If you are a female scientist and a fan of TV shows then there must be a point in your life where you wondered, “Am I really supposed to look like Dr. Gray or Dr. Brennan?” The media certainly does not have the most accurate portrayal of female scientists, but the truth it reveals is that the world’s most reprised and popular portrayals of female scientists is fundamentally skewed toward a very narrow representation of the female scientist population. Somewhere within my subconscious, I normalized this idea and failed to settle with that skewed image as an International Womxn of Color.
PLEN has been an eye-opening experience in which I saw real scientists (womxn) who did not try to fit into this image but instead took a canvas and started painting it for themselves. These womxn have explored various fields and challenged themselves with various opportunities. They have made risks, by changing jobs and location, but never stopped dreaming big and moving forward.
I remember a particular moment in the panel discussion on equity in which a participant asked many intriguing and relevant questions. After some time, she initiated her next comment with an apology out of force of habit. One panelist, Eleanor Sarkodie, immediately vocalized that she should never be sorry for asking questions. This moment sparked a vital conversation around the notion of “fitting the criteria,” what comes with having very specific expectations, and being put into a box. PLEN helped me learn that part of thinking outside the box is in not trying to fit in one.
"Fitting into a box" becomes problematic when the box is not shaped multi-dimensionally, which almost every person is. Womxn especially face this problem in disproving stereotypes and expectations such as those portrayed by many movies about female scientists.
I am a scientist interested in health care, though at St. Lawrence University I am also a community assistant and International Affairs Chair in Student Government. Thus, I have struggled to intertwine my interests in science and advocacy.
When I began to look outside the box, it was refreshing to see what was waiting for me, and that is where the beauty of PLEN shines through. PLEN introduced me to fields within advocacy and policy making, as well as careers on Capitol Hill, which female scientists have shown to be vital.
The diversity of interests and involvement in science spans beyond what I could have imagined. PLEN has shown me the power of valuing intersectionality, interest, and individuality. A timely example "In the Time of COVID-19" is the importance of having immunologists and virologists involved in the making of current policies and procedures.
I left my PLEN experience in knowing to value my worth beyond the box. The conference made space for this to play out in various workshops, including negotiating salary and resume development. I learned to understand my needs, acknowledge my worth and not be afraid of voicing it. With these practices, PLEN offered the tools for developing critical techniques to enable me to communicate my abilities and needs. I am incredibly excited as I will continue to grow, research, and learn more.
As you step away from the confinement of these “boxes,” you realize that the idea of being “too much” and being interested in “too many things” is unnecessary and unproductive. During the conference, I remember speakers such as Zuraya Tapia-Hadley who is fearless and vocal in her pursuit for making positive change. When you have too many interests, it is important to explore the field and career that allows you to incorporate your inherent “too much” and satisfy “too many interests”.
On the last note, I want to voice out one more lesson I learned from the “Tackling Health Inequalities and Disparities” session. Part of the journey of empowerment is in knowing that it is a journey and not a destination. There are always many lessons to learn and unlearn. Additionally, it is important to practice a balance between self-love and constructive self-criticism. I will continue to grow, challenge myself and research knowing that PLEN has sparked thoughts in me that will shine light on branches along my journey that I look forward to exploring.
Aseman Bagheri Sheshdeh is a junior at St. Lawrence University (Class of 2022), majoring in Neuroscience and Mathematics. She attended the Women in Science and Health Innovation in the Time of Covid-19 Seminar. Her LinkedIn profile can be found at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aseman-bagheri/