Science-Focused Clubs Empower Young Women

Eva Gillis-Buck ’12, a joint concentrator in Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, has spent a great deal of her undergraduate career unpacking the gender paradigms that pervade autism and neuroscience research.

But whenever her studies of gender biases start to seem discouraging, Gillis-Buck says she looks to the inspiring women that work alongside her in her stem cell lab.

“They do not fulfill the stereotype of the geeky scientist alone in the corner,” she says. “They’re super smart but also very well-rounded, very fun, very silly.”

Understanding the importance of these types of role models inspired Gillis-Buck and Meredith A. MacGregor ’11 to launch the Harvard Science Club for Girls this past spring. The program sends Harvard women and other female scientists into schools each week to mentor young girls and foster enthusiasm about science.

“We’re not just there to convey information, but to show them that science can be fun,” Gillis-Buck says. “That you can be a scientist and have lots of interests and not look like Einstein.”

Harvard Science Club for Girls joins a growing contingent of campus organizations that support women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Among these groups are a new women’s science magazine called Women Innovating Science and Engineering (WISE) Words, WISHR (Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe) and WISTEM (a mentoring program for females in STEM fields run by the Women’s Center).

“The number of women who graduate with STEM degrees and continue on to the next phase shrinks at every step,” notes Women’s Center Director Gina Helfrich. “I largely understand groups for women in science to be a place that creates a sense of community and belonging for its members. Through that network of support, they help to keep women in the STEM pipeline.”

THE ‘WHOLE GIRL’

As Gillis-Buck explores the “pervasive and problematic theory” of “autism as the extreme male brain” for her thesis, she says she is excited about unpacking the consequences of doing neurobiological research under a gendered paradigm.

Her thesis touches on the distinction between what her advisor, History of Science and WGS Assistant Professor Sarah S. Richardson, calls the topic of “gender and science” and the topic of “women in science.”

The former, Richardson explains, deals with the way gender conceptions influence the content and practice of science. Meanwhile, issues of “women in science” deal with attracting women to STEM fields and with women’s status in these professions.

Richardson—who also serves as the faculty advisor for the Harvard Science Club for Girls—says she sees these issues as intrinsically linked.

“If a field of scientific research is systematically in its knowledge excluding women, as medicine once did, if it is perpetuating theories that are sexist or misogynist or in some way sex-biased, I would suggest that this may contribute to the hostility of that field towards women entering it,” she says.

Breaking stereotypes is one of the Harvard Science Club for Girls’ main missions. From anatomy to crystals to circuits, the Club’s lessons are meant to be diverse and engaging—but Gillis-Buck says the program is mainly about fostering “the whole girl” and demonstrating that “science is for everyone.”

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