The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Women in STEM Interviews

By Hannah Bi, Tanvi Deshmukh, Naisha Koppurapu, Keerti Koya & Catherine Qin

How did you gain interest in STEM?

“It was always expected of me because my parents were both engineers, so it’s a family tradition. I slowly lost interest when I was in high school because of some of my teachers, but when I went to college, I took some chemistry courses, and that kindled my passion.” — Science Teacher Oana Seremeta 

“I think it’s kind of a family thing. My parents both had STEM majors, and my sister also did a lot of STEM activities, so that’s what made me start it. And then I guess … my interests sort of evolved over time with clubs and the work I did outside of it.” — Academic Challenge President Annie Xu, 12

“My parents are both physicians, so I was always interested in biology. My first real introduction to STEM was during Science Olympiad in fifth grade, when I competed in a bunch of random events. I obviously didn’t know what I was super interested in at that point, but it was really great exposure to learning about a bunch of different STEM fields, and [I was able] to do so in a fun way with super low stakes [while] having fun with friends.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Anika Wadhera

“I think more than anything I was pretty good at math. So that kind of came naturally to me since I was a small child. Then I became very interested in physics as well. When I went to college and I studied electrical engineering, I felt like because it was also close to physics, I really felt like I found my spot because here’s physics, here’s math, I mean, what could be better?” — AP Calculus AB Teacher Iulia Rusu

“I would say that I kind of gained an interest in STEM from a young age. Back in elementary school, I did … robotics, which was super fun. It wasn’t actually coding anything but I thought it was super fun how you could make a robot move and all of that. I think afterwards, I started delving more into actual coding in middle school. And I think that STEM in general is something that really excited me as I learned about it. Particularly, I like computer science, but STEM in general felt very logical in a way and I really liked how [it] … forced the logical side of me to think. I like the way that puzzle pieces fit in STEM and how everything comes together into one, big, logical piece.” — MSJ Class of 2023 Alumna Christy Huang

“My interest in STEM, or more specifically CS, began in my freshman year. I didn’t really know what I was interested in so I applied to some summer programs just to explore various fields. I ended up being accepted to a program called COSMOS at UCSD, where I first learned the basics of programming as well as working with hardware components. That’s when I realized that I liked working with computers and building things so I joined a robotics team and really enjoyed that as well. I think what really reinforced my interest and overall influenced my decision to major in CS was taking APCS with Dr. Brucker in my junior year. His class showed me how CS can be applied in real life and how it can be used to make an impact on large-scale problems such as climate change.” — MSJ Class of 2022 Alumna Lindsey Wen

“My interest in STEM was my interest in medicine. I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, deeply drawn to the way that medicine bridges science and the humanities. I love that I get to guide people through some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives, using a humanistic approach to care with reasoning rooted in science.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Megan Ren

“It wasn’t intentional. I went to college thinking that I would study economics. I started studying economics first. I took a CS class just to explore because I thought it would always be a good skill to have. And once I took it, I fell in love with it. So I wasn’t planning for it, but it just became something I naturally felt interested in.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Dominique Huang

“I actually don’t remember how I got into STEM. I think I just joined a robotics team in elementary school, and I really liked it. And so I kind of kept going with it. I also think some movies really inspired me to pursue engineering or STEM subjects.” — Senior Reva Agarwal 

What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman in STEM?

