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Gender Studies for Scientists

Radford University, like hundreds of other universities across the country, offers courses in Women and Gender Studies. I grew up in a highly scientific conservative household that taught me to see courses on those subjects as silly and useless, which is an opinion held by a lot of scientists today. My parents were both college educated, in chemistry and computer science, and raised their six children to work towards a college education, preferably in the sciences.

It was natural for me to gravitate to the more ‘hard’ sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology. I never questioned why these more male-dominated fields were considered ‘hard’ and why female-dominated fields like psychology and sociology were ‘soft’ sciences. It’s certainly not to do with difficulty.

I’m taking my first gender studies class this semester, my last semester before graduating with a degree in geology. With each week, I learn more and more about the ways my gender affects the way I study in my field and the way my peers treat me. These ways range from the gender pay gap that will affect me while I pay back my student loans to the motherhood penalty that will make getting a job in geology with children difficult.

Every woman you talk to in male-dominated sciences can tell you stories about being talked down to by male peers and instructors or by being spoken over in debates. I’ve experienced these things here at Radford. Once a male chemistry professor told me that he didn’t like having women in the lab because they were a distraction to the male students, effectively telling me and all the other girls in the class that our education didn’t matter as much as our male peers.