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Opinion: Women, pursue STEM out of passion, not pressure

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Darien Bakas | The Daily Wildcat

Rose Vining grinds plant samples in one of the research labs in Bio Sciences West on July 7, 2016. While STEM offers job opportunities to women, the choice to pursue this path should be based on passion, not money or what's 'right.'

Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a STEM major — women too.

This is amazing. I'm glad women are feeling comfortable to join competitive, difficult, male-dominated fields. 

However, I ask that new female STEM majors take a moment and evaluate. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I majoring in this?’ 

The pressure that our schools and communities put on women to become STEM majors is intense and unhealthy, and it leads some students to become STEM majors without having true passion or interest in it. Women, don’t allow this pressure to make the decision about your studies. And to those who create the pressure, please stop.

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I can think of two compelling pressures that almost pushed me into an unhappy STEM career in chemical engineering: The first appealed to my desire to be right; the second was confusion about what passion really is.

It is daunting for a 16-year-old high school student to be asked what she wants to do for the rest of her life. At that age, the majority of students don’t know themselves or their interests very well, and instead of looking inward, they’ll look outward.

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What do teachers, parents, counselors and advertisements tell us about the world?

That really successful people — as well as people who help the world — are in the STEM fields.

With this information, the 16-year-old problem solving gland comes up with an objectively right solution: "I should go into STEM."

This pressure to do "right" is a real thing. 

I decided against engineering during my senior year of high school because I realized I preferred economics and philosophy. I had to stand firm as I committed heresy to the first degree.

When I told a woman in my church about this change of plans, she asked with bitter disappointment, “Well, what kind of life are you going to have with that?”

How much I want to go back to that day and respond with all the spite in the world and say "a happy one." But I second guessed myself and wondered if I had made the wrong choice.

It’s important for new STEM majors to think about how they made their choice. It’s not about the need for female engineers that makes engineering the right choice. It's not about any objective rights or wrongs. It’s about you. The question that matters far more than "what field do the successful people go into" is "in which field will I feel successful."

The other big influence is replacing passion with something lesser due to confusion about what passion is. 

I didn't realize that I wasn’t into STEM for a long time because of this confusion. 

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I decided to become a chemical engineer in my sophomore year of high school. My chemistry teacher beamed when I told her.

“You’d make a great chemical engineer,” she told me. “I hoped you would choose something like that.”

I felt so happy that my teacher was proud of me. I fed off of the praise I received when I told people about my career plans. Everyone thought chemical engineering was an impressive choice. As a teenager, I couldn’t differentiate between passion and the happiness I received from praise. 

Please, new STEM majors, think about your passions. Nothing other than what you are passionate about is worth 30 percent of your adult life. 

Additionally, a sense of security is often mistaken as passion.  People sometimes cite job prospects and salary as a reason for their choice of majors. However, it is also important to consider time as a valuable resource. A large salary cannot make up for the time lost in a passionless job. 

Those who pressure high school women to pursue STEM majors usually have good intentions. However, this sometimes turns into a negative pressure that pushes women to pursue a major that is not meant for them. Though this pressure can be compelling, it is our job to understand ourselves. At this point, it is so easy to jump into college and head straight for a degree without thinking about it critically. I encourage all freshmen women in STEM to think about why they joined their major and consider their own passions before committing fully to this path.


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