The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Female teachers reflect on their experiences in STEM

According to the National Science Foundation, while the proportion of women in biosciences and social sciences is between 51 and 58 percent, the proportion of women in physics and engineering hovers between 18 to 24 percent.

Physics teacher Julia Mangan has two bachelors in science, one obtained out of love and another out of spite. According to Mangan, in her required physics classes, she encountered a group of “dudes” who believed physics was a more rigorous subject than chemistry. To prove herself, Mangan said she piled on more physics classes until she received an unplanned physics degree.

It was not until later that Mangan would categorize what she experienced as sexism. According to Mangan, though the field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is more diverse and accepting than it was when Mangan was in college, gender disparities and a male-dominated culture still exist, including at the high school. To combat this, support systems are necessary for female students to succeed.

According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, while women make up 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, they only make up 35 percent of the STEM workforce. However, Chemistry teacher Alexis Murphy said that growing up, she never thought that being a woman in STEM was seen as unusual because she was surrounded by female friends in advanced science and math classes.

“It didn’t even occur to me that it was a thing until I was a student in AP Physics as a senior in high school and I made it to the second round of some Olympiad competition,” Murphy said. “Two of my other female friends made it to the second round, but nobody else did, and at awards night my AP Physics teacher made this huge deal about how the three people that went on to the next round were female. And I remember thinking at the time, “so what?” That was kind of the first time that I ever noticed it.”

Biology teacher Elizabeth Crane said she was recommended to take AP Biology in high school. However, she said she felt overwhelmed and behind in comparison to her peers, with little support from her teacher. After three weeks, she dropped out of the class.

“The kids that I most remember being seemingly on it and being very dominant were boys. I don’t know to what extent that exactly impacted my decision to drop,” Crane said. “I had a female teacher. She wasn’t particularly warm or fuzzy or reaching out to me, and I just felt like the other kids in the room understood it so well, and I had no idea what was happening.”

Crane said she felt it was important for female students to support one another, and that as a teacher she would create opportunities for students to do so through seating and grouping plans.

“When I create groups in the classroom, sometimes I will purposefully make a group where I feel like it’s a lot just girls that could really support each other well,” Crane said.

Math teacher Marika Alibhai said that having clubs like the Women in STEM Club created a culture that encouraged students to explore the field as a hobby at first in a low stakes environment.

Mangan also said that the Women in STEM Club helped keep female students interested in more male-dominated STEM fields like computer science or physics.

According to Mangan, there is still a gender imbalance between the number of male and female AP Physics students at the high school.

Mangan said this may be linked to a gender imbalance in classes like advanced math, which she described as having a reputation for being a “weed-out” class. Mangan said that “weed-out” classes often had a harsher impact on the self-confidence of marginalized people.

“Because of systemic bias, women, people of color tend to take on those kinds of harsh experiences as, ‘Well, I’m probably not good enough. I should get the F out of here.’ Whereas we know that white people and men tend to take on that kind of thing and be like, ‘Well, I’m amazing. That’s not me,’” Mangan said.

Both Mangan and Murphy said that this feeling of self doubt could lead to female students underestimating themselves and signing up for easier courses than their male peers.

“If you’re getting, you know, a 93 percent, yeah, you do understand it, and you’re really good at it. But a lot of girls will take that to mean, ‘I’m not ready for the next level,I got an A- in advanced math as a junior. Oh, I better take AB Calculus,’ ” Murphy said. “And it’s like, no, you’re great. You don’t realize that you’re great. You should try the higher class, the harder class, and you’re ready for it and don’t be afraid of not getting perfect scores.”

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