Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Career Day

Saturday I participated in a Science Careeer Day for high school girls, mostly juniors. I did this last year, too. It was actually quite fun. It was great to see so many young women who are serious about school and interested in having careers in science. We spent about 20 minutes with each of five groups, with each group having about 10 students. I asked them whether they felt discrimated against or if they were ever teased by the boys for being smart and they all pretty much said the same thing. There is no longer much of a stigma associated with being smart and getting good grades, and that most of their upper-level science and math classes had more women than men in them. Most of the top acheivers are women. On the one hand, this is great, because it means more women will succeed in science. On the other hand, it is a little troubling, because I think it means that the boys are giving up. As the mother of two sons, I worry a little that our culture is starting to believe that intellectually challenging endeavors should be left to women. Men are supposed to do (a) physically demanding jobs, and (b) jobs involving the brokering of money and power. Maybe we see science as too "wussy". Is that a good thing? Our country needs more scientists and engineers. period. not more women OR more men, but more of both.

One of the other insights that I took away from Career Day was that we need to go talk to girls who don't think they are interested in STEM careers. The girls at this Career Day had volunteered to come because they already had some interest in STEM. So they are low-hanging fruit. I think we need to get engineers and scientists to go talk to the girls who are interesting in fashion design, cosmetology, art, etc., and talk to them about how many of these careers are becoming more and more technological. To design formulations for new nail polish, you need to know chemical engineering. To be an animator or designer, you need to understand CAD. And if you study STEM, then if your girlish enthusiasm for nail polish wears off, you still have a solid educational background and the basis for a lucrative career.

On a (somewhat) related subject: In my local newspaper today, they ran an article about the fastest-growing careers. Among them: home nurses aid (annual salary about $20K), personal trainer ($25K) and environmental engineer ($66K). Which would you rather train for?

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