It can be tough for young girls to truly believe that they can succeed in STEM careers when they don’t see women in positions of leadership within the field. According to a study done by Shina Caroline (Jul 2016), only 20% of full professors in Europe are women. Another study done by discovermagazine.com (Nov 2002) shows that only 3% of tenured physics professors in America are women. The reverse of this means that 97% of tenured physics professors in America are male, and 80% of European professors in all other subjects are male. If young female students see only men teaching these courses, how can they be inspired to become an expert in their chosen field of study?
This abysmal male-to-female ratio in the role of teaching (physics and otherwise) is a tragedy, especially when some of the most important and ground-breaking discoveries were made by women.
A perfect example of shattering limits and gender bias is one the most famous female scientists, Marie Curie.
Curie (1867-1934) was a pioneer in the field of physics. Encouraged to study physics and chemistry by her father, she sought a better education through the Flying University (a clandestine school that taught women higher education) as women were not allowed to enter into college in Poland at the time.
She went on to teach at a university in France and began her own, original idea of looking into radiation. Although her published paper on her findings came 2 months too late, her research did lead her to the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium.
When World War I occurred, her contributions to X-Ray machine research, building permanent and mobile X-Ray machines, teaching others to use these machines, and helping on an individual basis (along with her daughter Irene) helped save approximately 1 million lives.
She was awarded two different Nobel prizes, one in Chemistry and one in Physics, along with numerous other awards, and became the first women to ever teach at the University of Paris.
Marie Curie was not only an astounding woman and brilliant scientist, but she is proof that women are able to excel in teaching STEM courses. Hopefully, we can inspire our young female scientists of the future to take up teaching younger generations, and continue to pass along the torch of knowledge.
For a deeper look into how you can help encourage young women in STEM fields and new technology, click here.