I care very deeply about encouraging people to be scientists or simply to stay interested in science, whatever else you may do with your life. This is especially important for young girls and women: although a lot of the old barriers of access to education and jobs have fallen, there are still a lot of cultural barriers that still stand (not to mention the eternal travesty of pay differences between men and women performing exactly the same work). There may be fewer sexist male scientists actively standing in the way of women’s progress into the various scientific professions, but the “boys are better than girls at math and science” stereotype persists—despite strong evidence to the contrary!
So here’s a positive story to melt my heart, as it melted the heart of the man who wrote it, from the blog It’s Okay to Be Smart. The author’s niece is a 7-year-old second grader who absolutely loves science, and he recognizes his own role in inspiring her in the past (he’s obviously her favorite uncle, as many little kids idolize older relatives), but he also realizes how important his personal relationship with her can be in the future, when social pressures might help push the girl away from science. Please read what he wrote, and pass it along to your friends—it’s important stuff.
My own niece is only 2-1/2 years old—too young even for most science toys—but it won’t be long before she’ll be open to learning about all sorts of things, hopefully including science. Her parents will certainly be encouraging in that direction, but as her scientist-uncle, I’m someone who actually practices and writes about science, so I have a responsibility to help as well as I can. I hope I am up to the task.
(I should note that Jorge Cham, who drew the “propaganda poster” to the right and who has drawn the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip for over 10 years, writes female scientist characters who are fully realized, not merely stereotypes or men in disguise.)