By: Savannah Lopez
Blog Content Contributor
International Women’s Day is March 8th, and the theme this year is embracing equity. The definition of equity is the quality of being fair and impartial, to be treated equally. For years, women have fought strongly to be treated equally to men in all fields of work. In STEM fields, women are still severely underrepresented and underpaid, but that’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made to try and make these fields more equal.
From 1960 to 2021, women in engineering fields increased by 13%, 20% in science fields, 10% in technology fields and 30% in math fields. While this is a fantastic improvement compared to the way women were looked down upon for wanting to join these fields in the 1960s, there still is not equal pay between men and women. Men were paid $266.66 more than women for each one-point increment in the h-index. The h-index is a metric for evaluating the cumulative impact of an author’s scholarly output and performance. Female researchers who have a high h-index still made around $6,000 less than male researchers with the same h-index. While this gap has gotten smaller and smaller, there is still a lot of work to do before women are paid equally in these fields.
Nonetheless, it is amazing how many women are joining these fields every year. Especially since in the 1900s, women were looked down upon for even trying to join these fields. Now, we have so many trailblazing women to look up to like Katherine Johnson (1st African American woman to work for NASA) and Jennifer Doudna (an American biochemist), who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for inventing CRISPR, which is a gene-editing tool that can cure genetic diseases. Reading about the things that these women have accomplished is inspirational.
I have asked a few female STEM students here at Texas State some questions about their research and how they feel about more and more young women joining STEM fields.
Sophia Kottke is an undergraduate student here at Texas State. Her majors are biology and anthropology. She has done quite a bit of research and is a lab instructor, the lead undergraduate in her lab and is listed as the first author of her poster presentations for her research. She has participated in various potentially groundbreaking research.
In Sophia’s words, “Under the guidance of Dr. Hon-Gu Kang, my research in Texas State’s biology department is concerned with small RNA (sRNA) sequences known as transfer RNA derived fragments (tRFs), which could potentially operate as mobile signaling molecules in a long-term plant defense response; this is coined as systematic acquired resistance (SAR). This research aims to identify tRF mobility in SAR, while also further characterizing a molecule known to play a role in trans-generational epigenetic inheritance. In the anthropology department at Texas State, I have had the privilege to learn and conduct research under Dr. Jill Pruetz. I have spent three weeks with her collecting behavioral data on the spider monkey community of Camaquiri Conservation Initiative in addition to data analysis of her chimpanzees in Fongoli, Senegal.”
Sophia going out and doing all this amazing research is inspirational, and she is a role model for other young women who want to be in a STEM field. Being a STEM major wasn’t her first choice, but she ultimately decided to pick a major she was more passionate about. When asked about how she feels about more young women becoming STEM majors, she said, “I’m thrilled to see so many women in STEM! I feel like women are pushing boundaries in all fields. It’s especially exciting to see so many women as my peers and role models facing a challenging discipline head-on.”
Courtney Dillard is a student here at Texas State, and she is in the second year of her Exercise and Sports Science Master’s program in the Health and Human Performance Department. She is the graduate research assistant for the Metabolic and Applied Physiology lab. She specifically focuses on “reducing psychological stressors and improving cognitive performance in tactical occupations such as law enforcement, firefighters, and military who are leading in cardiovascular diseases, depression, PTSD and attempts in suicide, therefore interventions are needed to aid in stress reduction with the end goal of reducing oxidative stress that leads to these diseases and disorders.”
She has also led a remarkable amount of research projects. In Courtney’s own words, “I have led a few projects including The Effects of Theanine, Tyrosine, and Caffeine Ingestion on Markers of Stress in Response to a Virtual-Reality Active Shooter Drill (VR-ASD). This study also includes a mental stress task, which is made up of the Stroop test, Mental Arithmetic and the VR-ASD. The aim of the study is to see if either Theanine, Tyrosine, or Caffeine are effective at enhancing cognitive performance and potentially reducing psychological stress in response to the mental stress task. This study is still ongoing currently! I have also led my thesis study, which is The Effect of Slow Breathing Interventions on Markers of Stress in Response to a Virtual-Reality Active Shooter Drill. The study utilized two slow breathing methods, one having a balanced inhale-to-exhale ratio (box method breathing) versus a longer inhale-to-shorter-exhale method of slow breathing, both aimed at reducing psychological stress markers. The results of this study were better than we hoped! I have also helped with the Impact of the Menstrual Cycle on Markers of Stress and Body Composition study, as well as the Physiological Stress Response to a Live-Fire Training Evolution in Career Firefighters. For each of these studies, we collected physiological biomarkers, including salivary stress markers α-amylase, secretory immunoglobin-A and cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate and subjective markers of psychological stress, such as state-trait anxiety inventory.”
The amount of research she has done for someone so young is outstanding. When asked about how she feels about other young women joining STEM fields, she said, “I am currently surrounded by a solid group of young female researchers who are just as enthusiastic about entering this line of research as I am. Our field, Exercise Science, is commonly male-dominated, so it gives me great pride to be a part of such a diverse group, especially being first generation and a Hispanic woman. I have never experienced any discrimination for being a woman in this field, and I do believe that has to do with the confidence I hold in myself. That is something I try to reflect and pass on to the young researchers who work with me. It is nothing short of a blessing to have all the opportunities I have been provided with, and I am beyond grateful that my mentor, Dr. Matt McAllister, has trusted me with these opportunities.” She is another great example of a role model for young women in STEM.
When I hear about all of the things these young women in STEM are doing, I am inspired. They are forces to be reckoned with, and they are going to do great things. With the way things are going, I have no doubt in my mind that one day, there will be no gap between women and men in any field, so let’s continue to embrace equity!
Featured Image by Michele DuPont, KTSW Multimedia
Written by: Amaya Lewis