Last week, Lucianne Walkowicz shared details on the connections she has drawn between astronomy and other parts of her life, like art. Specifically, she discussed how a big part of drawing these connections comes down to building science communication in society. She hopes that using novel methods to making science relatable and approachable to everybody can help to change the way that society interacts with science on a regular basis.

 

Walkowicz also acknowledges need to make science more approachable, specifically to women. She encourages women to get involved in science and other STEM fields, but also prepares them for some of the struggles of pursuing such a path.

 

“I do take extra time to mentor young women in the sciences on some of the particular challenges they may face [in the field],” says Walkowicz. “It’s important to know that those have gone before you have surmounted obstacles. Their success means you can do it, too.”

 

Walkowicz believes that sharing stories about the obstacles she and other women face in STEM is an important part of changing the public dialogue on wome in these fields (ted.com)

Walkowicz believes that sharing stories about the obstacles she and other women face in STEM is an important part of changing the public dialogue on wome in these fields (ted.com)

It’s a point that Walkowicz has no trouble discussing with the young women she mentors, since she has overcome numerous obstacles of her own as a woman in STEM.

 

“Honestly, people say [the worst] things to you,” Walkowicz says, recalling some of the biggest stereotypes she has encountered throughout her career. “When I was 16, a friend of the family questioned why I would want to go to a ‘hard school’ when ‘a girl like [me] should have fun-fun-fun in college.’ People feel like they are welcome to comment on women’s appearance — in particular, their bodies — as though their opinion on that topic is somehow relevant. Even people who are well-intentioned sometimes send messages that you are out of place as a scientist. Comments like ‘you’re too pretty to be a scientist’ or ‘you don’t look like a scientist’ are insulting and imply that you don’t belong in the position you have. It doesn’t matter that they are trying to be nice. My standard reply is ‘on the contrary, by definition, I look exactly like a scientist.’”

 

For Walkowicz, being able to share experiences like this with fellow women in STEM is a crucial way of changing the public dialogue on women in these fields. Not only does it encourage a shift in societal attitude towards women in STEM, but it also changes how women view themselves, which is essential to progress.

 

“Women in STEM are often isolated, with few other women to discuss their personal challenges,” Walkowicz explains. “This leads to things like imposter syndrome going unchecked. When you learn about some of the common pitfalls — imposter syndrome, stereotype threat, etc. — your knowledge becomes your armor. You can recognize these feelings for the encumbrances they are and take steps to swat them away.”

 

While Walkowicz highlights this immense value in informing young women on both the rewards and struggles of working as a woman in STEM, she concurrently believes that one of her most important communication strengths is her ability to serve by example.

 

“I think the best thing I can do as a woman in STEM is to be out in the public eye,” Walkowicz claims. “In my own experience, it is very effective for people to see women working in STEM in prominent positions, talking about their work.”

 

By seeing the accomplishments of Walkowicz and other women in STEM and highlighting these women as positive examples of the progress women have made in fields like science and technology, it allows the public to recognize how far women have come and how they much they have achieved despite certain obstacles.

 

For Walkowicz, recognizing how far women have come in STEM is as important as recognizing how far they still have to go (berkeleyside.com)

For Walkowicz, recognizing how far women have come in STEM is as important as recognizing how far they still have to go (berkeleyside.com)

Some argue that the constant public attention given to the issue of getting more women involved in STEM detracts from the actual progress and achievements that women like Walkowicz have already made. As we continue discussing how far we still have to go, there is a concern that we lose sight of how far we have actually come.

 

For Walkowicz, though, this is hardly the case.

 

“I disagree that talking about the change we want to see in any way detracts from the progress we’ve made. Would the Civil Rights Movement have been happy if Rosa Parks just got to sit in the front of the bus that one time? On the contrary, pointing to successful women and saying they are examples of how the problem is over is a common red herring used by people who would rather maintain the status quo.”

 

While Walkowicz embraces the progress that women have made in STEM, she also believes that recognizing the advancement that still needs to take place should be seen as a catalyst for continued change. It’s essential not to make the mistake of seeing the recognition of progress and the desire for continued progress as mutually exclusive.

 

“I think we should all give our fellow humans some credit and assume people can hold two thoughts in their minds at one time: yes, we’ve made progress, and yes, we have further to go.”

 

For more on Lucianne Walkowicz and her work, visit her website at tangledfields.com.

 

Check back next week to see who we will be featuring next in our Women Leaders in STEM series!

 

If you are a woman working in STEM and are interested in being featured in our ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series, shoot us an email at blog.muipr@gmail.com or tweet me @tamarahoumi