Sometimes I Feel Guilty for Not Being a Female Scientist

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I feel guilty for pursuing a career in communications. I know that sounds totally crazy, right? Communications seems like a perfectly nice line of work for the casual extrovert. Really, it’s not that I feel guilty about choosing to work in communications. It’s that I feel guilty not choosing to work in science.

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Just let me explain. Unless you live under a rock (I’m looking at you, Patrick Star), you’ve probably noticed the push to enhance science education for girls and young women. Which, might I add, is great! But at the end of the day, what is the aim of this social movement? All-around enlightenment? Enhanced quality of life? The bottom line is about boosting female representation in science-orientated degrees and consequently professions. Of course, you don’t always notice this upfront. Let’s look at the newest Verizon commercial.

While campaigns like this certainly inspire me, they also stir up self-doubt. Have I let down society by going into a female-dominated profession? Am I somehow disappointing my future daughters? Will my career be as taboo as the 50s housewife persona someday? If the Amy Farrah Fowlers are the social pioneers of our time, then I – at the prime age of 22 years old – am suddenly old-fashioned.

Unlike the girl in the Verizon commercial, my upbringing was ripe with science exposure. I dirtied my dresses while fishing for worms. I handled power tools and learned to check the oil on a John Deer. I even won a medal in my middle school science fair. With remarkable teachers and a computer programmer for a mother, the “empowered female role model” box never went unchecked. On top of that, I worked my way through advanced math and science courses in high school. But is it enough?

I did not pursue a career in science, because nothing gave me a thrill like writing. So I left calculus for a life of press releases and feature stories – not because I felt discouraged as a woman, or some crap like that. Now, I work for a natural history museum, where science-savvy women are as plentiful as Dugger children. And  although I am not an ichthyologist or a paleontologist, I love being immersed in natural history. Every day I am reminded that a woman can be interested in science without being a scientist.

 And that’s the most important message.

We should pursue science because it satisfies our curiosity and encourages us to discover. If that curiosity fuels a lifelong quest by way of a career, great. You go, girl! But if it doesn’t? This goes back to my previous post about Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Whether a woman chooses to run a country or a home, become a biologist or a kindergarten teacher, she deserves to be supported.

Science education is a great thing, and I do believe that women should be exposed to and encouraged to explore disciplines like math and engineering. Now I can neither confirm nor deny that our social environment encourages or discourages women in science because, well, that’s not my area of expertise. But I do know one thing as a woman who works with – but not in – science. As we encourage girls and young women to open their mind to fields like engineering and zoology, we must always be sure that the focus remains on their passions – not percentages.