The best weapon women in STEM can have is confidence

Operations research graduate student, Megan Moreno, shares her insights into what being a woman in STEM means to her and advice she has for young women entering the field.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

STEM based concepts always came easy to me, so I had no other desire but to pursue an education in a career field that I could grasp easily and that made me happy.   This meant a career in either math or engineering.

What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?

For some reason, women are considered not capable enough to be successful in the STEM field, so they are either discriminated against or ignored. In fact, many mathematicians and scientists in history have been overlooked because they were women and I feel women are still facing the same issues today.

How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?

As an undergraduate student I was told in one of my math classes that Americans were lazy and women were stupid. I used my professor’s stereotype to my advantage and as a challenge.  I strove to prove to him that an AMERICAN WOMAN could be hard-working and smart enough to have the highest grade in his class. 

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?

I would advise myself to keep my spirits high and to use the insults that were handed to me as a way to prove others wrong. The best weapon that a woman can have in the STEM field is confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to ignore the negativity sent her way. Through hard work and dedication, the men will come to respect you for it and those who don’t aren’t worth even giving a second thought to.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?

Keep your eye on your goal. You are pursuing this education/career for a reason. Don’t let the opinions, troubles and/or distractions of the world or of others derail you from what you are aiming for.   And you WILL hit your target as long as you stay focused.

What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?

When I first started working on my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I was surprised to discover that I was one out of only two girls in my major. I had always heard that there were not as many women engineers as there were men; but experiencing it firsthand made it even more real.

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?

I believe that professors and advisors should be more supportive of their female students from the very beginning. I also feel that there should be more female engineers and instructors placed in the lives of these young women to help encourage them and push them along. More often than not, female students run into male professors who either are adamant that women do not belong in STEM fields, or professors who do not care either way and are not supportive or encouraging. If young women are exposed to more female professors teaching STEM based classes, then maybe this would encourage them to not give up and would give them someone to go to for advice and mentorship.

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