To complement this week’s SoNYC discussion, on Of Schemes and Memes we have been delving into the world of minority scientists. Our first installment from Jeanne Garbarino, a Postdoc at Rockefeller University, considered some of the underrepresented groups within science. In our second installment, Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer discussed her role as the vice-director of Ciencia Puerto Rico, a non-profit, grassroots organization that promotes science, research and scientific literacy in Puerto Rico. Our third post was from Subhra Priyadarshini, editor of Nature Publishing Group’s India portal who talked about life for scientists in India. In our forth post we heard from Satoshi Uchiyama, a Japanese researcher working abroad, as he details his career hurdles and visa issues. In our next post, Amanda Adeleye, a medical student discusses how the glamorous world of cheerleading can mix with science.
Marie Curie, the first person to be honored with two Nobel prizes both in chemistry and physics once said, “be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” Rather than perseverating on what stereotyped roles women ought to follow, whether as mothers, writers, dancers, artists or nurturers, we ought to focus on what we, as women, are able to do. In fact, the options are limitless.
During college, I double majored in biology and classics – the study of ancient Greek and Roman texts and philosophy – and simultaneously was an NFL cheerleader for the St. Louis Rams. I have been asked to write about this experience as well as my current thoughts on being a Science Cheerleader. Overall, cheerleading has been an incredibly rewarding experience, as has completing bench research on breast cancer, graduating college, and working my way through medical school. Each activity is a part of me, a part of my identity but in no way completes me. I am often asked what its like to have been in both worlds, what is generally considered the very glamorous world of cheerleading, and the world of science. Truthfully, I could not imagine it any other way, and more importantly, why it would be any other way.
The woman standing with me is none other than astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. as part of the White House’s celebration of Women in History Month!
Luckily, movements like Science Cheerleader are excellent ways to bridge this unspoken divide between women and science. According to the National Science Foundation in 2009, while women made up 48.9% of the biological and life science work force, and 33.1% of the physicians, we were a mere 10.7% of engineering workforce. Without burdening you with statistics, there does exist a persistent gender gap in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The question is “why?” Some would argue that women are discouraged from these fields throughout elementary school and secondary school and that there several negative reinforcing messages to young women regarding these careers. Specifically, there are those out there who feel that activities like cheerleading focus on looks, dancing and popularity at the expense of “being smart.” There are some who wonder how can you be smart and a cheerleader. I think the subliminal question is “how can you be smart and a woman?” While you would be hard pressed to find a politically correct individual who would admit to these prejudices, they exist and are often perceived by our young women. However, my feeling is that these prejudices do not come from a place of malice but rather ignorance.
Science Cheerleader is a wonderful and multifaceted way to spread knowledge and battle some of the ignorance that exists about women in science. First, it brings to the forefront this contrast between cheerleaders and scientists (that really should not be a contrast at all). In my time as a science cheerleader, I have met incredible women who are NASA engineers, or women attaining PhDs in chemistry and psychology, or science teachers themselves. Importantly, the guests that interact with Science Cheerleaders have the opportunity to meet these amazing women as well. Second, and very close to my heart, is the way that Science Cheerleaders are able to reach out to girls and young women at such an impressionable time in their lives. They may initially be attracted by the shiny pom-poms, big smiles, big boots and fun music, but they stay because they learn and they get excited about science. It’s a small way to remind people that science is for all citizens of the world and that it does not have to be some activity relegated to textbooks at the back of the library that no one goes to read. Rather, science can be a present and beautiful force in our everyday lives. Third, as my life drifts farther and farther into the world of medicine, Science Cheerleader has been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue to dance, cheer, make friends and make a difference. Ultimately, beyond admiring Marie Curie for all of her work, I believe she was wise to appreciate early on that it is not particularly important who we are, but it’s what we do, the power in our minds that we use to imagine, create and discover.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Accessed 8/22/11