“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Isak Dinesen
The last few years, I have become increasingly aware of the imbalance within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) community. Without getting into the facts and stats quite yet, let’s just say that women and girls are not exactly well represented. The more I learn about these issues, the more reflective I am about my own personal journey academically and professionally. In a moment that was 50% human need to fit experiences into neat, categorized boxes, and 50% over caffeinated and under rested, I began to think of my experiences in terms of the above quote.
Since I was in elementary school, this has been one of my favorite quotes (However, I personally add one more to this list: blood. You’ll see why). Maybe I liked the imagery, maybe I liked the idea of simple solutions. Who knows why it stuck with me at so young an age. But whatever the reasons, it did. And it has become a bit of a personal mantra for me. It helps to calm me down when I am struggling, and it is a cheer when I achieve something I’ve been working for – like this blog! But mainly it reminds me of where I came from, where I am going, and it helps to keep me humble. Without these four kinds of saltwater, I would not be who I am today.
Sweat – It has taken A LOT of hard work to get my degrees and to do the jobs that I have done. Science, mathematics, logical, right-brain type thinking does not come naturally to me. Not at all! I am very much a crazy, unstructured, fly-by-the-seat of my pants, left-brain type. Don’t believe me? Come to our apartment. Within 30 seconds you’ll change your tune! I have always loved and easily learned biology (and it’s related cousins/subtypes environmental science, physiology, zoology, ecology etc.). But the other STEM subjects that weave into biology like statistics, calculus, chemistry, physics… You know, pretty much EVERYTHING else, was a real struggle for me. When I decided to pursue a degree and career in marine biology, I made a conscious decision to retrain my brain for those subjects. And obviously it was not easy. Starting day one, I have persevered and sweated my way through the life I chose. Hours upon hours of classwork, studying, job training, etc. And don’t get me started on the extreme physical nature of everything! Think scientists are all puny nerds barely able to support their own heads? Meet a actively working marine biologist and prepare to get your butt kicked (figuratively of course 😉 ) But it was all worth it. If you allow yourself to be held back by something being difficult, you will never achieve your full potential. Struggling is not a sign of weakness – it is a sign you just gotta keep working at something. Maybe you need help, a little extra instruction or extra practice time. But it does not mean you CAN’T. If your dream (or even just had the passing thought) that you would like to learn more STEM or become a STEM professional, then do not let ANYTHING stand in your way – including yourself!