I think a lot can be said about a person from a first impression. However, I think a lot more is left unsaid.
I have always been a little
ashamed, and to a point still am today, of admitting exactly what I am and what
I do. I get a large range of reactions,
especially outside of
I’ve been told that I’m not really a stereotypical engineering type. But what is a stereotypical engineering type? Is it the male with big glasses, sloppily dressed, coffee-chugging, croc-wearing, socially awkward type? I don’t know many people who fit into that stereotype anyways. Maybe it’s a shock that there is something in my skull, not just empty space. Maybe it is a bummer that dumb blond jokes won’t apply.
It’s almost as if society views being feminine, female, and an engineer as a forbidden quantum triplet state. Even though quantum mechanics claims that a triplet state is impossible, it occurs. In life there are always people to prove our preconceived notions wrong. So maybe I am some sort of living dichotomy, a natural Frankenstein, of abstract-minded romantic and a systematic logician. I am a Barbie-blonde cookie-cutter creation of femininity and a rebel fighting to fit in a male-dominant world. So if I could chose two words to stereotype myself, I would chose female engineer.
These two words imply
strength and courage, characteristics I feel I lack some days. Sometimes, it is difficult looking around in
my courses just to realize that there is no one else that looks like me.
Sometimes you look around and realize you’re the only girl in the room, or
maybe one of few and you get this sense of solidarity. Sometimes I think
maybe I am alone in this dichotomy and in these ambitions, but then again I
believe no one is alone.
Throughout high school my dreams changed. I wanted to be a freelance writer, I wanted to be a hair stylist, and I wanted to be a jazz musician. Honestly, I think I could have followed any of those dreams. In the end, when I was really serious about looking at schools, I started to think about what I am capable of. I had always been interested in science. My dad, who is literally the real life Doc Brown (from back to the future), always had a good array of chemicals for me to play with when I was little. From spilling bottles of mercury on my kitchen floor just to watch the scattering of tiny metallic orbs, to throwing pure sodium in water in my backyard, to my clever use of platinum wire in my freshman sludge project, chemistry and I always had a dynamic relationship.
Not many people get the
opportunity to do what I do. Some people are just not programmed to be
engineers, some people just can’t do math, and some things just don’t
click. I am really fortunate to be one of the people, where things
aligned just right, and I do have the opportunity to pursue something like
Chemical Engineering. I think, well gosh darn it; if I am capable of this
I should do it. This is not to say I’m perfect by any means. I’ll
never be the girl with the 4.0 and extraordinary extracurriculars.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if my name shows up in the local paper on the
Dean’s List, I’ll I care about is learning. It’s what I love, and what I
am here for. Maybe other students have different plans; whether it is a
lucrative job post graduation or acceptance into a fancy medical school, but
for me the more challenging the material the better and I am here for the next
challenge. Maybe this makes me some sort of masochistic super nerd, but
it’s who I am.
There are so many statistics and figures that try to prove that maybe women will never be as academically capable at men. No matter what you read, you can’t shape yourself to fit into what others will claim. Nobody wants to be another point on the curve, you have to push yourself to be an outlier to this data set; you have to give yourself a chance. It may feel like you’re an outsider in the good ol’ boys clubs. It may feel like you don’t belong. Ultimately, it is up to you to convince yourself that you do. I honestly believe that there is no intellectual difference between men and women. In fact, I bet I can do anything a man can do just as well, maybe even better.
I feel that girls spend so
much time cutting each other down. From a “she’s too fat comment” to a
snide “that dress is hideous” muttered blurb. It’s unfortunate the
sometimes girls spend so much time and energy cutting each other down instead
of using that effort to come together as a gender. Some people think that
the women’s rights movement ended decades ago, but I can feel that it is still
very alive today. Maybe in all the laws and legislature men and women are
equal, but in everyday life exists discrimination and generalizations that
prevent true equitable treatment. This
inequality exists not only in the field of science, or higher education, or the
work place. It is in everyday living we have to endure the ignorance of
others, have to contest the stereotypes, and fight not to perpetuate
When I look back at all the adults in my life that pushed me further into academia, I am really truly grateful for all that they have done, despite my ignorance at moments. I remember one day in physical science lab in my freshman year of high school, a group of friends and I were joking around laughing about how women couldn’t be engineers. Our teacher overheard us and lectured us about how women are just as capable as men and they should pursue engineering. This teacher pushed me individually into pursuing science, telling me that I could go anywhere I wanted, be anything I wanted, and not to let anyone hold me back.
I also think back to an interview I had my senior year with an alumni of my high school. She told me about nearly fifty years ago, when she attended my high school, how she was one of the first girls to ever take physics at the school. The teacher would lecture the few girls in the course how women were intellectually incapable of studying physics, and he would unfairly grade their work.
These two instances both haunt my memory and inspire me to never give up in my ambitions. I think about these two memories all the time.
I am so fortunate to exist
at this point in time. I am granted so
many opportunities that never existed for women before. I am the first female in my family to pursue
a degree in natural sciences, and I am the first person in my family to pursue
a degree in engineering. I want to be the first person in my family to
get a PhD, so that would make me the
I realize that sometimes the factors that are small and seemingly insignificant truly can affect the path we choose in life. It’s the little things and places that we submerse ourselves that shape us into the adults we will become. From a Merck Index on my bookshelf since before I could read and a particle accelerator in my basement from before I knew what an atom was, I can see now that I am in so many ways just a product of the environment I was raised in. Maybe we are just like elementary particles and where we go with our lives is just a product of probability and pure chance. I never chose my parents, or my eye color, or my hometown. I never chose to be female.
So we can take what chance
has given us, but we can also make cognizant decisions about how exactly we can
play the hand that we’ve been dealt. We
have to think about what we are capable of, what we can change, what we can do
to make the world we live in a better place.
I am pursuing a degree in
chemical engineering not just to follow my own dream. I do it for all the women in the decades
before me that couldn’t pursue this dream.
For the girls at my high school fifty years ago that were told they
weren’t capable of learning physics. For
the housewives decades ago who wanted to build bridges and buildings, not just
stare at them through a kitchen window.
For the adolescent girls who think playing unintelligent garners the
affection of the opposite sex. For my
potential future daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.
To me engineering is so much more than a list of courses, a set of skills, or a degree. It’s a symbol for something broader and much more meaningful. It’s a way for me to make society a better a place, to protest the discrimination I have endured, to further the hard work of women before me, and to give girls in future generations, who dream of being anything, a better, more accepting world to follow their aspirations.