My daughter's lab

My Daughter Wants To Be A Scientist. For Now.

Me: Be careful!
Her: I’m a scientist. I don’t need to be careful.

My daughter's lab
OSHA, please skip her lab.

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:

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

4 thoughts to “My Daughter Wants To Be A Scientist. For Now.”

  1. As a former 5th grade math and science teacher and now as a mother I find this so so so very interesting!!! I did not see it as much where I taught because a more low socio-economic gap issue as well as some race things going on (students being teased – mostly girls – for talking a certain way or behaving a certain way that they were acting “white”) but I am well aware this has been a long time issue from studies and books I’ve read. It blows my mind. I now have my sweet Lulu that LOVES pretending she’s a doctor and says she’s great at math and have so happy about Doc McStuffins and Peg + Cat for showing us great girl leads that love and explore the world of science and math. Any word on if this is changed in a single sex atmosphere? And what are your personal thoughts on all boy classrooms/all girl classrooms. I have always been of the school of thought that everyone can learn from one another and my son’s closest friend is a girl, so I’d hate him to miss out on her, but what are your thoughts?

    1. My daughter likes to pretend she is a doctor too. We are also big fans of Peg + Cat. I keep hoping that with more women getting college degrees attitudes in school systems and our culture will change. It’s sad to think girls and boys have to go to separate schools just to get equal educational opportunities and support.

  2. I have struggled with math all of my life. So has my husband. I am not sure if we are bad at it or have had discouraging experiences around math that made us think we were bad at it. Jim’s dad was a high school math teacher and Jim had extensive math tutoring all through high school. I just never even tried to do it when I was a kid. I’ve thought about getting myself some math books to see if I can teach myself now. I keep thinking maybe I can master it now that I have more confidence in general. I’ve taught myself all sorts of things, why not math?

    I keep worrying about my husband and I being good role models for our daughter. I want her to like math and science. I have been trying to develop a strategy to get as many math and science role models in her life as possible. Just in case we fail at the whole role model thing.

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