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You deserve your STEM career – Patience Castleton

Editor’s note: This article discusses some social issues such as gender bias. The article showcases the author’s personal journey of overcoming the biases she has experienced. 

It's important to share your research and let your voice be heard but to also let others be heard too. We are all equally important and equally deserve to be in science no matter our gender.

- Patience Castleton

I once watched a TedTalk by Verna Myer who said that “biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they actually are” and I think that it is a statement that every woman in STEM should hear and remember. I have been interested in science since I was 15 years old, and my passion and interest has only grown through high school and university studies. My Health and Medical Science degree with the University of Adelaide has been nothing but incredible; working with incredible people of all genders in science and learning from my peers is something I will always cherish. However, I know that I am very fortunate in the experiences I have had. I graduated in a class that was equal in gender and I now work and study in a research lab that is equally diverse. This doesn’t mean that all lab and school environments will be the same and I do appreciate the amazing opportunities that I’ve had. But, I do know that my route to get here has been harder than others: I’ve had to make my voice just a little louder than the male classmates around me and I’ve had to overcome the many stereotypes that came with being a woman in science. From the start of my science career I have been told by countless people that I will always need to be one step ahead of my male counterparts. I have followed through with this and I know that I deserve every single achievement and award I have. I’ve worked very hard and passionately, as have so many scientists next to me, but the biases that I have experienced and imposed upon myself have never been far from my mind. 

Verna Myer’s quote resonates with me so much because I think that we often make biases about ourselves, others and our own career paths before we even step into jobs or situations. I can put my hands up and say that I’ve created countless biases regarding my field and the people in it. I am the one assuming that all men aren’t fighting as hard as I am to get that scholarship or grant, and I equally am the one assuming that all women in my field are not only trying to be one step ahead of the men but one step ahead of me too. This scared me away from science for a long time and made me hesitant to step into my studies. I didn’t want a career where I was competing and fighting for jobs and opportunities, particularly if there wasn’t always an equal chance. Fortunately, almost 5 years into my science career, I now know that this is so far from it. Science is a place for understanding and collaboration. I am equally close with everyone in my lab and I am so grateful for the experiences and knowledge I have gained from them. Everyone collaborates and shares ideas and we all celebrate achievements and milestones together. We draft each other’s work and attend each other’s talks and workshops in support. The scientists around me are united and equally fighting for fair work environments in regard to diversity. Whilst the imbalance is still prevalent, it is important to collaborate with the people we do have around us to make a positive change for scientists coming after us. It’s important to share your research and let your voice be heard but to also let others be heard too. We are all equally important and equally deserve to be in science no matter our gender.

I want this article to show you that you deserve to be in science; you belong here. Do not be afraid of the bias and equally do not put a bias on yourself, your colleagues or your field. Instead enjoy the road, congratulate the people around you and help us bring gender equality to this field. Remember to always make your voice heard and amplify the voices of others who aren’t as loud. Working within STEM has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and I could not be happier with the career that I have chosen. I feel so incredibly privileged to work with so many incredible scientists who care so deeply about our scientific world and work hard to rectify global health problems. Work your hardest, cheer on your colleagues and classmates. You deserve to be here and you deserve a career in science as much as anyone else. Remember that no matter what anyone says, believe in yourself and your abilities always. 

Enjoy your career in STEM. 

About Patience: Patience is in her honours year of her Health and Medical Science degree where she is researching male infertility. She loves getting involved in heated political debates with anyone and everyone, watching cheesy romance films (especially those set at Christmas time) and having a boogie at the Woolshed.