Why role models are so important

 
Written by Ulrike Träger

Hi! I’m Ulrike. I am an Immunologist, working as a post-doc at the German Cancer Research Center. I love science. I always have – apparently I planned curing cancer from the age of five. I never thought I couldn’t. I never saw limitations for what I can be. So when I read a recent article in the Guardian stating that “Girls as young as six years old believe that brilliance is a male trait, according research into gender stereotypes.“ I began thinking about myself and why I never thought like that.

Thanks to great role models. Role models every girl deserves.

"I learned that you can have a happy family, while being a successful scientist. I learned how to be seen as a scientist not a woman by male peers in a highly competitive setting."

I undertook most of my scientific training in two labs headed by women. And while the two scientists were different in many aspects, I have learned a great deal from both of them. I learned that you can have a happy family, while being a successful scientist. I learned how to be seen as a scientist not a woman by male peers in a highly competitive setting. I can only encourage young female scientists to seek out opportunities to work with women who have become PIs. That doesn’t mean choosing the lab for your PhD or post-doc by gender of the group leader – but to look around in your department and find your role models there.

Role models do not have to be group leaders – during my diploma thesis I had the help of a brilliant female PhD student who I really looked up to. During my PhD time other female PhD students and how they handled the journey of the PhD taught me a lot. Communication with your peers can really help overcome problems you have – like how to handle the colleague that does not take you seriously.

"Gender stereotypes need to be broken"

But all of this is too late for the six-year- old thinking only boys can achieve greatness. Gender stereotypes need to be broken – by presenting young girls cwith a broader variety of role models.

Brought up by a single mom, who studied precision engineering and worked full time, I had a great role model growing up. She taught me, by example, that woman are equal to man. They are as smart. They can do everything man can. But not every girl has that – we need better representation on the news, on television and social media.

"We can be the examples young girls need."

As women in STEM we can’t change how scientists are portrayed in movies – mainly as white man, although I can’t wait to see “Hidden Figures” in the cinema - but we can be active on social media. We can be the examples young girls need. Sites like this one show the diversity in STEM and give young girls the role models they deserve. Hashtags like #DistractinglySexy, #DressLikeAWoman, #ActualLivingScientist, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, #BugsR4Girls, #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike, #blackwomeninscience and #BLACKandSTEM are perfect (and sometimes hilarious) examples for sharing a positive and diverse image for women in science!

To that matter the recent women march showed girls all ages that women are strong and can stand up for what they believe in. So think about attending the upcoming march for science – and show the world and all young girls watching what scientist really look like.

 

You can find out more about Ulrike and her work by checking out her blog, twitter, and linkedin

 
Rhys Archer