A Love Affair with Science


I was seven years old. It was nearing Christmas, and, as with any other Christmas, my mom wanted a list of things I wanted from Santa.


I already knew that the Santa thing was a crapload, so after looking through the JCPenney catalog for a few hours, I told her that I wanted her to get me a microscope.


No, really.


I wanted one.


It was red, and came in a big-ass plastic case with all kinds of glass slides with dried up dead things to observe. That’s what I had to have.


Along with the usual, Barbie paraphernalia, stuffed animals, and clothes, I got my microscope. And that’s when the love affair with science began: Christmas 1986.


I remember my mom giving me a small responsibility speech as we opened up the case to check things out. I got this microscope because I’m a “big girl” and I’m “responsible” (still a fatal flaw of mine) and this “isn’t something all little girls get to have.” All little girls aren’t budding science dorks, either. But I was.


I spent so much time looking at the anatomy of the common fruit fly and brine shrimp under that scope, that it’s kind of amazing I’m not blind in one eye. And then, the most amazing thing? My beloved Momma actually volunteered to stick her finger so that I could check out a blood smear up close and personal.


Oh. Holy. Shit.


Science was always my favorite subject in school from as early as I can recall. I’d always loved reading, so when we’d go to the library each week, my mom was carting out armloads of books about space, weather, the ocean and animals. Very early on, I decided that I was going to be an astronaut like the women in the books I’d read. The ultimate child nerd goal, right? All of my little friends slobbered over The Karate Kid, and I watched The Right Stuff for the millionth time because Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. How dreamy is that?


The thing about girls and science is that we’re automatically the underdog. Underestimated. Unappreciated. No one expects us to know what we’re doing or to have the answers. So all of that, coupled with the idea that we all suck at math, sets a lot us up for big time failure. Or worse, it makes some of us not even attempt the goals we had envisioned for ourselves. We let the idea that we’re not good enough hold us back from our dreams.


Being held back from what we want or dream about isn’t something that is strictly reserved for the professional world. As women, we have to fight on a daily basis to keep others from holding us down, even if it’s just the simple act of another person raining on our parade. But when we’re faced with these situations, we have a few choices: we can accept it, knowing not much will change, or we can use that energy as a catalyst, and blast ourselves forward.


I chose the latter.


It wasn’t easy for me to get here—I took many scenic routes, got sidetracked a few times, and even had a professor tell me I wasn’t smart enough. But I had another very wise professor remind me of something important that has always stuck with me: everything we need to reach our goals is out there. We just have to be willing to fight for it, if reaching our goals means that much to us.


So I fought. I fought for every A on every exam, I fought to prove that I was smart (because no one should have ever told me otherwise) and I fought to land the job I wanted in the lab I wanted to work in at the hospital of my dreams. Being held down, held back, settling for less? That was absolutely not an option.


It was more than a labor of love, and more than a mission. Looking back, reaching this goal was so much bigger than me. It wasn’t ever something insurmountable, but for the first time I had an insanely huge project on my hands, and I was going to finish. No one was going to stop me.


Everything paid off when I got an interview with the hospital I’d dreamed of working at since I’d started this mess. It all fell into place when I was offered a job. I’m not sure if it’s true for all people, but it’s a surreal kind of thing when the sweat and tears make everything worth it; sort of like a flashback, maybe. All of the hard times, awful moments, crying fits, everything rushes before you…but you’re just standing there holding your prize. I might have been holding onto it for dear life, but it was all mine.


It’s no secret that the worlds of science and medicine are male dominated fields. My career isn’t really any different—all of my managers and supervisors are male. But I’ve been very lucky because I’ve never felt that I’ve had to prove anything to anyone. My bosses understand and respect my strong work ethic, and my ideas are just as important as anyone else’s. I know that this isn’t the norm for everyone, but I’d like to think that this is a direct result of my hard work and desire for not settling for less.


I’ve never been a fan of Disney movies or princesses, but Cinderella had a damn good point: a dream is a wish your heart makes. I just wish she would have elaborated a little about how not to let anyone—significant other, best friend, family member, professor, bus driver, whatever—crap all over it. We’re not going to get anywhere in this life if we don’t soldier on and stop letting people hold us back from what we truly deserve.

Illustration by Miguel Johnson
Written by Emily Hipsher

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