Me: Be careful!
Her: I’m a scientist. I don’t need to be careful.
When her teachers mentioned my daughter loved science in school (new to her this year), I almost bought her a lab coat. Instead, whenever she asks to play scientist, I’m all in.
I want my daughter to believe she’s good at math and science because girls don’t suddenly become 10 and forget how to add numbers; however, statistically, 4th grade is where girls stop performing as well on science standardized tests and math follows a year or two later. By 12, girls lose interest in math and science and don’t expect to do well in them. “Bad grade? I’m just not good at math.” The gap continues to widen with only 24% of jobs in the “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, math) being held by women, and in some companies and areas, the numbers are much worse.
No scientific research has ever been found to support the STEM gap as an innate ability issue. This gap is about our teachers, parents, peers and societal beliefs in a girl’s ability to do math and science. Research has shown that, when girls are told that they can do equally well on a standardized test for math, they do. When they don’t have to mark their sex on an exam, they do better. When science and math classrooms are encouraging of both sexes (recognizing that statistically boys are called on far more often than girls in all classrooms), they do better. When they have mentors, who believe in their own and the child’s math skills, they do better.
I grew up loving math even more than science. A problem, which always has a solution, is pretty amazing compared to the enigma that is the sixth grade lunchroom. I still struggle to understand how anyone could not fall in love with following the logic of a physics or calculus problem. While I regale these tales with unabashed joy and play scientist with my daughter anytime, any place, I worry she doesn’t see how my math and science skills led to my medical degree because I currently stay home with the kids instead of practicing medicine or doing research. I remind myself she sees how I taught myself coding, I promise no one will ever say “I can’t do math” in my home, and I hope my belief in my math and science skills and hers are enough.
PS. An interesting research paper I found showed that kids, who have a female scientist visit their classroom, assume it’s a teacher dressed up as a scientist so unless I brought her to work everyday, my job may not have done much to change this idea. Counter-stereotypes need to be reinforced almost monthly to stop them from reforming.
Statistics and information for this piece was found in the following articles: