Let’s face it: it can be daunting being one of the few, if not only, girls in a STEM class which is swimming with boys. Though you may not have faced direct discrimination in your science classes, being one of the only girls can often feel isolating, especially when it comes down to working on problem sets or speaking out in class. But fear not! Here are some tips from Harvard engineering and astrophysics majors, Nan Du, Katerina Mantzavinou, Yara Wehbe, Jackie Quinn, and Mariel Pettee for how to keep your confidence in male dominated classes.
1. “No opposition.”
First things first: don’t assume that the boys don’t already take you seriously. According to Mariel, you should go into your class thinking the best of them—just as you would want them to assume the best in you.
2. “Know that you have nothing to be intimidated about.”
There's nothing inherent in your gender that makes you more or less suited to pursuing hard science, despite what Larry Summers says.
3. “Don't be afraid to express your femininity.”
Some girls feel the need to dress down to fit in with the guys, but if you want to "act girly," go right ahead. Again, there's nothing wrong with being a girl in the hard sciences. At the risk of sounding cliche, just be yourself.
4. “Help other girls. Support each other.”
Don't feel the need to "prove yourself" by isolating yourself from other girls. On the flip side, don't deliberately isolate yourselves from the boys in the class either!
5. “Success relies on working with people”
Be a team player. Regardless of gender, people are drawn to those who know how to work well and compromise. Some students understand the material in hard science classes better when they work on problem sets with others. If you feel isolated in your classes, try to form your own study group rather than waiting for someone to approach you. You will meet other people who share your interests and will learn from each other.
6. “Demonstrate you have the willpower and effort to learn”
If you happen to be the minority in your class, do not be afraid to show what you know. You can demonstrate your ability by answering questions in class. Don’t be intimidated to ask questions either—it shows you are interacting with the material and paying attention.
7. “Find a different study group”
If you do not feel welcomed by the people you are working with now, leave. Find others that may be a better fit for you, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. As always, talking with your teaching fellows and professors is an option.
Have you ever been the minority gender in your class? Share your advice in the comments!
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