Thursday, June 16, 2016

Internship Week #2

Week number 2 of my internship is coming to an end. Being 13+ hours away from home has been a challenge for me, without a GPS I wouldn't be able to go anywhere. Yesterday I made a big accomplishment for as for driving here, I drove all the way to work without using the GPS! Baby steps. While it is only week two of the internship I have been here in Dallas, Texas for about three weeks now (maybe a month I have lost count). It is so different down here compared to Kentucky, but I have to admit I do love it. I never would have imagined I would live in a strange city for only three months by myself when I was in college, but here I am.

As for the internship, I love my job so far. I haven't been able to get into my project too much yet since there has been a lot of pre-project stuff needed to be accomplished. I have my own cubicle, which it may be dorky but I was super excited to see it. Although I have yet to decorate it, I know by the end of the summer it will be completely personalized. All of my co-workers are super nice. They invite me to eat lunch with them, take me on tours of the building, stop by my desk to talk to me to give me a small break from work, leave little gifts with our company's brand on them on my desk, etc.

I seem to be the youngest person here, not to mention one of few girls. I guess that last part is what happens when you are in a STEM field, especially anything to do with technology. While I feel as if I have been completely unproductive, I am very excited to continue to see what will happen throughout this internship. There are so many activities and events planned for the interns, so I have a lot to look forward to as well as what my projects end result will be. As for spare time, I am taking an online class in web development, which will come in handy for my current job, and then I hope to do all of the "touristy" things that there are to do here.
This experience is one that I will always remember, as it isn't everyday that you get your first internship far away from home, and then get assigned your own project to manage for duration of it as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Confidence Gap

Thinking about imposter syndrome and the confidence gap made me realize that people have put names to the feelings that women have everyday. The feeling of not being good enough even though you are in reality capable is a very common problem. Women often feel this way more than men, as men tend to act confident even at times that they truly aren’t. When it comes to those in STEM fields it tends to happen more, as there are fewer women trying to compete and compare themselves to the men who seem competent enough no matter what the task.

In my experience, this does sound all too familiar at times. Since I have been majoring in computer science, a field dominated by men, I can recall times where this “confidence gap” has had an impact on me. While I usually can determine what I am capable of accomplishing, being the one of few women in a classroom often makes me question whether or not I actually can. In classes when the professors ask if anyone knows the answer, or if anyone wants to come write answers up on the board, I often doubt that I have the right answer. This especially is true when I overhear other students, particularly the males, discussing what they believe is the right answer. I often will not speak up, because I then wonder how I could have not remembered the correct answer, or could have figured it out wrong, and why my answer was so different from theirs, which I convinced myself was the correct answer. This is where I make a mistake by allowing others to make me question what I am capable of, making me less confident than I was before within the field.

Another example of a situation in which I questioned my abilities is actually very recent. In the last few weeks I received word that I was hired for an internship that I applied to, and interviewed for. This internship is with a great company, and also pays very well, even paying me a stipend to relocate 13 hours away from home for the summer. When I first opened the email I was very excited, then the more I thought about it the more I started to question it. I started wondering if I was actually good enough to complete this internship over the summer, especially since I have only been in the computer science program for a year and a half now. It is not very common for students to get internships this early on, with not much experience to take into the job. Which meant the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how I got it, and questioned if I was going to be able to make it through this internship.

While I still question my capabilities about it as the internship gets closer, I have had advice from people that has helped me change my viewpoint slightly. Whether the people who helped were those who are close to me and knew how I felt, or were clueless and was just offering advice or saying congratulations, each person has helped in their own way. The insight that they have given me has made me a little more confident, as they point out things such as the fact that this company must really see something in me, I must have made a great impression, and I must be good at what I do. It is a bit ironic, that other people are the one’s who make this confidence gap exist within us, but they are also able to make us more confident as well. It all depends on how you take things and the way you see things. Rather than questioning your abilities based on those around you, instead use them in order to make yourself stand out with those things that you know you are truly capable of doing, and remember that the “confidence gap” is just another name for something we create inside our heads.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Work-Life Balance

The idea of work-life balance can be drastically different from one person to the next. For me, work-life balance is the idea of not necessarily keeping them separate from each other completely, but understanding that I need to make time for them both. Rather than intertwining them and never breaking from one or the other, it would be focusing on work/school when I am there, and on my personal life when I leave work. Often times this isn’t completely possible though, as certain aspects of our lives will often overlap no matter how much we try to separate them. We just need to keep in mind that in order to have a “perfect” work-life balance, we need to determine how much time and energy that means we are willing to put into each area of our lives and figure out the best way to do that without taking from the other.

