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Latest from the Geeky Girl Reality Blog

1) Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do. My name is  Marguerite Matthews  and I am a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow working at the National Institutes of Health in the Office of the Director. Prior to doing science policy work, I was a neuroscience researcher. 2) How did you arrive at this career? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I learned about the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships during my time in graduate school. Once I knew there was an option to use my scientific research background to learn about and influence federal policymaking, I started seeing the value in my translating my education and training to work outside of the laboratory. I found it quite empowering to know that there was a need to apply my science knowledge to addressing societal challenges. 3) What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning? Having a voice in my work environment, being able to make important contributions to my agency and my community, and working with a passionate group of people excite and inspire me to go to work every day. 4) What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? Thanks to therapy, I now prioritize my happiness and mental wellness above all else! So I regularly engage in activities that relax me or that I enjoy, such as spending time with family and friends, getting a manicure, going to the movies. The more I invest in caring for myself, the less stress I experience or tolerate. When it comes to feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty, I often have to remind myself that I am smart, capable, and just flat out dope! Sometimes it takes looking at my CV and/or talking to my mentors and support system to recognize that my experience, my voice, and my work has value. 5) Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? There are many people I admire and who inspire me on my professional journey. My dad, and his love for knowledge and inquiry, is an especially prominent source of inspiration for me as a scientist. However, there is no single person whose life or career I have modeled my own after. Rather, I’ve had a series of people in my life who have helped me realize the goals I’ve set for myself as I have moved along the path to self-discovery of what I want to do professionally. 6) What is your experience of being a woman in the technology industry? Being a woman of color in STEM hasn’t been without its challenges but has largely been a positive experience for me. Almost every mentor I’ve had – male and female – have guided me along the path and taught me how to advocate for myself and to be strong and confident, even when I may be the only one who looks like me in the room. I meet so many women and young girls who are often discouraged from pursuing STEM careers for one reason or another and it saddens me to know that they haven’t had the access to STEM opportunities or mentorship that I have to allow me to flourish and choose based on my own desire and not the presumptions of others. 7) What advice would you give to young women entering the STEM field? BE YOURSELF! Be bold and daring in your pursuit of anything that makes you hunger to learn more. And be assured that there are people out there who want you to succeed and reach your highest potential. Because your authentic-c, curious-, and determined-self is what we need to change and advance science and technology. 8) How do you measure your success? I don’t measure my success, exactly. I set goals for myself and I aim to achieve them. Not achieving any given goal doesn’t necessarily signal lack of “success”. And “failure” can often a sign of progress towards my goal(s). As long as I am growing my expertise, generating new ideas, creating or improving opportunities, all to make contributions to my field and my community, I am succeeding.
Background The purpose of our longitudinal study is to develop ongoing insights into girls studying STEM and women pursuing STEM careers, in response to the continuing statistics evidencing the underrepresentation of women in STEM, stereotypical environments and double standards. Our 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 representing 16 different countries world wide, focused on developing insights into the current experiences of girls studying STEM at college and University, using a mixed methods approach. So far data from our 2016 survey has found significant links between early  childhood interests  and future STEM career plans, the significant  role of unrelated female models  in helping reduce attrition from STEM later on in life,  confidence levels drop in the second year of college, computer Science  has one of the highest attrition rates, and the impact of different subjects and professional confidence in  relation to future plans.  This series analyses the impact of age and country of residence on confidence getting a job in STEM. The bar graph below shows the age scale of participants on the horizontal axis and the average confidence scores of ‘getting a job’ from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest on the vertical axis. Results indicate that professional confidence peaks to a score of 5 in the first year of College at the age of 16 and slowly declines throughout this time period, continuing into the first year of University at the age of 19 reaching a much lower 3.3 confidence level. As our previous research identified this lack of confidence may be correlated with the lack of female role models for young girls to ‘relate’ to, making the STEM environment a more ‘masculine’ place where girls struggle to ‘identify’ and ‘find a place’ thus, in return professional confidence ‘ takes a hit’.  “Actively show stories of women leading successful tech projects, Give them as much attention as male scientists” (participant 111).   After the age of 20, confidence levels ‘pick up’ and stay at an average score of 4 throughout the 20’s. However there is a dip in this confidence of 20% at the age of 28. This may be due partly to limited work life family balance options amongst the STEM profession,  which other research  has acknowledged plays a role in attrition from STEM, particularly amongst women. Furthermore,  other research  suggests girls in College also feel that they will have to ‘give up’ having children for their STEM careers, suggesting that for women they see a trade off between their career in STEM and having a family, they feel the options to do both are lacking. There is another sharp peak in confidence at the age of 32 to a confidence score of 5. A number of interrelating factors here could be contributing to these confidence levels; women in their 30’s may have transitioned careers and have already established their work life balance ‘norms’ giving them more control. It may also be that these women chose not to start a family and as a result have more time to focus on their careers. This isn’t to say women can’t do both, it is possible that different companies and different family dynamics mean women have children and maintain and progress in their career. Women in their 30’s may have worked exceptionally hard to establish their place within the workforce. Future research should explore whether age and confidence levels correlate with length of time in current job. Results from the graph also indicate a sharp decline in participants aged 41 from 5 to 2.5 at 46. Again there are a number of possible factors that need to be explored before making conclusions; Covert sexism, where the masculine nature of the workplace may see even more gender disparity when it comes to women wanting to move up the ranks into senior positions, when the opportunity comes for a promotion research suggests they are more likely to get overlooked for their male counterparts,  more women on the boards and in leadership positions may help address this.   “Equal pay and seeing more female role models in higher ranked positions” (participant 86). Overall these findings would indicate that girls start off with higher confidence in their younger College years and this confidence slowly declines until they reach their 30’s. There are a number of possible interrelating factors which could answer for this; University is more atoned to the male gender, lack of female role models in senior and leadership positions, negative media about STEM professions and gender pay inequality may send a message to women that they are ‘not as good’ resulting in them questioning their own self worth when job hunting compared to their male peers. This series also examined the role of geographical location on confidence getting a job The graph below indicates the geographical locations of our participants. The largest representation is in North America, followed by Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa. The graph below indicates the average confidence levels of participants by their country of residence,   with the lighter shade of blue indicating the lowest confidence levels and the darkest shade indicating the highest.  Findings suggest that the UK, North America, Mexico, Vietnam and New Zealand have the highest confidence levels followed by Canada, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, India and Indonesia, with the lowest levels reported in Spain. Does this suggest more Western societies are progressing and combating these stereotypes more than their non western counterparts? This may be ‘popular’ belief but in fact our results do not indicate this pattern nor does other research which has found that actually  western and non-western societies do not dictate the level of representation and confidence of women in STEM ; one way to compare gender equality and opportunities for women in STEM is to see statistically their representation across different STEM sectors and graduation from STEM degrees in different Countries. Research has found that some leading western countries have a much lower representation of women in STEM than in Muslim countries, and places like Indonesia (see this  article ).  Therefore this would suggest that countries with the highest confidence levels are those where STEM education is most accessible to women . Reports have indicated that the Higher Educational sector in big economies such as the US, the UK and other parts of Europe have developed a vast amount of different educational routes with an array of programs developed for women’s ‘human centered approach’ such as the ‘Social Sciences’ ‘Nursing’ and ‘Child development’. In comparison, developing and transitional economies where acute shortages of educated workers have in turn prompted efforts by governments and development agencies to increase the supply of STEM workers (see  article ). Therefore to increase confidence this would suggest that more encouragement by the government and policymakers for the uptake of STEM amongst these economies would help in the representation of women in STEM and increase confidence in this sector as a viable option for women to pursue.    “More outreach, more movements, more education” (participant 139).   Encouraging confidence and uptake of STEM College and Universities can help to encourage girls to take part in different preparational activities by holding different open evenings and information talks about different programs they can get involved with. More opportunities for international movement between Universities and job markets in STEM environments may help encourage women to participate whose countries lack incentives and opportunities; more scholarships, grants and internships. Government and policymakers need to make an effort to eliminate barriers for women in STEM and increase incentives for participation in Higher Educational STEM subjects. We can change the future if we work together. This has been the fourth in a series of exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers. Contributors Andrea Lewis, Molly Goodman, Raiya Al-Ansari,
Swati Patankar Qualification:  BSc, PhD, Professor at IIT Bombay Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), is recognised worldwide as a leader in the field of engineering education and research IIT Bombay has 17 departments, 13 multi-disciplinary centres, and 3 schools of excellence. The annual Science & Technology festival of IIT Bombay, Techfest, which was started in 1998, is held in the month of December every year and is Asia's largest science and tech festival. Email ID:   patankar@iitb.ac.in Achievements:  Research grants for 15 years, Teaching Awards Interviewer is  Lavanya , a High School STEM student in Dhirubhai Ambani International School, Mumbai. She wishes to major in Engineering. She is happy and proud to pursue STEM and is passionate about propagating STEM among girls. When you were college ready, what motivated you to select the science stream? Was it something you knew you wanted to do? Yes, I knew I wanted to do biology when I was ready for college. What did you obtain your basic degree in? Life Sciences After receiving a basic degree in Life Sciences, what persuaded you to take up scientific research instead of medicine which most girls tend to lean towards? My father is a physicist and my mother has a PhD in education so the "research" career was already being done in my family. My sister was good at English Literature but she got into medicine and did that. So my family let us choose whatever we liked. Can you recall any eureka moments in your career or any epiphanies? Yes, when I saw some interesting data and realized that in the malaria parasite, there is both sense and anti-sense RNA. Do you mentor anyone? If yes, who do you mentor? I mentor all my students, MSc and PhD. I have also taken high school students in my lab for short projects (only girls) and mentored them as well as Bachelors level students. Having guided several science students, have you observed anything of special merit in STEM girls? They really love science and have sometimes even gone against their family traditions to do what they love. Also, many of them grab the opportunities given to them and work really well, learn a lot in the lab. Any advice you would like to share with STEM girls? Be more confident! Any advice you'd like to give your 18 year old self? Don't be scared of failures! You will learn more from them than success. Where can we find out more about your work? http://www.bio.iitb.ac.in/~patankar/new/  
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