Advice for Girls Considering STEM Careers

I’m an eighteen-year-old female.

I’m a freshman in college, studying chemistry and playing basketball.

I have always been very involved in school, in high school, I was a member of student council, I was captain on the basketball team, and a member of the youth group at my church; but throughout all of this, I remained a straight-A student. I love to learn and in school, I found a passion. Science, for me, is a passion. This passion started in tenth grade, with New York regents chemistry. For the rest of the class, it was a dreaded class, one where the tests were impossible and it was ‘just another math class’. But, for me, it was exciting; the way each concept fits with another, ultimately to explain our entire world. Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging, but the challenge was fun! From there, I continued with science, taking AP chemistry my senior year and now, it being my major. For the most part, my science journey has been enjoyable, but not always easy. If I could sit down with a younger version of myself, there are a couple of things I would tell her that I’ve learned along the way.

 Kara's Science Honors group working on their project

Kara’s Science Honors group working on their project

First, be efficient with your time. In college, I’ve had friends who sit down and study for six or eight hours at a time (usually during the middle of the night!), which yes, I am going to tell you again, is not productive. I’ve learned best by sitting down, cranking through the material in one or two hours. Of course, in order to do this, you must put your phone, computer and any other distractions in another room! It does not matter how much time you put into something, but how productive you are in the time that you put in.

 Kara with her Science Honors group members

Kara with her Science Honors group members

Second, people tend to think that males are stronger in the science field because they are more math/science thinkers; but, our world is slowly picking up the mindset that science is a field for anyone, females can do science too. Just stay with it. There are SO many opportunities for females as well. At Houghton College, I am also involved in Science Honors, which is a first-year program for selected science majors. Last February, I interviewed for a position in this program and I was accepted to take 1 of 24 spots; so I did. Within this honors program, 9 of the 24 students are female and are split evenly among groups, so roughly half of each group is female. This reflects the increasing opportunities within science for females. The hands-on project we are working to solve is measuring biodiversity in the Sonoran Desert with a robot. Throughout the fall semester, we were paired with groups, where we combined ideas to make a prototype of the robot we would like to design. During this current spring semester, we are learning to code, design, wire, run and troubleshoot with our robots before we head out to the Sonoran Desert, this May, to deploy our robots and hopefully collect data pertaining to the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert. This is one area of my science career where I’ve seen females making a big impact in the science world, as well as on my first visit to Houghton College and meeting the head of the Chemistry department, who is a female. She was immediately intrigued by my interest in the research side of chemistry. The support I have received for my draw to science is renewing and I think it is important to forward this support to others and welcome females to the science world in the same way that they have welcomed me!

 Kara with Houghton College's head of the Chemistry department, Karen Torraca

Kara with Houghton College’s head of the Chemistry department, Karen Torraca

 A girl in Kara's group with the programming for their robot's motor

A girl in Kara’s group with the programming for their robot’s motor

Third, it’s not always going to be fun and easy; nothing worth doing is ALWAYS going to be fun and easy. Because I am only a college freshman, I have limited experiences to talk about. But, this is something that I’ve learned along the way and feel it can apply to almost every aspect of life. Whatever you end up doing, of course, it’s everyone’s dream to do something that they love. You are going to love doing it, but that does not mean that it will always be enjoyable. Often times, when someone asks about my major and I respond that it is chemistry, people look at me with wide eyes and say, “Oh…”. Science is not for everyone, but with perseverance and determination to do what you love, regardless of what anyone says, you can be successful. With anything that you love, there will be times of frustration and disappointment, but these feelings come from the love and passion about what you are doing. So, if you fail once or twice or even ten times, pick yourself back up and keep pushing through. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to get through the difficult times, to discover the reason you started.

~Kara Cusker

 Kara at the board with the coding work for their robots

Kara at the board with the coding work for their robots