Is Passion Enough for Women in STEM?
As the UK welcomes British Science Week, I've been thinking about the experiences women have that motivate their dreams of being a STEM professional. What prompts women to choose careers in a field that is still notorious for being a 'boys club'? What do these women have in common? Passion for STEM? Surely it can't just be this, because there are so many obstacles to overcome that could tamper the most passionate of women. I wanted a broader perspective beyond myself, so I discussed it with Meredith Garofalo (@GarofaloWX). She's a scientist and Certified Broadcast Meteorologist by the American Meteorological Society for WeatherNation, a National network out of Denver, Colorado.
"To me, passion is something that keeps you going every day. It radiates from within you, motivates those around you, and helps make a difference in the lives of others." -Meredith Garofalo
When Meredith says this, she is not kidding - she literally embodies these words. It shines through her emails, her Facebook posts, her Tweets, and her appearances on TV. I don't think she even means to sound so positive and genuine, but this woman is so passionate about her job that every question I asked her oozed with passion. For her, it is not a necessity; it is a fundamental lifeline that has kept her harnessed to her dreams, even during the windiest of storms. (She also loves to slip frequent weather-related puns into her emails, which I think has rubbed off on me!) But these storms have played an integral role in developing the passions in her life.
Meredith's dedication to science and weather began at a young age, all because of the impact of a story her mother told her about helping victims of a tornado in 1974. She grew up studying the weather, putting on reports at school and watching her role models on TV, all the while dreaming of being a TV weather broadcaster. She earned her degree and often channelled her childhood dreams to get through the hardest of her classes and encourage herself to prove any naysayers wrong. "Although it took a little extra time to move past some of the storms that developed in my life, I always promised myself that I would never, ever give up!"
From speaking with Meredith and reading the accounts of so many other women in STEM, this attitude seems to be shared – a relentless dedication. But this isn't the whole story of what binds together "Women in STEM", as it has become, but something more.
The framework that supports a kind of lasting passion is not, of course, developed overnight. Meredith believes "that every moment, good and bad, is crucial for success. We learn so much from our failures to become a better person and, as a result, we grow and develop an even stronger passion.". Sounds quite familiar to my take on the infamous F-Word - "failure" (see my post here!) - and that we need to look at it through a new lens. When her forecast does not turn out the way she expects, she takes it as a learning experience to hone the skills that she is so passionate about - and it has served her well. Her fervour, encouraged by the challenges faced, has led her to be an award-winning Weathercaster, celebrated for her dedication to her job and community.
Although she has a deep love of helping those all over the United States and the Caribbean stay safe, it has come with the price of increased scrutiny. Not scrutiny in how she reports or the science she uses, but criticism of her appearance. People actually email her to chastise what she wears, how it fits, or her weight. I want to say this is unbelievable, but of course, it isn't, even in 2020. However, Meredith has an eternally sunny disposition and wouldn't let any internet troll rain on her parade. She used those emails to identify a greater need in society that inspired a new passion for her job. Using her platform as a TV personality, Meredith encourages young girls to "love who you are and be your best self, despite what anyone else thinks" and to get involved in STEM jobs. Rather than allowing her confidence to be damaged by 'haters', she saw a silver lining in a dark cloud to strengthen herself as the empowered woman she is.
Passion has guided Meredith like a gale-force wind – strong and sustaining. It has pushed her past perceived limitations, guiding her to further success.
But passion defined as intense enthusiasm for something we might be innately good at or love isn't what women in STEM have in common. That would be an easy way to dismiss its role or usefulness. What passion (and dedication) requires to be practical and worthy of developing in a career, is coupling it with a growth mindset. In other words, if passion is the driver of life, then a growth mindset is the proverbial backseat-driver, critically pointing out how best to make the next move. Meredith, and her work, is a perfect example of this. She has used her passions and their challenges to inform her next steps by thoughtfully considering what they mean – and seeing opportunities within them. Reflecting on challenges to passion as a positive means to success is really what women in STEM have in common.
Thus, passion is enough, as long as it isn't in a head-in-the-cloud, dreamy kind of way. True passion requires perseverance and a growth mindset. And maybe a little positivity – rain or shine.
STEM Editor, Tia Luker-Putra
Tia is a Canadian high school French language turned elementary science teacher of 13 years, living in Shanghai. She is passionate about working with teachers and students to help improve curriculum, especially science. She also has a love for the Sustainability Development Goals of the UN and teaching students about them. She believes it is important to develop empathy in students and connect them with the world around them, and solving the world's biggest problems is a great way to do it! Tia loves to travel, be outside, share her experiences on Twitter, and hang out with her wife and their cat, Kimchi. Twitter
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