WOC IN STEM: REALITY OF A CHEMISTRY MAJOR

 

As a WOC in STEM I relate to the frustrations, between the grueling coursework and other personal matters, self-doubt can quickly become an overwhelming factor. However, biased suggestions and discouragement of advisors, peers, and even family is a tremendous factor as to why most WOC ultimately decide to switch their major after their freshman year. I pondered heavily on this pattern while prioritizing classes for the upcoming Fall semester as a sophomore, and the amount of discouragement I had already faced as a first-year Chemistry major, alone. During midterms I was told by an advisor to consider changing majors immediately based on the fact I opted to take remedial math because I wanted to relearn the basics before taking any core math classes, but despite her discouragement I passed all classes with B’s and A’s; whenever someone inquires about my major there are usually two reactions, sheer surprise and enthusiasm or uncertainty in my abilities. Their reaction bothers me more significantly than I’d like to admit as if I am unworthy of being a STEM major because I don’t appeal to the model of a stereotypical STEM major, non-white or white-passing and male.

Statistics show WOC are still the most underrepresented in STEM, with Black, Latina, and Asian women being the most discriminated against, “……black women were more likely (77%) than other women (66%) to report “having to prove themselves over and over again.” The study also found that Latinas and Asian-American women faced stereotyping in the workplace….Both Latinas and Black women report regularly being mistaken as janitors…Asian-American women said they felt more pressure to act “feminine”—demure and passive—and received more push back when they don’t.”

Unfortunately, the impact of their discouragement progressively affected self-perception of my abilities. I usually excelled in science, so why I was I suddenly doubting myself so often? Maybe science isn’t my forté like I thought, should I take their advice and switch to save myself heartache? I bombarded myself with self-doubts, and fear of continuing my studies due to potential failure began to manifest itself at an alarming rate. I began to focus on majors in other areas I excelled in, such as Political Science, History, Journalism, and Psychology. But, there was a distinctive voice in my subconscious throughout this period, I wasn’t satisfied with these choices regardless of how much I tried to force myself into contentment. There was no sense of challenge, and I ultimately felt I was settling because of my own crippling insecurities, I was uncertain of what I wanted to pursue and severe depression overtook my ambitious disposition.

However, I regained hope from an unlikely source. While completing forms for the upcoming semester my laptop suddenly exited the page and returned to the home screen. I was immediately fixated on the breathtaking photo of the stars, studying the picture for more information I noticed there were links attached with information about women in STEM. “Only 0.6% of girls want to major in computer science.” “Only 6% of women graduate with a STEM degree.” As I stared at these statistics an overwhelming sense came over me, I started to wonder the adversity other WOC in STEM faced during their first-year and how they were discouraged from completing a degree in STEM. All of my self-doubts seemed to dissipate as I reconnected with the passion that science provoked in me as if I had entered an epiphanic state realizing there was no other major I shared such a deep admiration and ambition towards completing and would not be detoured from my dream due to a lack of support from others.

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