In order to try and achieve success with this ideal work-life balance, I would first need to define exactly what this would mean to me. Currently in my life, as a full-time college student, this is what is considered as my “work”. On the other end of the spectrum my personal life involves my sorority, my boyfriend, my friends, my family, pets, and various hobbies, etc. Often I get overwhelmed as all of these areas of my life intertwine and I cannot determine where work stops and my personal life starts. This is why I feel that a good work-life balance is important to achieve. When all of your life is combined, it starts making everything seem like work as you try to do it all, rather than being able to enjoy the things you would normally enjoy.

I plan to begin working towards achieving my ideal work-life balance by planning my days differently. Rather than just doing things at random times, I will instead set aside specific times that are designated to “work” and specific times devoted to my personal life. This way I always know when it is time to work on things that must get done, and I will also know when I have free time to just relax, spend with friends and family, or just do something fun.

This summer I will be interning at a company full-time, 40 hours a week. While it will not be during my normal routine of things I normally do, and will be in another state than family and friends, I can use this as a time to perfect my work-life balance. I will be working everyday Monday thru Friday from about 8am-5pm. This means that on weekends and evenings I will have time to spend doing things other than work. Many people often take work home with them and end up work hours at home everyday off the clock. While I believe that there are certain instances and cases where working at home or even on your own time is necessary and important, I feel that it is also important to remember to take care of yourself. The only way to really, truly take care of yourself is to keep yourself healthy (physically, mentally, etc.), whether that means taking time for yourself if you are sick, unwinding in the evenings and on weekends, and just doing things for you at times. No matter how much you love your job, if you let it take over your life too much and don’t take care of yourself and allow yourself to take breaks, then it could end up causing your body to not be capable of working. Finding the perfect work-life balance for you is the best thing you could do, and for me that means making sure that while I put my all into my job, I focus on myself, my health, and my life outside of the job as well.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Do Toys Affect Our Image of Science?

When a child goes to pick out a toy they want at the store, often the parents steer them towards the toys that are “appropriate” for their gender. Most young girls only get to play with dolls, kitchen sets, and anything else that is remotely feminine, while the boys get to play with cars, action figures, and Legos. In many instances, this is the only way it was allowed to be. Boys played with boy toys and girls played with girl toys. The affect that this stereotype has on children can impact their future, making them believe they are only able to do what is considered normal for their specific gender.

If a girl plays with Barbie’s and all of the advertised Barbie’s are for careers such as a teacher, a lifeguard, a flight attendant, a ballerina, a model, a cheerleader, and many others along these lines, girls will start to get a certain image of women in their head. It begins to create this idea that they are limited to these options, that if they wanted to be a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician, that it wasn’t possible, because they were a girl and science was for boys. When in a store the dolls are advertised for girls in bright pink boxes with sparkles and glitter, while the Legos and science experiment kits are usually in blue boxes and in a separate aisle. Toys being divided by aisles that clearly show you which one a little girl should be in and which one a little boy should be in does nothing but continue to contribute to these stereotypes.

When I was growing up I was pretty lucky. While a lot of my friends grew up with parents who pushed the gender appropriate toys on them, my parents allowed me to be free to play with what I chose. I had Barbie’s and dolls like all the other girls, but I also played with Hot-wheels and Legos, building things endlessly, which was what the boys always did. Rather than limiting my choices and creating the idea that I was only capable of doing something feminine, my parents supported the idea of me being whatever I wanted to be. When I wanted to be an architect, they bought me drawing supplies, when I wanted to be a fashion designer I got sets that allowed me to do just that, and when I thought science was cool, I got a telescope. All of these toys affected me because I grew up with the mindset that I could be anything I wanted to be, no matter if the boys thought that I couldn’t do it or not.

Young girls always get told to stick to their feminine side and let the boys do the dirty work, while boys get put down if they aren’t as manly as someone expects them to be. The world we live in is full of these stereotypes that are nowhere near being true, as there are women who are in these fields and are successful. In response to these stereotypes we need to encourage children to play freely with whatever type of toy they choose, whether the girl choices a truck and the boy chooses a doll. I have two nephews, and when my youngest nephew asked me for a baby doll for Christmas when he was 3, I promised him I would buy him one. Christmas morning came and one of his favorite presents was the doll that he could push in the stroller that I had gotten him. While I did not see it as a big deal, his dad did, and seemed to be upset that I had bought that for him; since it was not the typical toy you would expect a boy to get on Christmas. However I encouraged my nephews to play with whatever they wanted, whether it was the Kitchen Set he asked for this past Christmas at age 4, or the dirt bike he wanted for his birthday in March. Rather than limiting their options, we need to allow them to have the freedom to choose what they want, in order to let them form into what they truly want to be, regardless of any typical stereotypes that come with it. I for one am glad my parents never limited me, or I may have never ended up as the Computer Science major that I am today.

