What Its Like Being A Woman In A STEM Major

*For those of you that may not know what STEM stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.* Besides the straightforward majors of STEM, this consists of biology, computer science, horticulture, biotechnology, chemistry, physics, and many more.

Going to my research-dominated school, I am prided in the fact that CSU rises above and beyond not only in Veterinary Medicine (3rd nationally), but is 9th in the nation for my major of Wildlife Biology and Conservation as well. CSU is “recognized as one of the premier research institutions and routinely ranks in the top of all American Universities in research expenditures,” which you can read more about here.

U.S. News and World Report’s ranks CSU 27th in biological engineering, 49th in chemistry, 75th in biology, 70th in computer science, 42nd in statistics, 73rd in math, nationally. We make quite a few top 100 lists for our STEM programs specifically so choosing this school can be an easy choice for those majors. At the same time, our College of Business is ranked 48th nationally and our Design and Merchandising program is ranked in the top 5% as well, so if you’re not cut out for STEM, we have other great options. (Not trying to brag here, but any chance I get to talk about my school and I’m just proud to be a CSU Ram.)

Like my school, many universities across the country offer great STEM programs and careers. It makes it hard to not be attracted to the programs and find your place among them. But like many other students, I found out after the first year just how hard classes would be. Just how much work I would have to put in. I’ve toughed it out and changed my major (still STEM) but an easier STEM, yes.

I took the hardest undergrad class CSU has to offer last semester, Biomedical Sciences 300, scraping by with a 78% at the end. It was an upper level course, I knew that, but I hadn’t thought about sharing that semester with chemistry, math, and ecology as well. I was doomed to put it lightly. The averages on the tests were D’s, which I would have studied for 20 hours to earn. I talked to other seniors and juniors who told me to make sure I had time in my schedule to take this class again because more people fail than pass (just the thing every sophomore wants to hear right?). And I took the “C” and left it behind me. (My college doesn’t accept lower than 70% for a class, so I had to get a “C” for credit.) Not that I wanted that grade, but I just wanted to pass at that point.

Our chemistry program kicked my butt as well. Enough so that I’m taking my last organic chemistry course at a community college this summer. Chemistry and I, well, we don’t have chemistry. The program is 50th in the nation, but not worth it to me to keep on it.

As for college statistics, calculus, and physics here, piece of cake. Enough so that I considered being a math major for awhile, but didn’t find any careers I would’ve loved with it. Still, I was awful at math in high school so finally getting A’s in these courses makes me confident in at least one quarter of the STEM major. Because while my major specifically doesn’t include the TEM part, I still have to take those classes and pass.

The point is, STEM majors are quickly driven away from their hopes and dreams. “According to news reports, students are drawn to exciting and lucrative STEM careers at first, but they often find the college coursework too difficult to complete.” Take me as Example A. “Despite extensive high school preparation in STEM courses, these students often choose to switch to liberal arts majors and not persevere through arduous STEM related university laboratory and coursework. However, those who are adequately prepared and complete STEM degree programs have numerous career opportunities available to them at home and abroad.” This basically sums it up. And I hadn’t even talked about how hard my labs were yet.

Being a STEM major is hard. Being a woman in a STEM major is even harder.

We are underrepresented, underpaid, and under a lot of stress most of the time. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in 2007, women earned 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, compared to 79 percent of bachelor’s degrees in education.

STEM fields have a stigma–a misconception about who or what you are based on your major (as do all majors amiright?). I mean, my dorm learning community last year was known as nerds and freaks since we were all natural science majors. We’re known as your typical anti-social, studying-all-the-freakin’-time, awkward students who laugh at chemistry jokes (so I’m a little bit of this I’ll admit). Even if it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Philosophy majors, English majors, Education majors–they all have stereotypes as well. This could be where we lose some of our females in the process.

And being a woman in a “man’s world” is an intimidating thing. I’ve seen my classes piled 75% full of men, and 25% women. Its tough sometimes, but you get used to it and do your best to stand out. Which leads to the fact that, according to U.S. News, only about 25 percent of STEM degree holders are women. I mean, one in four are women?? One in four! And if that isn’t enough to convince you, some other quick facts:

  • Women comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and just 12 percent of civil engineers. Thats one in ten.
  • Averaged across regions, women accounted for less than a third (28.4%) of those employed in scientific research and development across the world in 2013. Across the entire world people!
  • In the United States, women in computer, engineering, and science occupations were paid an estimated 83% of men’s annual median earnings in 2013. Don’t get me started.
  • Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare. No thank you.

It just goes to show that you’re set up for a lot less success as a women–compared to other majors, compared to other men. Its hard, I understand that, I’ve been there. But I would love to see STEM take a 50/50 stance in men versus women and a 100% equal pay wage in my lifetime. I firmly believe women are just as capable, intelligent, and brilliant as men (as if that isn’t obvious), and we are definitely going to make big accomplishments and discoveries in the near future. Sorry men, step aside, the females are coming. And we will kick your butts.


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