5 Ways To Get More Women in STEM

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Guest blogger Lesley L. Smith, Ph.D. has earned a plethora of degrees, including a M.S. and a Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics. In 2012, she added to her collection by completing her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Dr. Smith’s short science fiction has been published in several venues, such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Daily Science Fiction, and Nano Meets Macro. She is an active member of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW), and is also the founder and editor of Electric Spec.

Dr. Smith has held a variety of scientific jobs, including investigating quarks, dark matter, extrasolar planets, clouds, atmospheric chemistry, and global warming. She has worked for a variety of research institutions, while her nonfiction articles have been published in venues that include Physical Review and Modern Physics Letters. She is a long-time member of the The American Physical Society (APS) and The American Geophysical Union (AGU).

For more information, connect with Dr. Smith on her website.

The Quantum Cop is now available on AmazonSmashwords and Barnes & Noble.

Did you hear? They just released a neat new phone/laptop/tablet/whatever. It seems like there’s some new gadget or discovery every day. The world is becoming STEMier and STEMier all the time. I refer, of course, to science, technology, engineering, and math. There are huge opportunities in this sector.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) report “Starting Salaries for New College Graduates” states graduates in STEM fields will make the highest starting salaries this year. The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy reports that women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations. More of us women definitely need to get in on this action. Here, then, are five ways to get more women in STEM:

1. Know yourself. Numerous studies have shown differences in gender socialization lead to implicit biases, such as “men are more suited to STEM” or “women are bad at math.” Do you have such biases? Are you sure? Consider participating in a study such as Project Implicit, which tries to measure implicit biases. Once implicit bias is identified, it’s much easier to deal with.

2. Realize anyone can become a STEM professional. Some people think successful STEM professionals are born with STEM skills or predilections. Not true. This is actually related back to implicit bias (see #1 above). All humans are born with the potential to develop STEM skills. Accept this about yourself and the other females in your life, and then tell them! Studies show female STEM role models can be very effective; check out programs like FabFems.

3. Understand that STEM improves the world. STEM professionals work with and help other people. STEM improves society through collaborating, making new discoveries and developing new technologies. Many of humanity’s greatest historical achievements, from the internal combustion engine to electricity to Penicillin to the Internet, have been STEM inventions or discoveries. Now STEM helps people in myriad ways from screen readers for the blind to predicting flash floods. In the future, STEM discoveries and inventions will continue to improve the world. I wonder what those improvements will be?

4. Consider STEM. It sounds obvious, but more women will enter STEM fields if more women consider entering STEM fields. If you’re an adult not already in STEM, consider retraining (see “Educate” below); there are a lot of opportunities. As The Brookings Institute report “The Hidden STEM Economy” states, there are even opportunities for people without bachelor’s degrees. If you’re a mom, aunt, grandmother or friend to a young woman, encourage her to consider STEM.

5. Educate. Women who are willing to consider STEM need STEM training. Girls need to take math and computer science and other STEM-related courses in K-12 to understand our high tech world. If your local high school doesn’t teach one of these subjects, ask for it. If you’re already out of high school, there are other options. For example, many local public libraries offer free or low-cost computer-related classes. And there are online options such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Many MOOCs are free and there are a variety of STEM courses, including courses on computer and data science, physical and earth science, biology and life science. There are several MOOC sites, check out the MOOC-list, for example. Of course, a post-secondary degree in a STEM field is ideal for STEM success.

The bottom line is: women benefit from STEM opportunities, but STEM needs women. Diverse ways of thinking lead to innovation, pure and simple. And the human race is going to need innovation to solve the challenges of the future, such as clean energy and water for all. Join us!

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