Now I want to know: What toys affected you and how? Answer in the comments below!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mentoring As A Practice

Mentoring is important for everyone in every field. All throughout your life whether it is known as an official mentoring relationship or not, at some point you will have someone who you could consider your mentor. It is suggested that you not stick to just one person as a mentor, but instead have multiple mentors that can help you in multiple areas of your life and career. These could range from just a friend that listens to you when you need them, a parent, or even someone who is more accomplished and successful within your field of study.

A mentor can be useful and help in various ways. One reason it is so important to have more than one is because of the fact that they will not all be experts in everything. While one may be able to help you figure out how to balance time between your personal life and your work life, the other may be able to give you information on job opportunities that would help you advance your career. With mentoring there really is no set guidelines or specifications of what must be done within each relationship, it is all decided between the mentor and mentee. The type of decisions they make could be anything from how often they will meet and or talk, how they will communicate (such as phone, email, face-to-face, social media, etc.), and what their primary goals within the relationship are.

When it comes to women in STEM fields, mentoring can be very important and useful. Since many of the STEM fields are male-dominated, women often get looked down upon, and have a harder time feeling as if they are competent enough. This is how having a mentor could help, because if your mentor has already faced similar problems by being a woman in STEM, she will be capable of informing you on how to manage it. It is also important for women in STEM to have someone to relate to, someone that they can talk to without feeling inferior or intimidated as some women may feel when talking to men in their fields. If they have a female mentor in their field it could help them by having someone who is open-minded when they have questions, and that they can go to when they do not want to go to another peer.

Mentoring can also be particularly helpful in advancing your career, if you do it the right way. In the future I plan to have more than the one mentor that I currently have, and to use my relationships with them to my advantage, as that is why they are there, to help you. In order to make the most out of these relationships I will start by having them offer me any type of advice they think is necessary to help prepare me for where I want to be. After determining what advice I actually think would be useful and setting goals for myself I would see what contacts my mentors have as for research within my field, and ask if there is anyway they could put me in touch with someone that would allow me to conduct research with them. Another way I could use my mentors in order to advance my future career is to again see who they have contacts with, but this time with various companies that I am looking at applying to. This would be helpful if they know someone that is highly ranked at a company I want to work at, as recommendations help land you a job just as much as a resume does.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Issues in STEM Undergraduate Education

As an undergraduate student within STEM education I have noticed a few of the problems that the PCAST report pointed out on multiple occasions. The first of these problems that stood out to me  was stated on page 36 of the pdf file that “Some students avoid or abandon STEM majors because they believe that their GPAs are likely to be lower in STEM courses than in humanities, business and management, or social sciences and that the workload is greater.” A number of my friends have done this in particular, they have decided that they wanted more free time or even an “easier” schedule, so they switched out of what they considered to be the harder majors and into the easier ones. Often as a Computer Science major, I question it myself. I see other people getting all A’s without putting much effort into their classwork, meanwhile I am struggling to get the GPA that I want, spending many hours each day, including weekends, in order to achieve my goals.
Part of the problem with STEM classes being more difficult and unappealing to some may coincide with another idea that was brought up within the PCAST report. This idea is that lack of interest, along with low retention rates, can all be linked back to the fact that many introductory classes that are taken within the first two years of college are dominated by lectures and tests consisting only of multiple choice. (pg. 40) Not every student learns in the same manner, using the same methods, and it has been proven that the majority of students would retain the information taught a lot better if they were involved in research or other hands-on based classes instead of a typical lecture

The first two years in college helps decide a student’s future, it is the time they are testing different classes and majors to determine which one interests them the most. The University of Kentucky can use this knowledge to their advantage in order to increase the number of students interested in STEM fields. When you are a freshman in your first semester of college, that introductory math class that consists of nothing but lectures and tests is going to seem a lot less interesting to you than the arts class you are taking where you get to choose your own project and work on it using any methods you want. This is where variation in the types of courses that are offered at the introductory level will help. If we could make STEM seem just as appealing to those who are even mildly interested, despite the fact that they are also interested in another major that is “easier and less time demanding” then we can increase the number of students who join this field.

