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Motivating girls to do science

Sarah Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Sun Mar 24 20:37:02 EST 1996

Hi Angela,
	I'm not certain - especially from the posts I have seen - whether
you want personal stories or explicit ideas.  I feel I can only provide
the former, as seems to be the case with several posters.
	I come from an entirely non-science family of pretty much teachers
and military.  I became interested in science in 7th grade because of an
excellent and fascinating presentation on DNA and cell biology by a woman
teacher (although I can't say I was moved in particular by her gender - at
least knowingly - at the time).  My highschool courses were not stellar
(although I excelled at the top of all my classes) - i.e. I wasn't a part
of any program that did team experiments or new age teaching - I had two
male teachers - one of whom was absolutely EXCELLENT and definitely taught
our honors/advanced placement course at the college level (evolution and
all - I was very taken with evolution).
	I floundered a lot in college my first few years, mostly because I
didn't do well in first year chemistry (my appropriate math skills had
really fallen away, something I will never understand and can't attribute
to anything that I can define). I was taken under the wing by a masters
level male instructor who became, in some ways, my surrogate father and
advisor;  I appreciated his guidance and understanding and the fact that
my now blemished GPA (I got a couple C's) was fine with him.  He pulled
me into research as a sophomore, definitely the best thing to invigorate
my interest in science - specifically teaching me electron microscopy in a
small, almost one:one setting (these were the years before research was
required for the degree and so I felt priveleged and unique). I know for
me that I was highly intimidated by big lab classes my first years - and I
prefered to work independently and in close contact with someone I knew
and trusted and felt personal with.
	I eventually did official thesis work under the tutelage of a
woman professor/PhD.  It's funny because I have always felt great respect
for this woman but I never knew her like I did my advisor.  I know, too,
that I have always disagreed with her philosophy of what a scientist
should be:  someone who does not falter in the least in a class setting
where there is a crummy professor (i.e. real scientists shouldn't HAVE to
be motivated).  My advisor, on the other hand, was a teaching-oriented
instructor who definitely had a different style in lecturing - he was hip
and ham and socially extremely down to earth - and I admired the way that
he, indeed, knowingly motivated people in class.  Part of motivating, for
me, was simply having a totally approachable individual to connect with
personally... someone, in many ways, I could identify with because that's
how I tended to be.
	I went to grad. school  because I wanted to be a small college
professor.  I chose to work with a woman PI who reminds me a lot of my
undergrad. thesis advisor, both in how I know her and how she lets me
occasionally tread a lot of water trying to motivate myself (because she
adheres to the idea that you have to self-motivate).  I'll be getting my
degree this summer and have actually been considering teaching highschool
a lot lately - getting a certificate and all instead of the post-doc
	So - I don't know what I think about "motivation."  I know that I
want to be a motivational professor, like my undergrad. advisor.  That's
simply how I am - I want to get to know the students, be open with them,
show them that scientists aren't the stereotypical lab-bound,
socially-withdrawn individuals that somehow we've earned the reputation
for being (unapologetically vast generalization, I know).  I've had the
great fortune of giving talks to or giving tours to junior high and high
school girls several times during my graduate work.  I guess I simply
can't imagine not being boisterous and lively and giving them the
opportunity to ask/answer questions and talk and load gels or do something
other than be lectured to while touring the lab - anything to get their
hands dirty.  I guess that's what motivating is to me - even though I
didn't have it (or need it) until college.  And what they choose
ultimately really shouldn't matter - as long as they broaden their
understanding in any way.  Motivation may simply be the activation energy
required to get someone beyond boredom, to wake them up, to get through
through a momentary relapse, to push them from curious to converted. Who
cares if it doesn't last through the PhD stage!  What I really want to
know is how to restructure science careers so they are more attractive and
human-friendly to girls because ultimately that is where a BIG drop out is
happening.  Something tells me that boys have something to do with this

	Good luck on your paper,  Sarah

Sarah Boomer				email:  sarai at u.washington.edu
Dept. of Microbiology			work phone:  543-3376
Box 357242				work FAX:  543-3376
University of Washington
Seattle, WA  98195

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