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Hillary Green-Lerman

A Letter to Female Scientists Even Younger than I Am

From the Lilith Blog

Dear Young, Female Scientist,

Women in science sometimes face a tough road. (Wikimedia Commons)

Women in science sometimes face a tough road. (Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to our club, and get used to being the only girl in the room. Things are changing, and you’re helping to change them. But for now, take a deep breath, and remember that you worked just as hard as everyone else to get where you are. You’re not an impostor. You’re just awesome.

Don’t worry if others claim that a certain class is easy and you think it’s really hard. This isn’t a competition; it’s your education.

Take a programming class. Just about every area of science has a computational branch doing really exciting work, and desperate for someone with knowledge of Python or Java.

As the only girl in the group, you’ll be asked to take notes during lab: don’t do it. You want to be at the table doing the dissection, or wiring the circuit, not standing in the background and scribbling notes.

Don’t just apply to jobs where you meet every single requirement. They probably won’t find someone who can do everything they want; your other talents will put your resume at the top of the pile.

When you get that job, there will be lots of meetings. You’ll be tempted to sit at the back of the room. Fight that instinct and sit with the senior scientists. Your opinion matters, and you need to be where they can hear you.

One day, one of your coworkers will make a comment that makes you uncomfortable. Once you are able to articulate what didn’t feel right, take him aside and gently explain you didn’t think the joke was funny. It’ll help him become a nicer person.

Don’t let anyone yell at you or interrupt you. If someone tries, even if it’s your boss, calmly and privately explain how you want to be treated. It’s really scary, but you’ll earn respect for standing your ground.

Cultivate some female friends outside of work—at synagogue, conferences, yoga class. Make time for the women in your life; they’ll help keep you sane.

Be a mentor because you want to, not because you feel you have to. You signed up to be a scientist, not an activist. If you have some free time, it will be rewarding to meet other women interested in science. You’ll be proud to help them find their voices. It’s not your second job; it’s your privilege as a member of our little club of women in science.

Good luck, and start experimenting! Your friend,

Hillary