By: Alexandra Flipkowski
“What do you want to pursue in college?” said my 12th grade anatomy teacher.
“I don’t know yet” I shyly mumbled despite fully knowing I wanted to be a doctor and pursue the pre-med route.
Well, why didn’t I just tell my high school teacher I wanted to pursue pre-med? The answer is deeper than me just being the shy girl avoiding a conversation.
I didn’t tell my teacher because I secretly doubted myself, I felt like a fraud in the world of science – I felt like an imposter amongst the brilliant male scientists that I perceived to comprise the world of medicine and research.
Science, specifically medicine, has always interested me ever since my father’s open heart surgery exposed me to the intimate and unique relationship a doctor can have while helping the patient. My father’s heart surgery happened when I was in the midst of high school, thus I had started thinking about what I wanted to study in college. I had medicine in the back of my mind and started to develop a yearning to be a physician – but I could never truly figure out if it was a career path destined for me. I became clouded with doubt for a few reasons, and one of those being the fact that I didn’t have any female doctors in my family nor did I have any female science teachers in high school. Even when I attended conferences in high school that contained a panel of scientists and doctors there were hardly any women – it often felt like for every 1 woman on the panel there were 5 men. Essentially, I felt like the “odds” weren’t in my favor to become a scientist and/or a physician.
This being said, until my first year of college I found myself contemplating whether I should switch to a career path that was mainly women because I felt I couldn’t “compete” with the men in the medical/science field. This idea of “competing” with the men in the field of medicine, made me feel like I was trying to be a part of a profession that wasn’t meant for me, fostering what some would refer to as “imposter syndrome.” Eventually, throughout college I began to meet biology and chemistry professors who were women, got to shadow a female doctor, and just recently, met some female medical students through a seminar offered through Northwestern/Vanderbilt science academies. Throughout each encounter with a female scientist/doctor I began to grasp more and more firmly onto my desire to be a doctor. Essentially, my preconceived idea that women were a rarity in science started to become increasingly foreign to me – and for this reason I do not feel like an “imposter” with my career aspirations, rather it feels like a working reality.
My point in sharing my experience with “imposter syndrome” instigated by the lack of women in science has everything to do with science communication. Although most people would immediately jump to thinking “good” scientific communication has to do with successfully breaking down complex terminology – it is much deeper than that. I believe the scientific community under values the tremendous effect that female science teachers, researchers and doctors can consciously and even subconsciously have on a young and aspiring female scientist.
A common tactic used with athletes has to do with the “power of visualizing.” I am currently a Division 1 collegiate athlete and I am always envisioning myself scoring goals and completing passes prior to every game, and often the positive envisionment yields a successful performance. This same concept of “envisioning success” is the epitome of my message about the power of female scientific communicators. Essentially, if a young female can start to see her future occupation flooded with other women, she can more confidently see herself in those same shoes in the future.
Although I have taken this prompt on an untraditional route, I believe it is pertinent to understand that communication goes further than just words. By not being exposed to a plethora of women science communicators, albeit professors, physicians or researchers, I almost became persuaded that I am not suited for a career in science. Thus, when communicating science it is imperative women are at the forefront so that young girls can envision themselves successfully contributing to further society via science in the future.
I believe the goals of scientific communication are to inspire others to question, analyze and apply the new information. In order to inspire others to further their scientific knowledge and further our societies advancement as a whole it is absolutely crucial that there are just as many female communicators as there are male. Essentially, if you take nothing else from this blog, I believe that the scientific communicators are the “door” to information. By having an ample amount of female scientific communicators we are unlocking groups of young female scientists who will undoubtedly positively impact the world of science