“I don’t think I’ve had the most arduous woman in STEM experience, but it’s just a bit jarring to be in environments where oftentimes you’re the only woman. I’m on a team and there’s like 15 guys, and I’m the only one there. [For] men and women, there’s a different culture in getting raised … it can be hard to make friends or feel like you belong, and people will make insensitive jokes about it.” — Academic Challenge President Annie Xu, 12

“Coming into college, I definitely knew that there was a disparity between men and women. But when I walked into one of my classes — a small one of around 30 people — my friend, another girl, and I were the only girls in the room. It was sad seeing such low ratios, especially considering this was a common computer science class. It was also surprising to see that even in computer science, which is one of the more diverse fields in STEM, there was such a huge disparity. Sometimes in group projects, it’s a little scary and intimidating to voice opinions, especially back when I was a freshman. So I think having more experiences and finding your voice is really important in STEM. Just know that you’re worthy enough to put yourself forward and you’re just as equal as everyone else.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Divya Machineni

“Challenges I face would be representation both at the peer level and also at higher levels, like leadership positions, professors, etc. I’m in bioengineering, so I don’t see it as much as it is in math and computer science where it’s an even bigger problem, but in higher-level classes, it’s definitely more male-dominated. In both academics and medicine, I see that most of the leading professors at MIT and nearby are overwhelmingly male. There’s not as much female representation at the higher levels of undergraduate education and the professional sphere. It’s been tough because it feels like there are so many other things that women have to manage, other than just focusing purely on their academic careers. It sucks to see that there aren’t as many of us at the highest levels, but I think it’s changing, so I guess that’s a high note.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Anika Wadhera

“You know, I never thought that being a woman would stop me from anything, especially because as I was growing up, I was in a communist country. There was really no inkling of women being somehow disadvantaged. Everybody was very equal, and really, what distinguishes you from somebody else is just your brain power. So I never really thought I was disadvantaged. When I came here, I did notice when I started working, that there was a difference between the number of managers that were women versus the number of managers that were men, but I really never really took it very seriously. I really just thought, you know, I’m just going to do my best. I’m going to grow myself as an individual and eventually I’ll be successful so that I didn’t even bother to like, see that as a negative.” — AP Calculus AB Teacher Iulia Rusu

“As a woman in STEM, I think there are so few women in STEM compared to the number of non-women in STEM. I remember back in ninth grade, I was trying to find a robotics team to join because I was like ‘robotics is super cool!’ … but most of them were majority men, which was a little off-putting … women in STEM have to work hard to prove themselves within STEM a lot of the time in group settings. For example, if you’re in a group where you’re like the only women and a ton of guys are in the group, you feel like … a minority within a majority.” — MSJ Class of 2023 Alumna Christy Huang

“One of the main challenges is overcoming gender stereotypes. Like many women in the professional world, female trainees in medicine tend to be perceived as more quiet and less confident compared to our male peers. We are often also assumed to be weak in tasks requiring physical strength (i.e. moving patients in the operating room). It’s frustrating, but until the culture of the field changes, I don’t have great advice other than to keep doing you/proving them wrong.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Megan Ren

“Interesting, I was very fortunate in which I went to a women’s college so I have a lot of women around me who are also studying STEM. I think one challenge was going out into the industry and realizing me, predominantly the industry was more male dominated. So once you start to grow in your career, or start to think about what success looks like or find role models or people to look after, I think it becomes a little bit harder. So that was one of the challenges that I faced.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Dominique Huang

“I’m a pretty privileged person since I’m part of communities where those kinds of challenges aren’t super prevalent. Off the top of my head, I remember seeing a comment saying that, for my robotics team, our parents had coded for us, when in reality our parents were not involved in our team, other than finances. It was a very student-led team and that hurt because it was really untrue.” — Senior Reva Agarwal 

If you’ve ever faced uncertainty about whether you belonged in a STEM field, how did you tackle that?

“In Romania, where I was born, women and men had relatively good equality. When I moved to the US, there was this expectation that girls should not be good at math. I felt that in order to belong, I should not be good at math, and that’s when I started to believe that I didn’t want to do science. As I grew older, I stopped listening to what society says and decided to do what I enjoy.” — Science Teacher Oana Seremeta

“I think [facing uncertainty about belonging in a STEM field] is an ongoing problem for myself and a lot of people because of imposter syndrome. A lot of people don’t believe that they belong in what they do, that they feel like an imposter, and a lot of women and minorities are affected by this.” — AP Physics Teacher Dorota Sawicka 

What are your hopes for the future of women in STEM (in regards to opportunities, stereotypes, etc.)?

