Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Since I started college, I have been the butt of many jokes, received (sometimes) unnecessary praise, put on a pedestal (mostly by myself), and endured plenty of criticism- all because I am a STEM major. The identity of a STEM major is complex and largely misunderstood by outsiders, and often ourselves.
We have a bit of a complex
Is it true that STEM majors believe they are better than all other majors? Possibly. Sometimes. More likely than not. Okay, yes. Now, I won’t get into the gnarly details of why we hold such an opinion and often argue it as fact. However, the part I want to highlight here is the possible underlying insecurities. Numerous adults have repeatedly expressed how proud they are of me because their brain “doesn’t work like that,” meaning they can’t think the way I do. There is also the number of impressed “oh wow” exclamations that come after hearing my major, with the slight implication that I am crazy for enduring the field. These remarks also come with a certain expectation that I must be exceptionally intelligent, and school must be a breeze for me, because that is true of all STEM majors, right? Take a look at the average score on any organic chemistry test and that assumption will be slapped right out of your head. I argue that the reason behind STEM majors constantly complaining about the endless hours of studying and pleading for a different GPA scale than non-STEM majors, are just the repercussions of damaging expectations that are excruciatingly difficult to meet.
We are prone to identity crises
We are more than STEM. The stereotype of a scientist or any STEM professional is exceptionally one-dimensional. There’s seemingly no room for creativity, religion, sports, or anything other than STEM. This proves to be rather problematic considering no one is that one-dimensional. Just because I like to spend my time in a lab doesn’t mean I don’t equally enjoy painting or drawing. Just because I spend countless hours typing up the results of an experiment doesn’t mean I don’t like to bring an imaginary world to life through writing. Just because I enjoy gas chromatography doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy sinking a free throw. Just because I believe in evolution doesn’t mean I don't believe in a higher power. Just because I value Western medicine, doesn’t mean I don’t also value some alternative remedies. You see where I am going with this?
We are ridiculed
Scientists are often under-fire and found right in the mess of controversial issues. Scientific evidence is among the most effective techniques in supporting an argument. That being said, we are subject to criticism and our life’s work can be dismissed in the blink of an eye. Not all scientific evidence is sound and unbiased, however, within an argument reliable evidence can be framed to fit the exact needs of the arguer. While discouraging and at times irritating, some criticism can be beneficial to the scientific process as it allows for growth and advancements.
We have the obligation to educate people
With the power of social media and freedom of speech, incorrect or misunderstood science spreads like a plague. Personal beliefs aside, let’s look at the popular debate about vaccinations. A lot of people that believe vaccines to be harmful, base their argument on scientific evidence. Upon researching some common arguments, I found that a majority of them can be disputed with various degrees of scientific knowledge. Another example is climate change. In order for people to fully understand a topic and form educated opinions, they must be given the facts. A lot of us are where we are, doing what we do because we want to make a difference in the world. How can we do that if the general population either won’t accept what we have to say, don’t understand it, or both? Now, it is nearly impossible for everyone to get on board with medical advancements or other scientific discoveries because of differences in morality and various other factors. But, it is still important to clear up misconceptions instead of attacking people for not having the same knowledge we spent years acquiring. Cool? Cool.
We are women
Last but not least, we are women. Okay, not all of us. I was planning on showing how women are minorities in the field of STEM by pointing out that the google image results for “scientist” are primarily men. However, I actually tried this and was pleasantly surprised by the number of women pictured. Women are making great strides in the STEM community but the “leaky pipe” still exists and there is still evident discrimination. I am sure this comes as no shock to any of you, considering the nature of this organization. That being said, all I want to say is that we are all strong, beautiful, intelligent, women in STEM and let’s not forget it.