After spending four summers conducting research both locally and abroad, Shaira Bhanji ’14 says she has begun to understand the hardships of being a woman in a scientific career.
“I’ve definitely had experiences where I’ve felt like my gender has been somewhat of a hindrance, or I felt like male colleagues looked down upon me,” said Bhanji, the co-director of Harvard’s chapter of the Scientista Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to encouraging females to pursue careers in science.
This winter, the Harvard group will raise awareness of continued gender discrimination through a series of blog posts. In an effort to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), the foundation is currently working to bring together anonymous stories from female scientists.
“These are stories that we believe should not go unnoticed,” Bhanji said. “Sometimes, all that women in STEM really need is to know one other woman who has similar goals and is struggling through the same things.”
The seeds of the Scientista Foundation began in 2009, when then-Harvard junior Julia C. Tartaglia ’11 founded the online magazine WISE Words (Women Innovating Science and Engineering). Two years later, with her sister Christina E. Tartaglia ’09 on board as a co-founder, the team won funding in Harvard’s i3 competition to take their publication national. The foundation now has 17 affiliated organizations at 12 campuses, including MIT, Columbia, and Princeton.
For the co-founders, lingering issues of sexism in both the classroom and the laboratory can be countered through mentoring and partnerships like those the Scientista Foundation promotes.
“We believe that we can overcome these biases with the help of vibrant, supportive communities of women in science and strong role models for aspiring women scientists,” they wrote in an email. “The Scientista Foundation is not just a network of women, but a movement of scientists who are coming together to innovate science and technology and ultimately our future.”
Saraf Nawar ’14, Bhanji’s co-director of Harvard’s Scientista Foundation branch, cited the role of positive peer pressure in the organization’s work. The foundation aims to educate women about the various professional possibilities in the sciences. “Just knowing the variety of science careers out there and the variety of ways that women are approaching them can encourage a lot of girls to get involved,” she said.
In addition to highlighting undergraduate writing about the sciences through bimonthly publications, the foundation sponsors events featuring professional speakers to encourage women considering STEM careers.
“I think every woman in science who has experience in the field has a job to be a role model to a younger woman,” Bhanji said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Nov. 15
An earlier version of this article referred to the magazine of the Scientista Foundation. In fact, the organization does not print a magazine but publishes a blog.