Being a STEM major needs to be something that they want to do. While we already can offer them the numbers for after college that include salaries, employment rates, etc. we still need to do more. Even though at times the vigorous amount of homework does overwhelm me, and sometimes I wish I had a few more easy classes to boost my GPA, I can say that it is worth it. If UK and other universities can have students who speak up and talk to those who are incoming students, and to get them to give honest feedback on the classes and take their opinions seriously, then the retention rate can easily be increased. Rather than having someone be a spokesperson telling these new students that being a STEM major is glamorous, they need those who are willing to speak out and explain that even though it is tough, and even though you may not always get the results you want, it is definitely worth it as it pushes you to work harder each and every day through new challenges.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reflective Essay #2 Mentor Interview

I took the opportunity of interviewing my mentor, Elizabeth Farnsworth, for this reflective essay. Elizabeth Farnsworth recently graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science. The interview consisted of various questions regarding her being a woman in STEM and what her experience has been like within it. Throughout the interview I learned that a lot about how people view women in STEM. I have had similar experiences to Elizabeth, but until I heard someone else saying that they have heard similar stereotypes I didn't realize how big of a deal it was. Different people have been through different types of situations, whether it is rude remarks, parents thinking it is not a good idea, or just people acting as if you are incapable of succeeding. Below I will be posting both the questions I asked her along with answers that I received from her.

Question: When and how did you know that you wanted to be a STEM major?Elizabeth: So about 10th grade I took AP biology. So I became fairly convinced I was going to become a biochemist because of the AP biology class. Then in 10th grade I was apart of this Howard-Hughes genome exploration program in which we isolated bacteria phage and then we sequenced it and I was like yes this is what I am going to do, I am going to do Bioinformatics. Then I took a CS class and I was thought, this kind of sucks. The CS class I took was required, and the teacher I had was kind of awkward. We were pretty evenly split since it was a required course, and it started out all of the guys were in the back and all of the girls were in the front and there is only three rows of chairs, and by the end of the class we had completely switched. Not due to academic issues, we were doing well, some of us were still interested, but we also started putting hoodies on as we scooted further back in class and so it was kind of awkward. So I was like I am definitely not going to do bioinformatics I am going to stick to BioChem, but that's okay someone else can do the bioinformatics. Then I was tutoring people for their CS class the next year and I realized it wasn't that bad when I learned it myself. So when I came to UK they were like, we will give you $3000 a semester if you are a CS major, and I was like okay I am a CS major and a BioChem major, yea I started out with both of those, that was not the way to go.

Question: What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in STEM? Elizabeth: Number one is people just don’t expect you to do well. It’s always if you have trouble go find a guy to tutor you, or maybe you are not in the right major, maybe you should look at some of the softer sciences. I hate that phrase, softer sciences. My father is a computer programmer and so I grew up around computers. It was always dad fixes it, it’s dads thing to do. But dad was at work all day so I fixed it. There was always this talk about STEM in general and that it wasn’t an MRS Degree and so that’s why I needed to choose something different. So that is probably why for the longest time I said, “I’m going to be a librarian”. My dad was perfectly happy with that, because that apparently is an MRS Degree, I don’t understand. So it was really just the expectation of this is what you are supposed to go into: you’re supposed to stay home, you’re supposed to have kids, you’re supposed to raise kids, science isn’t for you. So computers especially was definitely “this is a males world”. I was always hearing dad always make fun of his female coworkers, or hearing him make comments about them that are best left unspoken. That was always the really big thing, that feeling in constantly being told that you can’t do this, or that if you become someone in STEM you aren’t going to be as good as the males.

Question: How have you overcome some of these challenges?Elizabeth: To an extent I just kind of decided I’m going to prove them wrong, that was the big thing. Mom helped a little bit, she did a double major in biology and chemistry, she worked for P&G intel and was pregnant with my younger sister. So it was always lthat she was talking about this stuff and I thought well that it was kind of interesting. Then she quit to become a stay at home mom and when she went back to working she became a teacher. So it really was just me going “Well I am not going to do that. I can do this, I can be more than a Mrs.” I went to the Gatton Academy and so once I got in there I was like okay there is 33 other females in here. That helped because there was a bunch of other people, same age, same gender, in similar fields. It became a thing of I can keep up with these other girls, and I am going to prove everybody back home wrong.

