Mad Scientist’s Apprentice: Introduction

When I talked to the editing staff about what I should do next for this blog, Pat Richardson pointed out that I’m a female in college for a STEM degree. That’s a hot topic, he said. You should write about it. I suspect I may have trouble keeping it interesting, but I will give it the old college try (and yes, that’s about the level of my humor, I’m apologizing in advance).

Muppet Balloon

Yep, I feel like this guy most of the time in classes.

Not only am I in college, I’m a non-traditional student. I started college 20 years ago (to the month). After a year, I got married, had kids, and it wasn’t until 2012 that I was able to get back to the interrupted plans I’d had of becoming a Mad Scientist. I’ve always wanted to study science, since I was a little girl beachcombing with my grandmother and devouring Jacques Cousteau books from the library (I didn’t find out about the TV shows until I was an adult, as I grew up with no TV). So here I am, a senior with three semesters remaining (which is what happens when you switch majors. Make a note, kids).

I’m currently enrolled for a dual major in Forensic Science and Investigation, and Microbiology. I am not sure I will finish the BS in Microbiology at this school for various reasons which I may discuss later. I’ve gotten through most, but not all of the ‘fluffy’ liberal arts classes this school requires of their BS majors on top of the core classes. Which means this semester’s schedule is all heavy classes. I’ve dropped back to seventeen credit hours  – more on killer class loads in another post – and am taking Calculus, Physics, Analytical Chemistry, and Forensic Evidence Collection. It’s going to be an interesting semester.

It was the first day of classes on Monday, and as I strolled across a sunny campus on my way to an 8:30 calculus class, I was watching the other students and thinking about the path that’s gotten me here. Unlike a lot of the incoming freshmen, when I went back to school, I needed and wanted a degree. I wasn’t doing this because I had been told I ought to, I was on a perilous path fraught with risks that might end in success and being able to support my family. Or it might crash on the jagged rocks of failure when I couldn’t hack the math/chemistry/whatever. My friends and family tease me now, three years in, about the way I panic with every oncoming semester. But it’s scary. If I flunk calculus, I set my education back by a year. I’m not sure I can afford another year of school, not only financially, but in the personal toll it would take on my family. Time is fleeting, and that pressure adds a dimension to school that isn’t comfortable.

Organic chemistry

Running a column chromatography in Organic Chemistry. I love labs.

I’m rambling a bit. My experiences are going to be unique, just as yours will. But I wanted to address a common misconception. There are not, currently, fewer females in STEM degrees than there are males. Anecdote is not data, but I have observed three years of classes, with the females equal to, or in excess of, the number of males. Being a female in these classes might have been rare a generation ago, and that has endured as urban legend, but it is certainly no longer the case. I sat in calculus on Monday morning and counted while the (female) professor took attendance. Equal numbers of males and females. I’ll have to see how it pans out by the end of the semester.

And I’ll leave you all with a physics problem. I came across this in the first week’s homework, and it amused me. Really, if you think about it this is pretty amazing.

Suppose your hair grows at the rate of 1/58 inch per day. Find the rate at which it grows in nanometers per second. Because the distance between atoms in a molecule is on the order of 0.1 nm, your answer suggests how rapidly atoms are assembled in this protein synthesis.

About Cedar Sanderson

Writer, mother, reader, gardener, cook… artist.

4 comments on “Mad Scientist’s Apprentice: Introduction

  1. Geology must be nearly half and half. I would expect bio to have more women than men. It’s only physics and engineering that are short on women these days right?

    I have only this semester to go to graduate. I wussed on the math though so my stem degree is a BA. I’m sort of embarrassed about that. 😦


    • Don’t be. I’m worried about the math. Calculus is looking brighter as I realize that my professor is very good *whew* But I don’t think I could go higher, as I would if I wanted to do engineering.

      And congratulations on your upcoming graduation!


  2. Good heavens, girl … you’re telling my life story almost. I did a year of college immediately after high school, then got married. Ten years and three babies later, I went back, initially for a nursing degree, but detoured to EMS. Then the big D and raw survival took precedence over education, but a few years later, I upgraded the EMT to paramedic. My life and path altered again, and I found myself back in the classroom seven years later, albeit virtual, when I enrolled for my fourth round in college, in an online program to obtain my computer science degree. Now in this discipline, women are very much in the minority – in my cohort of 25, I was one of four women. Since all classes were attended online, there was little to no interaction between the students, so I have no idea what the attitude of the men was towards us women, but the CompSci professors were all very encouraging and helpful. The humanities profs were a different story, but the subject matter easy enough to pass without getting all involved in the politics.

    Now out in the workplace, in the IT world, women are still out-numbered. There’s 2 women and 5 men on our specific team, extend to the next level and it’s 2 to 8. Our entire division numbers around 25, still we’re the only two women. But there’s no shenanigans or uncouth behavior on any level. I’ve been here almost 7 years, and these guys are like family. Oh, and who is the alpha in this pack? That’s right … you’re looking at her. 🙂

    All the whinging and bitching about women in STEM needing to “be welcomed” in, or “allowed” to be there is nonsense. You decide you want to do it, and you do it. No permission need be granted.

    Here’s a post and my comment in response to #shirtstorm you might enjoy: https://www.facebook.com/lissakay/posts/10153388018217575

    Oh, and …. YOU ROCK!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “All the whinging and bitching about women in STEM needing to “be welcomed” in, or “allowed” to be there is nonsense. You decide you want to do it, and you do it. No permission need be granted.”

      YES!! When Patrick asked me to do this series, that’s what I was thinking. We keep telling girls that they have to push their way into this field, but it’s not true. If you want it, you walk in.

      The only discrimination I’ve faced in a class was from a female professor of literature who did NOT like that I was already published. She told the rest of the class to feel free to ignore me even though I was ‘old and experienced’ and I spent the remainder of the semester sitting in the back corner with my mouth shut (I usually sit in the front row for hearing).

      I’ll try to look at it, but I’m logged out of Facebook for at least a week, maybe longer. I’ll probably check in over the weekend.


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