“When I was in grad school [at UCLA], there were no female professors in my field, organic chemistry. The only female instructors were adjunct faculty, and they taught courses that other people didn’t want to teach. Since then, things are probably better because at UCLA, they have female organic chemists on the faculty now and are actively recruiting people.” — AP Physics Teacher Dorota Sawicka 

“I feel like women in STEM as organizations get a little bit of a bad [reputation], so I hope that that changes. I know people make fun of those clubs when they’re getting passed … so I hope that the idea of safe spaces is preserved and at the same time, I hope that there can be more women and clubs that are specifically marketed towards women because it can really help to have people be set as examples.” — Academic Challenge President Annie Xu, 12

“Right now, a lot of companies and organizations are doing a really great job of reaching out to a wider range of communities. But I do feel like there are a lot of communities out there that have not been touched and now have a lack of opportunity. So it’s important that society moves toward a goal of promoting diversity and promoting women and other underrepresented groups. In terms of stereotypes, even if you do fall into some of them, they don’t define you. I really hope that in future generations such stereotypes are not as widespread.”  — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Divya Machineni

“Broadly, I would love to see more women in higher leadership positions — more women professors, more women teaching higher division courses, and more women in math and STEM. Obviously, there is a lot of work that needs to go into making this a reality. I was exposed to science in elementary school, and I think the earlier the better. So I think elementary school is a great time for there to be more initiatives for people who identify as women or other minority genders to be introduced into STEM. I also hope that later in life, it is easier for women to have a family but also be able to balance that with their academic or professional careers. There’s been a lot of work that needs to be done in that space. And many women feel like they have to choose one or the other, but I think with some more systemic changes, that doesn’t have to be the case.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Anika Wadhera

“I really would love to see women in space. That’s like my number one [dream] … But I would like to see women being on the same par as far as salaries and [as] far as projects that they can work on [because] that’s where you learn the most. So the same kind of opportunities as men and I think we’re getting there. There are a lot of societies like the Society of Women Engineers, and then a lot of scholarships that women can get that are specifically targeted to women. A lot of programs now that are really concentrating on bringing up you know, since the girls are small, giving them that intuition about STEM. So I think we’re, we are going to get there … but definitely has improved since I was an engineer.” — AP Calculus AB Teacher Iulia Rusu

“In an ideal world, stereotypes would disappear. But I think that’s something that’s very difficult to actually achieve. And it’s something that we can only work towards one step at a time. I think organizations such as Girls Who Code at MSJ, for example, are doing great. But I think just having these support groups for women is one step in the right direction; they can find communities where they kind of like belong and these people who can relate to their experiences [to] uplift these women in STEM. But I think just like going forward, I think education is important, like showing women that they can and will achieve what they want to in STEM, even if they are the minority. They have what it takes to do whatever they want and they shouldn’t let anything stop them from doing that … I think, in general, giving these women these support spaces to pursue their passions is one of the most important ways for women in STEM to succeed.” — MSJ Class of 2023 Alumna Christy Huang

“I hope that in the future, more and more women will go into STEM and not let the fact that it is a very male-dominated field stop them from pursuing something they love. There will always be people who believe in stereotypes, but I hope to see more women proving these stereotypes wrong, going into the careers they love, and eventually earning leadership positions. There are also many clubs and organizations out there that support women in these fields and I hope more women take advantage of these opportunities. Personally, I’ve found organizations like the Society of Women Engineers at my university to be very helpful in getting me through my classes and I’ve met some of my closest friends through it.” — MSJ Class of 2022 Alumna Lindsey Wen

“I hope that there’s more room for us to be true to ourselves, rather than feel like we have to act like ‘the boys’ to fit in. When we share nuanced decisions, I hope we can be seen as thoughtful rather than unconfident. I also hope that women in any field can be fully supported in their reproductive desires.” — Class of 2015 Alumna Megan Ren

