International Day of Women and Girls in Science | Women in STEM | Corning

Each February, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science ahead of International Women's Day in March. Every year there are questions not only about why it is important to have more female scientists but also about how we can encourage girls to take up career paths in science.

Leading by example is a great way to help make this happen, and on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, role models can make a huge difference. Seeing someone who looks like you can be a powerful influence for people as they decide what career they would like to pursue. Hearing female scientists talk about what inspired them to become a scientist on International Day of Women and Girls in Science — and every day for that matter — can be a real motivator for women and girls considering careers in the sciences.

Diversity in STEM Matters

Why devote an entire day each year to raising the profile of women in science? In addition to supporting equality in our society, there's evidence to show that increasing diversity can yield other benefits as well. Elsevier Connects notes that having more women in STEM can increase research accuracy through gender inclusivity during studies, offer unique perspectives from the non-male gaze, and drive tech and healthcare innovation. UNESCO notes that despite a skills shortage in most tech fields, women are still not entering in large enough numbers to meet the estimated rates required to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Visibility and Role Models

One of the reasons for the disparity could be that girls are not seeing enough women as role models in science. This is changing though. The 1966 Draw A Scientist project shows that as women grow more visible in STEM, more school students shift their thinking around what a scientist looks like, which might otherwise be influenced by gendered stereotypes. According to The Atlantic, when the project first began, fewer than 28 out of 5,000 drawings of scientists showed women. Now, more than 28% of school children draw a woman.

As an article in Frontiers in Education points out, seeing certain high school subjects as masculine, such as mathematics and physics, can deter girls from enrolling in these areas in college. It's therefore important to highlight the stories and accomplishments of women working in these fields to help more young women picture themselves in successful careers in science.

The Importance of Mentors

With mentorship at the right time, high school subjects that may have once been considered the domain of boys can capture a girl's interest. M. Laura Martin, Ex Vivo Model Director, Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine, remembers what influenced her.

"My chemistry teacher in high school mentored me for work I presented with a friend at a local science fair," she says, adding that there was never any subject other than science for her. Mentors like this often play a critical role in a young scientist's future, even though they may not realize it. For young women seeking a career in science, Dr. Martin advises keeping an open mind but also searching for as many mentors as possible.

Mei (Iris) Li, Corning Life Sciences Market Access Platform Strategy Director, Greater China for Corning, advises, "Don't be shy to ask for help. There are a lot of great leaders around you that we can learn from. They want their people to be their best and are willing to help."

Motivation and Curiosity

Curiosity is often a strong motivator. Hearing from female scientists about what drives them at the bench or in their research serves as an inspiration as to how to approach a career in science. Li notes her love for puzzle solving as a main reason why she is drawn to science.

"Science helps us think systematically and strategically. I love solving problems and reading mystery novels, but then I realized the most interesting mystery stories are within the scientific papers!" Iris explains. "You have different hypotheses as you search for clues and try to prove one by using scientific methods. Eventually, you draw the conclusion and solve the case!"

Li also notes that curiosity motivates her to study science, explaining that problems become opportunities with a creative mindset.

"I studied clinical medicine in China years ago, and the more I studied it, the more problems I realized are unsolved at a fundamental biological level," she says. Curiosity drove her to pursue more advanced studies in biology, in which she seeks to find mechanisms of disease development and eventually solutions to treat them.

Dr. Martin is motivated by helping other scientists succeed, and by her desire to see her field contribute to therapeutics.

"I would love to see the organoid technology that my teams works with be applied to patients to inform clinical care," she says. "I think we are 3 to 5 years out from making it a reality."

Achievement and Dreams

Reading what other female scientists have achieved can encourage young people on International Day of Women and Girls in Science. NASA engineer Judith Love Cohen realized that writing about the achievements of women in science and technology could help to inspire girls in high school.

Dr. Martin considers "leading an organoid platform, where I can contribute with my expertise and empower other scientists with state-of-the-art technology," to be her proudest accomplishment. Sharing Dr. Martin's love for teamwork and empowerment, Li notes: "My proudest accomplishment is building and leading the global scientific applications team during the last five years." Together with regional managers, they found the talent to form a team that is creative, passionate, and dedicated to bridging customer needs for business success. "I am proud of the professional team. It was very enjoyable to work with great people."

Dreams are important, and so is hearing from women who have made their dreams of working in science come true. When asked what she would most want to achieve, Li stated that her long-term goal is to use her years of scientific experience and mindset to find the next growth opportunities for her industry:

"I'd like to help researchers/biologists find the best tools to help solve problems. That's my long term goal."

Li also advises girls interested in a career in science to spend time figuring out their goals and what is most meaningful to them. "Then be persistent, and keep on going with passion. Any goal worth reaching will take time, effort, and continuous learning."