introducing myself and asking how I could help. It was then that I realized I was the only girl in the large group of students and was also the only one from the junior school.

Although I enjoyed learning about computer software and hardware, along with developing my skills as a programmer, I faced an internal war every time I stepped into the lab each week. I felt like an outlier in the group and was constantly questioning myself and my abilities. I would not offer my code up for projects and would let less qualified males take credit for my work. I was constantly questioning my place in the world of computing. If there weren't other girls attending the club, maybe it was because boys were better at it, I thought. Perhaps, this is a pointless battle, and all the work I was putting into developing skills at the club was for nothing? I was discouraged and felt like an imposter among the group, trying to avoid the inevitable: that I was not good enough. Unfortunately, this was the first of many times I felt unwelcome, as a woman, in the world of science.

As I progressed through school, I worked hard in all my courses, especially in the science-based ones. Since the computer science club, I was determined to prove my worth. I did not have many positive role models of women in science until my sophomore year of high school.

One day I stumbled upon two opportunities at the local university to get me connected with empowered women. I sent emails to multiple groups, and it took lots of courage to reach out to people who were so talented and well respected within the science community. In the fall of my junior year, I started a co-op at a lab associated with the university. This lab was unique and stood out to me since it was run by a fierce woman who had broken down barriers in the science world. 75% of her lab was made up of female workers, who were very welcoming and offered immeasurable advice. I got to work alongside these professionals and harnessed connections within the academic community. This time I did not feel out of place, but accepted.

Additionally, I became the executive member of a university organization interested in promoting equity in science and was founded on the principles of motivating, encouraging, and supporting all women engaged in science-related careers. After being engulfed in this tight-knit community of women supporting one another, I now feel confident and self-assured, ready to face the male dominance in the field of science. This time, I will not back down, but speak out and show my worth.

My advice to those who have found themselves in a similar situation as me is not letting the world dictate what you love. Everyone inevitably faces barriers in their life, but what you can do is find ways to break down these barriers and push full force ahead. It won't be easy and will take strength to do so. I still haven't broken down my barrier, and I will face many more in my life, so embrace the struggle and move forward.

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