[Apology in advance that this post may not entirely be about my experiences at my internship, but a compilation of experiences that represent the struggles I have been facing so far this summer.]
From the day I decided to go into the STEM field, I knew it would be tough. The classes are difficult, labs are competitive and applying to medical school and graduate school is expensive and time consuming. However, these were all things I knew I could handle when I decided on a career in the medical sciences field. I have never quit at something just because it seemed intimidating, and this attitude helped shape my decision to choose a major in Biochemistry. Not only did I know I could handle ANY obstacles dealt my way, but I truly love science, chemistry and medicine and know that I can make a positive impact if I pursue this.
However, something that I didn’t anticipate deterring my aspirations was my gender. Maybe I’m being too sensitive, or maybe I need to learn how to speak up and voice my opinions. But as a female undergraduate, I feel as though my opinion doesn’t need to be heard. My opinion doesn’t matter. I feel constant pressure to keep my voice down, to sit still and do what others tell me to. I am small and weak. I wasn’t made for science.
This shouldn’t be the way I think, though.
About six months ago, I remember being in a group of peers, all also pursuing careers in the STEM field. Everyone was going around saying their majors. “Neuroscience,” “Psych”, “Cellular Molecular Biology”, “Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience”. It was my turn. Biochemistry. Everyone seemed shocked. “OH wow… you know Biochemistry is really hard though, right?” I distinctly remember one of my male peers asking me. “Only thirty people graduate with a Biochem degree every year.”
I know… I thought. I know it’s hard. I spend all my free time, every day studying. I stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights doing homework. And it’s still hard. I know.
Let me pause here and apologize that the majority of this post hasn’t been about my position at my research lab. However, to understand why I feel the way I do, it is important to see this background. Sure, I have always felt smart but I don’t think my intelligence is valued in any way. I’m that girl that gets a 100% on the exam but “doesn’t have any practical knowledge.” I know how to study, but do I really know how to do much else?
Maybe this stigma that surrounds me is why I’m hypersensitive. Maybe I’m just thinking too much into things.
At the lab I research in at the Medical School, I am the only female undergraduate. I am actually one of only two females who work here- one is about to graduate with her PhD in the upcoming year. I am constantly pushed around from project to project. I don’t do any of my own work; for the most part, I help the graduate students with their projects. And I was never really bothered by this until I began to correlate previous experiences to the ones I’m having now. My last job, last summer, as a hostess at a restaurant in my hometown: I was never promoted to server because I just “looked so good as a hostess.” I never had the opportunity to gain more experience because, frankly, I wasn’t seen as being capable of it.
So maybe, I’m not capable of doing my own project. Maybe I’m not capable of writing a paper one day. But this isn’t the attitude I settle or want to settle for. I want so much more for myself and pushing past this has been the hardest part about my summer so far. Maybe I’m hypersensitive, and I sure might be, but for the rest of this summer, I truly wish to overcome the stereotypes I have started to accept, merely because others have placed them on me. I don’t want to play the victim and I don’t want to stop trying. I want to strive to not just be O.K. at what I do here, but be the best I can be regardless of what others may perceive about me.