Are You Intimidated by the Men in Your STEM Classes?

by Mahika Goel //

Don’t worry, me too. 

Guys carrying their shell-shaped backpacks all over campus, filled with just about 20 pounds of hardware freak me out. 

The sound of their fingers clicking and clacking to reveal a slew of code that they only half explain makes me flinch. 

Hearing about how they’ve been working on their dad’s car since they were eight makes me nauseous. 

We all know these people—the people who have been coding since they could walk, who have been aspiring scientists and engineers since they were four years old, who grew up memorizing facts about Mars and playing with model rockets. It’s intimidating—especially as a woman in STEM, where most of us haven’t explored our fields of interest to the same extent. While I was still considering careers in literature and dance, or aspiring to be a doctor, I never had the opportunity to learn how to model machinery in Fusion 360, or code algorithms in C++. As women, we inherently consider careers in fields like engineering and computer science a lot less, just because they aren’t as accessible, or expected as careers in medicine or teaching might be. 

How are we supposed to learn when we feel so behind?

It becomes all the more intimidating when we are expected to be able to calmly absorb the knowledge in only a matter of months while everyone else seems to already have it. How are we supposed to learn when we feel so behind? When our learning is disrupted by mansplainers? When people refuse to let us understand knowledge for ourselves, or when they shove their assertions of knowledge down our throats?

Personally, just the overused, extremely cliched saying—“You can do anything you put your mind to”—rings so very true for me. Just thinking about it, what precisely stops you from anything you might want to do? Time constraints notwithstanding, if you decide you want to learn Python, or how to code machine learning algorithms, what truly stops you? Even outside of STEM, what is stopping you from learning to play the piano, picking up dance classes, or trying out weightlifting as a hobby? Though many hobbies require a financial commitment as well as a time, most hobbies have become accessible by virtue of free online courses and videos available online!

Everything is worth trying; it doesn’t make you any less of an accomplished student to not know something. In fact, our recognition of our shortcomings is evidence of our motivation and our passion—we are able to see what we do not have, where we can progress and grow. While it feels like many of us are beginning at different starting points, we are also finishing at different ending points. If our goals are different from everyone else’s, why should how we achieve them be the same?

For many women, insecurities and a tendency to slip into imposter-syndrome thoughts means that we feel trapped in our seeming ignorance of certain skills that are integral to our careers—we must not let these thoughts hinder our want and need to grow and progress, in exactly the way we would like.