Reflections on Women in STEM

By Dominque Thomas, Girls in Science Fellow 2019

As I’m writing this, I am finishing up my time in Woods Hole for my Earthwatch Girls in Science fellowship. This week has been an amazing experience for me to work with an amazing all-female research team and introduce myself to a marine biology career. Before I pack my overstuffed suitcase and board a bus back to Boston, I want to take the time to reflect on how this past week, along with other times in my life, have shaped me as a young woman in science.

Saturday mornings for most second-graders are normally spent sleeping in and watching cartoons, but my weekend routine was a little different. At 10 a.m., I’d be at Northeastern University’s Science Club for Girls. This eight-week program is designed to get girls interested in STEM – a program for girls, by girls. Each session had a different theme: one semester, we would build model rockets to learn about chemical reactions; during another, we would explore our five senses and discover how our bodies worked. Not only was I fascinated by the new facts I was learning, but the mentors – high school and college students – made sure each activity was filled with fun. This made me realize I wanted to stay in this kind of supportive, encouraging environment and returned every year through 8th grade.

I mentioned that mentors were a reason why I continued going to Science Club. Being surrounded by strong women in STEM at an early age gave me hope that someday I would be able to share my passion for science with others. Their energy rubbed off on me. It also taught me the importance of having connections at an early age. Seriously, these women were doing amazing things. I remember one of my mentors (Laura, if you’re reading this – hi!!) spending a couple of months doing a co-op in Antarctica dissecting and studying fish. Before leaving, she shared how much she loved marine biology. I kept in touch with her through her blog, titled “Laura is Far Away,” and I began to consider marine biology and field research as a possible career.

After receiving guidance from all of my mentors at Science Club, I decided that I wanted to give back to the program that had helped me grow so much by becoming a junior mentor during my freshman year of high school. I joined one other high schooler and three college students to mentor the cutest group of kindergarteners and first-graders. Our theme for the semester was “matter and slime,” so we had fun getting our hands dirty for science. The Jell-O, an edible experiment, was an especially big hit. Seeing the spark in all of their eyes each week drove home the importance of seeing female scientists in action.

Fast forward two years, and now I’m here at Earthwatch. These seven days of the Girls in Science fellowship have taught me so much about myself, as well as the time I’ve spent getting to know the other nine fellows and the many powerful women who have shared their science journeys with us. Each person was unique. I appreciate how this program has introduced me to a branch of STEM research I’d never really gotten hands-on experience with. I’m usually working with the biomedical sciences, and I enjoyed learning more about our environment and the ways scientists are trying to protect it. Also, I got to see wild dolphins for the first time during a whale watch!

Being on an all-female team has further developed me as a female scientist because of the supportive environment I was constantly in. We explored, encouraged each other, and inspired each other. We problem-solved, whether that meant identifying a specific seabird or deciding who got to shower first. We all have the same common goal of becoming powerful female scientists. I feel like we all got to know each other well this week.

Dolphins seen during the whale watch. (Courtesy Grace Simpkins/WHOI Sea Grant)
Makkia, Dominique, and Meghan on the whale watch. (Courtesy Grace Simpkins/WHOI Sea Grant)
Another boat seen during the whale watch. (Courtesy Grace Simpkins/WHOI Sea Grant)

As for what the future holds, I’m not exactly sure. I like to think I have my future all planned out, but I know that plans change. I’m thinking of studying neuroscience in college because I’m interested in human behavior and how the brain works. Building off of that, I’m thinking of creative ways to tie in research and the arts. I might want to enter the research world and maybe run my own lab someday. I know, it’s a big dream, and it will take a lot of hard work to get there. For now, my focus for high school is to get as many hands-on STEM experiences as I can, and Girls in Science has been one that I’ll never forget.

Visit our website to learn more about the Earthwatch Girls in Science Fellowship.

Sign up for the Earthwatch Newsletter

Stay informed on Earthwatch news and updates by filling out the form below.