Meeting the expectations of a woman in science

By SRAVANTI TEKUMALLA ’16

Online Editor

The phrase “women in science” is something I hear often as a computer science major at a historically women’s college. However, the idea of being a woman in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) field extends beyond gender identity. We’re seen as pioneers: people who have a responsibility to pave the way toward equality in  science and technology.

We are people who aim to “make a difference in the [science] world,” à la Wellesley’s motto.

Strangely enough, I never gave too much thought to being a woman in science, much less a woman of color in science, despite the numerous middle and high school minorities-in-STEM programs thrust upon me. I simply liked science and found joy in coupling my curiosity about the world with solving problems.

Yet, when I came to Wellesley, I found my interests to be politicized in a way I hadn’t expected. The overwhelming expectations of a woman majoring in science—breaking gender stereotypes, creating new paths for minorities and shattering every sort of glass ceiling—tainted my major choice.

Am I in computer science because I truly enjoy it or because I feel obligated to play a part in closing the gender gap? I wonder whether I had made a decision based on the pursuit of representing women in STEM fields rather than the pursuit of a more individualistic choice.

I still grapple with this issue constantly. The expectations and obligations of underrepresented minorities in any field are that we rise to the top; there isn’t room for mediocrity. We are obligated to stand up for and represent our respective minority groups while bearing the weight of inequality on our shoulders.

But how true of an “obligation” is this? I could go into computer science not caring about who is around me. I don’t have to care about minorities in science, or that I’m one of them. But as our society would have it, and more specifically, as Wellesley molds us, we pioneer our own solutions and we champion ourselves as women who made it in a man’s world.

I suppose that’s why I attend “women in engineering” conferences and care about advocating minorities in the sciences. Because as a woman in science, it isn’t enough to care about the subject itself. I’m obligated to advocate for my minority group at the risk of nobody else doing so.

Anywhere else, I would feel like I’m sacrificing a part of myself to pursue science in a male-dominated environment. At Wellesley, I’m privileged to be in an atmosphere that allows me to pursue something I’m passionate about without the additional battle of being in a male-dominated atmosphere. I take for granted not being the token female in a 50-person computer programming class or fretting about gender dynamics with cis-males while working on problem sets.

The inevitable gender gap awaits me when I graduate  in a few years. Someday, I will make a difference in the world, though I still haven’t figured out what that difference will be. Perhaps I’ll make my difference as a woman in science out of obligation, and if I’m lucky, out of passion as well.

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