What’s it like to be a woman in science?
Sometimes, it’s like having two jobs. My first job is to analyze computer simulations of drug molecules interacting with proteins. My second job is to run an unofficial public relations campaign that promotes women in science. Some days, I kind of want to quit that second job.
I’ve traveled around the country giving scientific talks aimed at inspiring young women to major in STEM fields. I visit my company’s hiring office to find out how I can help with efforts to increase diversity at our office. On days like these, I feel like my second job is really important, and that I’m actually helping to mentor the next generation of young scientists.
There are plenty of good reasons to be a scientist: great pay, intellectually challenging work, a chance to make a difference. But what we don’t always tell young women is that it’s also really hard. I loved having long discussions about quantum mechanics with my college professors, but I wasn’t so happy when those same professors told me that most women in our department were a drain on university resources. Now that I’m 25 and 4 years out of college, I enjoy asking questions during our chemistry team meetings, but I’m not so thrilled that anything I say or do at these meetings is a reflection on ALL women because I’m the ONLY woman. Today, I’m excited to be working crazy hours on my research, but I worry that, in the future, this kind of schedule just won’t be compatible with being a good mother to my hypothetical children.
So, which story should I tell about being a woman in science? The one where I’m thrilled to be working on cutting-edge projects that might someday cure diabetes or lupus? Or the one where I’m frustrated with the family-unfriendly male-dominated culture of scientific research?