Question: What are some things that have been key to your success as a woman in STEM?Elizabeth: I mean the big thing though is just putting the earplugs in when people say that this isn’t what you should be in. I don’t know what is with my family, it may be coming from my dad being one of five boys, I don’t know. Then the older sister didn’t help, she went to school to become a music educator and met her husband in the first week of classes. So part of it was the realization that I wasn’t in college to look for a boyfriend or husband and that was okay and I didn’t have to do that. Yes the parents had done that, the older sister had done that, and people would say that’s what college is really for, unless you’re a guy in which case you would be going for a career. It was just kind of like no, that’s not true. There was a few teachers along the way that helped, but it was really just getting out of the situation at home and away from all of the negativity about being a woman in STEM. That was really my big thing.

Question: In your CS classes were you one of few girls or were there a lot?Elizabeth: There were never many girls. I think my CS101 class at some point we were up to about ten girls. My EE280 class we started out with 2, she was a CE major and I was a CS major and the rest were just guys. I remember sitting there the day that the final came around and she wasn’t there. It was just me. Which most of the other classes there were one or two others, but not a lot of us. I don’t remember any class other than 101 that got above 5 females in it.Question: Did that make you feel different about your abilities by being the only girl or only one of few, compared to the rest?Elizabeth: There was always this question of do I belong here. I always have test anxiety to begin with, so when there is just me or me and another girl, I question if the professor is just pitying us. The only classes I have had with a female professor, were with Judy Goldsmith, you would see a few more girls in her classes. Usually because we would all go at the same time and be like “oh there is a female professor lets try that”. The male professors only know your name, and they were always awkward if you tried to talk to them, email always worked better. At some point I decided that office hours were not for me. There was always the question of are they pitying us, are they giving us extra points because we are female and because we are trying hard? So yea it kind of did.

Question: Did a professor or a classmate ever treat you differently?Were there ever any comments or remarks, or just the way they acted towards you just because you are a woman?Elizabeth: Most of the faculty and most of the students are pretty good about it. There is one certain faculty member that I was talking to him during my spring advising and he was like “you should come work in my lab because it’s really disorganized”. It came down to he was hiring me to work in his lab that summer because he and the guys that he had in there couldn’t keep it clean. I remember sitting there and being like that’s not why I want to work for you. Yes obviously that’s doable but if I wanted to be cleaning up for people I could go elsewhere, there are plenty of jobs available for that. It ended up working out and during the internship I started making websites. Yet he would assign the harder programming, the presentations, doing the workshop that was going on that summer, all to the guys. He seems to not understand that there is a stereotype against women. Which is a problem because he perpetrates a lot of them. That’s the big one, and then Judy Goldsmith taught a class that I took, it was Science Fiction and Ethics and one of the short stories that we had read was talking about artificial intelligent female companions. Somehow we got onto talking about gender equality and CS as a whole. All of the guys were confused about why more women don’t go into the CS majors, and STEM majors, when they are high paying jobs. We had to explain to them that coming out of the CS major a guy could expect a salary of around $70,000-90,000. A girl could come out of the CS major and expect a starting salary between $30,000-50,000. It was one of those things where we were like have you ever looked around and noticed there are not a lot of girls in your classes? They were like no I guess we never bothered. So we asked them do you ever pair up with girls, for things like group projects? They said they just pair up with their friends, none of which are female. So I had brought this up since it was a discussion class, I said there is this stereotype that girls go into what is called MRS degrees, or MRS majors. And I remember Judy Goldsmith lost it when I said this, and all of the guys didn't understand. So I told them to write it down, its capital M lower case rs and then put a period. They had never thought about it. It’s not because we aren’t growing up around computers or programming, my father is a computer programmer, he has been all his adult life. He comes home and makes comments about his female coworkers and says none of my girls will ever go into this. I think some of them woke up that day, but I think many of them are still in denial thinking this isn’t really going on. A lot of times they aren’t aware of the way they treat us. They aren’t aware of their comments and actions and that they send very loud messages.

This interview put a lot of things into perspective for me. Even if someone does not directly say something to you about your abilities to succeed, their actions show you just how they feel. By male students not partnering with females for any projects, it sends them the message that they don't want to work with them because they do not believe they are smart enough to do good. Helping men to realize these stereotypes exist, and convincing them that it really is a problem can help prevent more women from feeling this way. We shouldn't have to prove them wrong, we should just be there to succeed alongside them. Having to prove our worth and values just because we are women is not the correct way to deal with this issues and stereotypes. We need to help people understand that yes we can become mothers and wives, but we are also capable of much more than just that.