4 answers

How do I achieve success in a career in science while being a woman of minority?

Asked Canton, Michigan

I am a high school senior and a Muslim, Indian woman. I want to pave a way for myself to achieve my goals and experience my dreams. How can I take advantage of who I am, a woman of a minority, and still earn a degree in STEM?
#science #minority #women-in-stem #empowering-women #career-paths

4 answers

Deborah’s Answer

Updated Burlington, Vermont

<span style="background-color: rgb(253, 253, 253);">Apply and do it. Don't let anything stop you. Use your life growing up in a diaspora and it's challenges to add to your college essays. </span>

<span style="background-color: rgb(253, 253, 253);">In a larger company and most schools you'll find you're not actually a lone minority. There are lots of great women from lots of different backgrounds in STEM. I studied mechanical and aerospace engineering in undergrad. The best students were often women, and many minorities. In industry I've worked with women (and men) with ethnic backgrounds from all over world. </span>

<span style="background-color: rgb(253, 253, 253);">You'll also find that when you're working in industry, even if you're the only woman in the room, you'll have lots of other things in common with others...whether it's ethnicity, religion, food, etc. (You'll definitely not be the first Indian engineer/scientist at a decent sized company).</span>

<span style="background-color: rgb(253, 253, 253);">Find a school and/or job where you feel comfortable and where you'll have support group. (Access to kosher/halal food, spices/ingredients, and religious community is always part of my consideration).</span>

Greg’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

Having a passion for science (or engineering or other STEM fields) is by far the most important factor, but location is also pretty important. You list your location as Canton, MI, which appears to be a very small town; attitudes can be more conservative in such places, though I have no direct knowledge of Canton itself. Larger cities and metropolitan areas tend to have many minorities, and while bias can be found almost everywhere, in my experience it's much less frequent, and much milder when it does occur, in urban centers. (The pay is frequently better, too, though the cost of living might be higher as well.)

I live in the Bay Area, and all of the large tech companies here have recognized that their workforce makeups do not yet necessarily match that of the general populace (mostly in terms of female engineering talent) and are actively trying to correct it. (I believe most are now reporting the statistics in their annual reports, though I might just be extrapolating from the ones I've heard about.) There are people representing many different cultures sitting within 30 feet of my desk; they're all "just engineers," the only important distinction being how much experience they have and how quick they are to learn and to write good code.

So if you've received any kind of negative advice from those around you, rest assured that things are not like that everywhere, and it saddens many of us that things are like that anywhere. STEM careers are almost certainly the most future-proof of any you could name, so by all means follow your passion and add to the diversity and awesomeness of the field!

Greg recommends the following next steps:

  • Read up on larger universities and universities in larger cities.
  • If possible, contact alumni from the past five years from your area who are now in a more cosmopolitan region, and ask them how they've adjusted to the change and whether they have any advice.

Raj’s Answer

Updated Middletown, New Jersey

I am a bit surprised that you even asked this question. Being a minority or being of a particular religion is something which should not be in your thoughts. Your thoughts should be focused on achieving your goals and a plan to achieve those goals.  Example - If you score well in SAT exam, and apply to colleges for STEM, colleges will be the last one to ask you your gender or religion. Admission is purely based on academic credentials. I can say so since I am myself of Indian origin and have 3 college degrees in engineering and compute science from very prestigious universities in USA. At my place of work, there is no shortage of successful and very smart individuals who are women and muslim. Focus on hard Work, and Do Not give up. If you do not understand something while studying then do not panic. Key word - do not panic.  Walk away for a few hours and study the same chapter again. And a light will brighten up and you will understand everything. This is the key to STEM - sometimes you do not understand the topic in first reading. Often times, you have to go back and re-read. And if you need help, do not hesitate to ask someone. I hope this helps. Good Luck!

Dina’s Answer

Updated Fort Lee, New Jersey

I'm a Muslim too, and my company employs conservative Muslim people. I think the environment today is more inclusive than it's been, but I agree with the other posters in that you'll want to expose yourself to that inclusive environment - outside of your town. Also, I would add that the workplace isn't too different from high school in the sense that there are alliances among different groups of people, but it's easier in the sense that you can be yourself. There are many things that I don't participate in because they don't suit my beliefs and me, but as long as I don't preach, everyone is respectful.

Also, none of this should deter you in college. It's critical to get the best grades possible, and leverage your alumni network wherever you go so that you have good connections and can put your best foot forward. Getting into a larger school will help you with that.

Dina recommends the following next steps:

  • Assuming you've decided where to go to school, do some research and determine what fields your predecessors have pursued after college.
  • Ask if there is a specific alumni database, or use LinkedIn to look for alums so you can start the conversation early.