Embracing your STEMininity.

I went to grad school with a brilliant woman named Christina.  (Seriously, brilliant!)  She got her PhD a couple years before I did and then moved on to bigger and better things in the form of a post-doc.  I was especially curious about her experience as a post-doc because she is, to my knowledge, the only grad student to have survived a PhD experience in Dr. Money Machine‘s lab, making her an incredibly trustworthy source regarding all things painful.  Well, not only did she survive her post-doc, she freaking flourished and is now making her way through the ranks as Harvard faculty.


Holy.  Crap.

Like I said, Christina is amazing and absolutely, 100% inspirational.  She will undoubtedly do very big things in this world– big and important things.  And yet for some reason, she likes to read my blog…

Brilliant.  Harvard.  Reads my blog.  Cheese and rice!

Christina is the one who suggested I share this (the below, not above…) with you today on my blog, and how could I possibly deny such a simple request from someone I admire so very, very much?!  The answer: I could not!

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen several posts on Facebook related to Goldieblox— engineering toys specifically designed for girls where the tagline is “more than just a princess.”  They recently put together an absolutely genius advertisement where they show three little girls using Goldieblox to design a seriously intense Rube Goldberg machine.  (Kelly– do you remember our Rube Goldberg machine for math class in like sixth grade?!)  It’s too cool– watch it here.

(Oh, and it’s a music video.  Beastie Boys.  Got to watch it!  Click here.)

Honestly, the whole idea of Goldieblox is genius.  I’m not sure if people really realize how important early STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) experiences can be for little girls, but I am here to tell you that the impact is HUGE!!

When I was in middle school (I think middle school– definitely before high school, anyway), I got to go to a little conference called Girls + Math + Science = Choices.  I’m pretty sure it was one of the best days of my life even though all I remember from it was isolating DNA from salmon sperm.  I could lit-er-al-ly (like Chris from P&R) SEE the DNA in the tube… and I was AMAZED.  AMAZED I tell you!!!  I kept that stupid little tube in my bedroom retreat (the half of the bedroom I could call my own, anyway) for years and years and years.  Honestly, I don’t think I got rid of it until I packed up and left for college.  It was that awesome to me.

Also in middle school, 8th grade I believe, I went to MST at MSU– Math, Science, and Technology at Michigan State University.  A summer camp for nerds.  And again… LOVED IT.  (Incidentally, this is when I discovered that I am a nerd even amongst nerds.  Little bit upsetting, but I’m over it now.)  I decided on chemistry as my major someday right then and there.  We shattered things frozen with liquid nitrogen, made huge fountains of foam explode from bottles, grew huge logs of charred blackness by adding sulfuric acid to sugar, made stringy gooey polymers, and shriveled marshmallow snowmen in vacuums.  I loved every second of it!

I loved other things too, of course, and I legitimately came thisclose to majoring in political science (thank goodness I didn’t make that life choice!), but those early organized STEM experiences made a huge impression on me.  Especially given constant encouragement to think, think, think and experiment from my parents.  (I spent more family dinners contemplating whether a flame is matter or energy than most people probably do in their entire lifetime…)

Sure, little girls should be allowed to play with dollies and pink things– that’s totally fun (I loved me some Cabbage Patch and Popples when I was little), but when toys become branded and targeted specifically for one gender or another, we perpetuate unfortunate gender stereotypes.  Girls given pink dolls and boys denied them are told that women should be caretakers and men should not.  Boys given erector sets and girls denied them are told that men should be builders and engineers and women should not.  It seems to me that even if we don’t really believe those things to be true, our society is set up in such a way that its pretty difficult to show your children otherwise.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a woman that doesn’t want to go into a STEM field, just like there isn’t anything wrong with a man who does.  But I am of the opinion that all children are essentially made of perfectly dried kindling, ready to ignite when touched by the right spark… and it’s important that we don’t deny that spark, whether it comes in the form of DNA isolated from salmon sperm or the (only slightly) less creepy Goldieblox engineering toy.

(Am I trying to say I’m like Katniss– girl on fire?  No, of course not.  (Actually, yes, definitely yes.))

Anyway, Intuit is hosting a competition called Small Business Big Game where you can vote for one of four small businesses to run a commercial during the super bowl.  Obviously, I watched all four videos (two had clever names and one had a dog in a lab coat, couldn’t resist) and they were all pretty good, but when better than to remind people that women can do it too and that girls should be encouraged than during the Superbowl?  The ultimate “man” time.  So maybe you could click to vote for Goldieblox— vote for change for your girls!  And their brothers!

Still don’t think we need a change?  My husband just sent me this from Walmart:

Girl Aisle
Sigh. (But dang, what a good husband to humor me like this!)

Yeah.  Vote for Goldieblox.  Engineers are kind of cool… and some of the best ones I know are women.  Good enough to earn free cupcakes even.  That’s really good.

6 thoughts on “Embracing your STEMininity.

  1. So completely flattered by your introduction – thank you! Half the time I think I like to torture myself with my career choices, the other half I feel like I’m here because I’m lucky.

    A brilliant scientist writing a brilliant blog is a pleasure to read! Thanks for posting about the topic too. And I couldn’t resist the dog in the lab coat either : )

  2. Rachel, when you announced at dinner that a flame is energy we couldn’t resist asking you to explain why. It gave us long hours of fun watching you trying to disprove all our arguments that it might be matter. It was amazing to watch you research and continue to come back with counter arguments to all our ridiculous assertions. BTW – thinking is not just for nerds; more people should give it a try! One of the things I love about my job is being able to encourage thinking and reasoning with both boys and girls. I treat my students like they are my own children (for good or bad), always keeping in mind the kind of teacher I wanted for you as well as all the things you told me make up a good teacher. I am grateful for the lessons I learned!

    1. Thanks, Dad! I can’t wait until Emma is old enough for Goldieblox– I was hoping they’d have something more age appropriate for her, but they seem a little more complex than she could handle right now. Soon… soon…

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