Despite the growing professional opportunities and market need, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields, and research from the 2010 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index identifies a basic hurdle that needs to be overcome: Ninety-one percent of teenage girls say they’re interested in one or more of those four subjects, but almost 33 percent might feel discouraged to pursue a related career because they either don’t know anyone working in these fields or don’t understand what STEM jobs entail.
No doubt that’s why many of today’s successful female scientists stress the importance of having strong mentors--as all five winners of this year’s L’Oréal USA Fellowships For Women in Science did growing up.
“My parents were my first mentors and they taught me the values of education, service, goodwill and humanitarian efforts,” says Dr. M. Nia Madison, who’s currently researching racial health differences related to HIV infection rates at Meharry Medical College. “It’s because of their guidance that I strive to positively impact the lives of those affected by the HIV pandemic.”
Another 2010 Fellow, Dr. Brenda Bloodgood, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, credits the “chance” a former professor took on her by hiring her to assist in his lab even though she had “little research experience.” “He was the one who encouraged me to attend graduate school and become a neuroscientist,” Bloodgood says.
With 72 percent of female scientists polled saying they’d recommend a career in science, according to a new survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, here are some concrete ways to get your daughter, niece or child of a family friend on the path to a career in STEM:
• Access your school. Ask a science teacher for recommendations of local programs or resources that connect young girls to STEM mentors.
• Explore together. Visit a science museum, zoo, science or technology fair to make it easier to relate to actual science work that happens daily.
• Network. Find someone in your personal or professional life who knows a STEM professional willing to chat with the curious young girl about her future.
• Do it yourself. Become a mentor by pointing out everyday examples of science and technology in our lives.