Union was named one of the top five colleges for women in STEM fields by the USA Today College Guide this past December.
As a woman studying chemistry here at Union, I couldn’t agree more.
I can’t deny that prejudice against women in STEM fields exists.
One example is quite famous: the case of Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick.
Without Photo 51, Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction image of DNA that was shown to James Watson by Maurice Wilkins without Franklin’s knowledge or approval, Watson and Crick could not have determined the structure of DNA as accurately as they did.
As Lynne Osman Elkin, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, Hayward, noted in an interview with PBS, “There is no way without her [Franklin’s] data that Watson and Crick could have figured out the structure.”
Elkin also notes that Watson “didn’t know how to interpret a diffraction photo” and presses Wilkins for his interpretation.
Yet, Watson, Crick and Wilkins would be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for determining the “Watson-Crick Structure of DNA,” with no mention of Franklin.
Granted, she had died four years earlier, but one fact remains: despite all her hard and unceasingly work on the structure of DNA, and her proximity to determining the structure, she would not be credited for many years.
There are many more examples detailing the prejudice against women in science.
One tale of prejudice against female African-American mathematicians in NASA is told in the film “Hidden Figures,” which was released on December 25, 2016.
My mom has stories of the prejudice she used to face when she was taking math classes for her bachelor degree. In a class taught by a man and as the only female student, my mom remembers a particularly awkward incident.
She received a perfect score on a test, while everyone else in the class received grades they were less than pleased with.
When they pleaded for a curve in the grading, the professor responded, “I can’t because she got a 100.” My mom remembers that the looks she received from her peers were less than admiring after that comment.
I myself have experienced prejudice, even here at Union.
When I served as a General Chemistry tutor, one student once asked me if there was a male tutor available so that he or she could learn the material from another perspective.
The student went on to state that learning from a man would make him or her more comfortable.
I kept wondering why my gender affected my ability to tutor, or how it changed my perspective on science.
While some of these examples may be disheartening, I am always invigorated by my overall experience of studying science at Union.
The classes I’ve taken as a chemistry major have always been evenly divided between women and men, and never in class or among my peers have I felt discriminated against for my gender.
I attribute this mainly to the prevalence of female scientists in my major.
Of the thirteen faculty in the Chemistry Department, eight are female.
Having female role models who are respected and valued by both their students and their colleagues gives me the strength and makes me feel valued as well.
It is especially inspirational to learn under faculty such as Professor Mary Carroll, who was named a 2016 Fellow of the American Chemical Society, and Professor Laura McManus Spencer, who was interviewed by WRGB-6, the CBS affiliate in Albany, for her research on environmental contaminants and for her opinion on the contamination of the water supply in Hoosick Falls.
This is in no way to dimish the male faculty I’ve studied under; it is merely to emphasize that scientific talent recognizes no divisions of gender or sex.
At Union, this is incredibly obvious, and I am very thankful that I was able to study science in such an accepting environment where I could feel like my mind mattered more than my gender.