By Sarah Fecht
Seventh grade was the year I fell in love with biology. I’m pretty sure I was the top student in the class — I got nearly perfect grades and was always the one answering the teacher’s hardest questions. Yet somehow my teacher, an elderly white man, must not have recommended me for the advanced science class in eighth grade — an oversight that my eighth-grade science teacher thought was odd. “You should have been in the honors class,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re not.” I don’t know why either, but I’ll always wonder whether the same thing would have happened to a boy in my situation.
Ultimately, this minor setback didn’t make much of a difference. I followed my passion all the way to earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, thanks in part to some great mentors that I had along the way (including several men). But many aspiring women scientists meet challenges that are harder to overcome. Although females make up at least half the world population, they represent only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math.
Why is that number so low? Girls and young women are often subtly (or not-so-subtly) steered away from pursuing careers in the sciences. Sexual harassment and bullying are horrifyingly common, as are understated but still harmful microaggressions, such as being talked over in meetings or doing work that goes unacknowledged. Women in STEM still earn nearly $15,000 less per year than men. And all of these problems are compounded for women of color in the sciences.
Every year on February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science raises awareness about these challenges and promotes women and girls in science.
In honor of the day, we’d like to share a few examples of outstanding women scientists who work within the Earth Institute at Columbia University. These women play an essential role in the work we do to understand how the planet works, how humans are changing it, and how to build a sustainable future. Check out the posts below to learn more.
- Lisa Ilboudo Nébié: Studying Food Security, Environmental Changes and Migration in West Africa
- At the Intersection of Hudson River Microbiology and Environmental Justice With Elise Myers
- Angelica Patterson: The ‘Shotgun Scientist’ Studying How Forests Respond to Climate Change
- Q&A With Gloriose Nsengiyumva, Who Puts Climate Adaptation Into Action
- And meet more of our incredible women scientists here.
We couldn’t feature all of our women scientists in one day, but State of the Planet makes an effort to highlight diverse faces in the geosciences and sustainability not just on February 11, but all the time. So keep coming back to learn more.
Content Manager, State of the Planet
Earth Institute, Columbia University