Monday, March 05, 2007

STEM cells

By coincidence, just as I was spending a lot of time in the past week being a Role Model and advisor for groups of graduate and undergraduate women in science, I also saw the movie "The Gender Chip". If you haven't seen it, it's a movie, available on DVD, that follows the undergraduate careers of a small group of young women at Ohio State University as they work their way through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors.

An aspect of the movie that rang very true was the clear depiction of the dedication and energy of the women, even while plagued with some doubts about what their futures will be like. Such doubts are normal for most undergraduates, but for these and many women, the doubts focus on whether their careers will stop completely when they have kids, perhaps just a few years after they get started with the careers they have worked so hard to achieve.

Another 'true' part of the movie is the contention that young women today won't put up with being treated as less able than men in an academic setting. I saw this in action last week when I met with a group of young women (undergraduate and graduate students) who made it very clear that they know how good they are. They know that they are smart, dedicated, and hard-working, and that this should lead to many opportunities. Most of their stories about being treated as having inferior abilities or intellects compared to men came from their experiences with jobs and internships, not from academia. If there is a bright side to that, it's that these women are gaining a lot of self-confidence from their academic experiences.

I saw the Gender Chip movie before I looked at the movie/project's webpage, and was surprised to see that it is being promoted as a tool for encouraging, inspiring, or recruiting young women to pursue careers in STEM. I'd be interested to see how successful it is at that goal. I liked the movie overall, but I didn't get a very good sense for "What is it like to be a young woman training in college for a career in the high stakes professions of science, math, engineering and technology?" or "When gender collides with our cultural assumptions about who can flourish in these fields, how are young women changing the real and practical terms of engagement?" [quotes from Gender Chip website].

I suppose it helps for pre-college girls to see 'real' women doing well and being passionate about science, engineering, math. One of my favorite parts of the movie was when one of the young women talks emphatically about how much she loves concrete, steel, and asphalt.


Anonymous said...

I saw that movie during a Graduate Women In Scicence (GWIS) meeting - from my perspective, it was a little cheesy and I felt the narrator/woman who made the movie was very sad and looked beaten down. As a young woman pursuing a graduate career in the sciences, it wasn't that big of a motivator for me. People like you are.

I too liked the woman who professed her love for concrete.

Ms.PhD said...

I've never heard of it. Sounds interesting.

Since I'm always ranting that there should be more media attention for scientists- rather than athletes and hollywood- this is probably a good thing. But now I'm really curious to get a feeling for the tone of the overall message, whether I would have found it encouraging if I had seen it years ago, or just the opposite.