Dr. Sebastiano Garroni brought his 4-year-old daughter to his laboratory to show her what father did at work all day. Excited to expose his little girl to the thrill and magic of science, he asked her, “Would you like to be a researcher like Dad?”
She turned and said, “Sure, Dad, but sorry, researchers are men, and I’m a little girl.”
Where did she get such a thought? Could it be that his daughter was seeing only men in the scientist role? Were there not enough females in the lab for her to identify with as role models?
She turned and said, 'Sure, Dad, but sorry, researchers are men, and I'm a little girl.'
Without many female role models in STEM, it is easy to understand how a young girl’s perspective is shaped so early in life. But how can a father encourage his daughter to view science as an exciting and rewarding career path for his four-year-old daughter?
The answer: give her female role models.
As a woman who pursued STEM — specifically biology and chemistry in undergrad and then public health and statistics in graduate school — I understand that some STEM fields are more receptive to women than others. For our daughters to overcome the stereotypes they see in the media—that scientists and mathematicians are mostly men — we need to regularly teach them about the positive female role models who are pioneers and thought leaders in these fields.
At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, professor of psychological and brain sciences, Nilanjana Dasgupta studies gender inequality in STEM fields. In 2014, Dasgupta and her colleagues assessed 15 entry-level calculus classes during a semester—seven of which were taught by a female professor.
While the female students outperformed the men across the board in their final grades, they were less confident they would get a good grade. They even showed less interest in the class if their professor was male. From her observations, it was clear that despite having competence, the female students lacked confidence in their abilities.
To increase our daughter’s confidence, Dasgupta encourages parents, especially mothers of daughters, to encourage informal, hands-on STEM extracurricular activities. Young women were more likely to participate in group activities that were informal (not grade-based) when it came to STEM fields.
As men still dominate most STEM fields, there is a hesitation for young women to feel included. Dasgupta acknowledges that young women pursuing STEM field will require persistence, engagement, and a change in the social environment that enhances women’s sense of belonging.
So young women in college lack the confidence to pursue STEM fields, but what about kids? What about Dr. Garroni’s four-year-old daughter and her friends? Turns out, more girls than boys want to pursue STEM when they are older.
In 2015, Fatherly conducted a nationwide survey of 500 kids and found that 41 percent of girls wanted to pursue STEM fields when they grew up compared to 32 percent of boys.
So, how can we take this large cohort of interested girls and transform them into confident young women in college majoring in STEM fields? The solution is in providing all children, but especially young girls, more positive female role models in science and mathematics. We need to alter the culture of STEM fields to more inclusive of all genders, adjust the work-family balance, and highlight female role models in the field.
We need to alter the culture of STEM fields to more inclusive of all genders, adjust the work-family balance, and highlight female role models in the field.
Young children are naturally curious about STEM fields, and it is extremely easy to teach them scientific concepts at a young age. Encouraging them to observe their natural surroundings, ask “why” questions, guess the outcome before performing an experiment, and challenge every assumption will quickly reinforce their natural curiosity.
One book is encouraging children’s curiosity in science and debunking the myth that “little girls can’t be scientists” through an illustrated story of Marie Curie.
Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence is available for pre-order now on IndieGoGo. The crowdfunding campaign also includes hands-on experiments to provide our daughters the extracurricular activities they need to explore the topic in a fun and engaging way.
The book is written and illustrated as a dynamic superhero story to introduce important role models to young girls in a fun and engaging way. Marie Curie is the perfect female role model, and the book focuses on the necessary personality traits that all scientists need to reach success—persistence.
Learn more about how Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence can change your child's mind about science today at: https://igg.me/at/marie-curie
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