Can’t handle the heat? Step away from the STEM

Being a woman is hard, and being a woman in the sciences is even harder. As a young girl who played in creeks, explored tide pools, and tried to save abandoned baby animals, I had no idea that challenges I would face as I pursued a career that followed those young interests.

Through college I took on multiple research projects, took full course loads, and participated in internships. Yet still, I’ve faced rejection after rejection in my career field. Under-qualified, under-published, and understated, I turn to the women in the field who have faced these same challenges and nevertheless persisted.

From their mentorship, I’ve come to the conclusion that the disadvantages to women in the sciences only makes them work harder, put themselves out there, and take bigger risks. So whether we’re fighting for the validity of our work or just to be heard and taken seriously at a conference, we will continue to fight for our place in this field and we will no doubt continue to succeed.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve chatted with some of my favorite females in the sciences. Read along with their interviews for more insight on STEM women, but also just to learn about how bold and intelligent they truly are.

Dr. Carin Bondar

Title: Biologist (with a twist)

Area of expertise: mating in the animal kingdom and motherhood

Degrees held: B.S biologyM.S evolution and development, Ph. D food web ecology

Biggest obstacle you’ve faced as a women in science: “There are obstacles that exist in the academic arena”, says Dr. Bondar. “Having children set me back as far as getting picked for certain jobs.” Though employers never outright said it,  she felt she wasn’t receiving certain career opportunities due to her duties as a mom.

Dr. Carin Bondar’s big take away for women in science: “Take risks and take chances. My own ability to talk about sex and parenting [in the animal kingdom] confined my role as a woman and a mom with my role as a scientist.” Dr. Bondar put her own sexuality at risk by talking about sex, and it was both well received by the public and her peers.

Dr. Judit Pungor

Title: Neuroscientist, vision scientist, and marine biologist

Area of expertise: the octopus visual system

Degrees held: B.S biology with a minor in brain and cognitive science, PhD in biology

Biggest obstacle you’ve faced as a women in science:  Dr. Pungor says she feels fortunate to have worked with people in her career who have been incredibly supportive.  “If anything [colleagues] worked harder to help me succeed because I was a woman in science.”  

Talk about a triumphant moment in your career: “My most humbling, but still my most triumphant, moment came when we were getting our first data about the octopus visual system. So many people for so many hundreds of years had been wondering about how that visual system worked. And so many people had tried so hard in so many ways to get at the answers. And when everything in our protocol lined up, I found myself sitting in front of the computer, watching the first of the answers pouring in. It was really amazing to know we’d gotten it, and really humbling to be the first to see what so many have wanted to for so long, just me sitting there some random Wednesday night”.

Sy Montgomery

Title: Author and Naturalist

Area of expertise: writing about animals, everything from the slimy to the fuzzy

Degrees held: B.A/ B.S Psychology,  French Language and Literature, and Magazine Journalism. Oh, and 3 honorary Ph.Ds. 

Talk about a triumphant moment in your career: My book Spell of the Tiger, on the man-eater of Sundarbans, was the subject of a National Geographic Explorer TV film, and a film crew and I spent three weeks in India filming it. I appeared in, narrated, and scripted the film, and unlike many other films of its type at the time, this one showed the local people not as helpless little brown victims, but as wise and eloquent, excellent observers of the natural world, who understood truths about predators that we in the West either forget or never knew.

I was at a bar in Arkansas when I watched it, but what thrilled me the most was knowing that half a world away, my Bengali family — poor, lower-caste people whose views were often dismissed by higher-caste folks in their own country, had somehow gotten a generator and a television hook up in their village and they were watching it, too! and they were PROUD!

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