4 Tips on How Women Can Be Successful in STEM

  • Alma_Matters
  • 21 Jul, 2022

4 Tips on How Women Can Be Successful in STEM

By Alma Matters

December 2, 2021


Women make up 29% of the STEM workforce.  

Now, if you are a girl in high school and you like STEM, you are good at it, and you would like to pursue it further, I have good news for you. 

In our podcasts with Professor Isobel Ojalvo of Princeton University and Anika Gupta, MIT Alum and PhD Candidate at Harvard, I asked them for Advice for Women to Succeed  in STEM.

Here are 4 Tips they shared:

  1. Find a Mentor
  2. Turn Underrepresentation into a Strength
  3. Speak Up!
  4. Stick with it


1.Find a Mentor

Mentors have played a critical role in the STEM pursuits of Prof Ojalvo and Anika.

For example, as a student Anika experienced mentors who 

  • Supported the growth of younger girls in STEM, and also 
  • Embodied examples of women in STEM that younger students can see their future selves

Prof. Ojalvo has had some really great mentors in her life as well. She tells this mentor story that helped her gain confidence in her abilities.

So, Prof Ojalvo went back to Grad School after a 2-year hiatus, and she was having a very difficult time preparing for the PhD Qualifying Examination. 

  • A female faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Madison reached out to her and mentored her and told her she could do it and helped create a study schedule;
  • Prof Ojalvo kept to that study schedule and met with her mentor weekly; 
  • The mentor did not teach her, but gave her moral support.

In the end, Prof Ojalvo received the highest score in the Qualifying Exam!

Just because you didn't have all the tools to begin with to succeed, doesn't mean that you can't learn the tools, if you have the right mentor.

So, as you look for that Mentor...

  • Reach out to people who you think you get along with. If you don't get along with them, find a new mentor. 
  • Find people who support, encourage you. Listen to them, and then learn when not to listen as well.
  • They would be a Role Model for you.
  • A lot of this is about personal relationships.


2. Turn Underrepresentation into a Strength 

Prof Ojalvo remembers that in school she was often the only girl in many of her classes or, one of maybe 10% of the class or 5% of the class, especially when it was something more physics or engineering related. She felt a little bit alone and not part of a regular group.

Anika has similar experiences in meetings where she is one, if not one of the few women in the room. She says that can feel intimidating, feel out of place. 

From personal experience, Anika believes in turning this underrepresentation into a strength.

  • She tells high school girls that being a member of a traditionally underrepresented group in STEM is actually in many ways a superpower
  • As a woman, one can harness a unique perspective when you're tackling problems in STEM, and 
  • You have the opportunity to also bring up others with you along the way. 


3. Speak Up

Anika believes in self-advocacy.

She says, as a girl, there is a tendency to be overlooked. So, 

  • Sometimes you have to speak up for yourself a little bit more. 
  • It takes a little bit more conscious effort to raise your hand to say “Hey, I'm here. Have an opinion.” 
  • This can be valuable. To actually add value to the conversation. 

Speak up. Make yourself heard. Contribute to the conversation.


4. Stick with it! 

Prof Ojalvo sees situations where there is not necessarily actual bias but it's more systemic bias. For instance, that you're treating a female researcher differently from a male researcher, you don't realize it. 

Prof Ojalvo’s philosophy is that this can be seen as something that can defeat you or it can be seen as something that motivates you, makes you more determined:

  • Now, if you are able to stay in the field, if you find ways to overcome these situations, then you can have the opportunity to make life better for the people who come after you; 
  • And so as a woman in STEM, the mission is to think of ways to do better. 


Hope you find these 4 Tips useful as you pursue a STEM career. Good Luck!

If you want to learn more about Professor Ojalvo and Anika Gupta’s professional journey, check out their podcasts:

Subscribe or Follow our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters at any of these locations: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, Anchor.

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