“I hope that every woman feels bold and empowered to go after whatever they want whether it’s STEM or outside of STEM and to feel confident in being able to go after that and comfortable, you know, in the companies they work out or the companies they build or the industries they go into. I think right now when there is kind of the gender imbalance, sometimes it can feel hard to feel like you belong, feel hard to get promoted, and feel hard to stay in the industry long term. So I hope that every woman feels very confident if it’s something that they want to pursue or it’s something they enjoy that they feel like they belong there.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Dominique Huang

“I really hope that we can get to a point where we don’t need communities just for women. Because that means they feel confident being in communities for all people, advocating for their own opportunities, and asking questions. I feel like for the computer science club I run for middle school girls, I know that many of them wouldn’t have joined if it was not only for girls.” — Senior Reva Agarwal 

What message or advice would you give to MSJ girls interested in a STEM career?

“Don’t listen to what other people tell you. Just follow your interests, find something you’re passionate about, and forget the noise coming from outside.” — Science Teacher Oana Seremeta

“We can do better at MSJ by having more girls in STEM classes. I teach physics, and I see that there’s about a 1:3 female to male distribution, so I would like that to be more level.” — AP Physics Teacher Dorota Sawicka

“There’s nothing that says that you aren’t capable of accomplishing as many things as men … even within clubs, you can definitely pave a way for yourself even if [it] doesn’t feel the most inviting at first.” — Academic Challenge President Annie Xu, 12

“Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions or to make yourself known in a room. You don’t have to be quiet. If you have something on your mind that you want to share — anything that adds value to the discussion and that will add different perspectives — go for it. Even if there is resistance, you belong there, and you’re allowed to express your opinions.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Divya Machineni

“You can do anything you set your mind to. It can be disheartening to see that there aren’t as many women as men in a lot of leadership positions, but that just means that’s another opportunity for you to tackle. Never think that you’re less than and never think that you have to compromise on your academic or professional goals because of other passions you may have. Don’t ever think that you’re less than just because there’s less representation in the field.” — MSJ Class of 2021 Alumna Anika Wadhera

“For me, it was very useful to not really think [of] myself as disadvantaged in any way, so do not feel like you’re disadvantaged. In fact, embrace your femininity and just plod along. Take your most advanced classes and challenge yourself in the most advanced way. Do projects or seek mentors that do advanced work that will really help you propel your career, propel your understanding, propel your confidence in doing the things that you need to do.” — AP Calculus AB Teacher Iulia Rusu

“I would say to keep pursuing your passions. Don’t let anyone stop you. Even if you might be the minority…as a woman in STEM, I think that only makes you all the more powerful because … you have the ability to influence other women. They form a community, and I think [it’s] really important to have role models. Don’t let people discourage you, especially as a woman in STEM. We need so many more women in STEM; I think that as we go forward, even though sometimes you might feel like you are the minority … [keep doing] whatever you’re doing … all of you are capable of amazing things.” — MSJ Class of 2023 Alumna Christy Huang

“Definitely go for it! If it is something you are interested in, don’t let others stop you. You will end up meeting a lot of other women who are also in your shoes as well as supportive people in general. It’s not easy but you can do it!” — MSJ Class of 2022 Alumna Lindsey Wen

“Just go for it! It is challenging, and you will feel imposter syndrome, but know that you DO belong. Lean on your friends and find a female mentor who will vouch for you and support you. It is challenging but I’m so proud to be a woman in STEM, and I’d choose it all over again.” — MSJ Class of 2015 Alumna Megan Ren“I would say, ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows more than you or someone who’s doing something cool. A lot of times I would  see someone doing something cool and then I would go home and look it up instead of just asking them how they did it. A lot of people are really happy to explain their projects, what languages they learned, and what resources they used, and it makes it a lot easier than trying to look for it yourself.” — Senior Reva Agarwal

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