5 Things They Never Tell You about Being a Woman in STEM

Brooke is a Business & Systems Integration Analyst at Accenture and is based in the Los Angeles area. She was born and raised in San Clemente, CA and recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with her Bachelors of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. While in school, she was involved with a variety of student organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Chi Omega Sorority, the Pediatric AIDS Coalition, the Fashion and Student Trends Club. Previously, Brooke has worked in both the public and private sectors, with MARRS Services, Inc., the LA Unified School District Facilities Division, the LA Dept. of Public Works Bureau of Sanitation, and the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. She is an advocate for women’s rights, improving the STEM educational experience, and is a source of knowledge for those wishing to study-abroad, improve their professional development skills, or maintain a healthy work-life balance. Brooke loves traveling, yoga, golf, reading, Pinterest, art, and music, and can be contacted through her online resume at www.brookecrowe.com.

After graduating UCLA with a degree in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) field, I realized there were many lessons that would have positively affected my time at school if I had understood them from the start. Though many people encouraged me to pursue engineering and gave me endless advice, these five rules of thumb would have allowed me to maximize my time in university and make the most of my college experience.
1. Getting a 74% on a Midterm may not be a bad thing.
As more and more women attend college every year, we have been programmed to associate our worth and intelligence with our GPAs. However, as every STEM student will realize in their first year, your introductory classes will have averages test scores between 35-75%. Though the shock of getting your first D is enough to make anyone’s head spin, recent research has shown that women are more likely to be discouraged by low grades and ultimately drop STEM majors for other degrees with more lenient grading schemes. Yes, low grades are disheartening, but ultimately your introductory classes are NOT your major. As you begin to take upper division classes, you will learn the subjects that genuinely interest you and your grades will improve. Stay inspired by continuously exposing yourself to the professional opportunities available in your field, try joining an on-campus professional organization or regional professional group in your area.
2. There is so much more to college than class.
The biggest mistake most collegians make is not getting involved early in their college career. Between the Greek system, professional organizations, philanthropic committees and student government, there is a way to get involved not matter what your interests are. As a woman in a male-dominated field, these groups can provide a support system in which you can truly thrive, offering you friends who understand what you’re going through, social events to stay balanced, and professional development to better prepare you for the real world. As graduation rolls around, you won’t remember the grades you earned nor the assignments you didn’t turn in, but you’ll think back upon the late nights laughing with sorority sisters, the afternoons volunteering at a local school, and thrill of competing at conferences with your teammates.
3. Who you know > What you know.
Networking is the one skill that will most benefit your career that most students don’t learn in college. In current society, where women’s work in STEM fields is often undervalued, it is important to build your professional network with industry professionals who will act as your advocate. As positions and promotions arise, these advocates will speak on your behalf and recommend you – this willingness to tie their credibility to your name gives your application the weight needed to get the job/scholarship/research position you applied for.
4. You may be the only girl in the class/group project.
Though the percentage of women in STEM fields has increased, the overwhelming majority of your peers will be male. While this can be isolating and intimidating, it is important to remember that you have every right to be there and belong there just as much as they do. By keeping positive, confident, and assertive, you can move past any potential barriers and have a successful academic experience.
5. It’s worth it.
Despite the long hours and inherent bumps in the road, pursuing a degree in the STEM fields can be an incredibly rewarding and gratifying experience. The skills you learn, such as problem solving, working in teams, and building work ethic, will stay with you beyond college and into your professional career. Even if you decide to pursue a career outside of STEM, your degree will advocate for your abilities in all industries. Looking back upon my college career, the long nights made me stronger, I accomplished more than I ever thought was possible, and I truly developed the passion that brought me to STEM in the first place. As the saying goes, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.” Always be yourself, be proud of who you are and where you come from, and live every moment to the fullest – in the STEM fields, these four years will go fast, so make sure you enjoy it.

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