Talent and effort: girls in science

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Motivating girls from an early age to know the meaning of "doing science" is key to the development of new research. This means that as teachers and researchers in these disciplines, we must make a major effort in the search for funding for projects with this objective.

In 2013, Paloma Noyola rose to fame when she won first place nationwide on the ENLACE test (standardized assessment in Mexico). Her intelligence was compared to that of the founder of Apple, resulting in the magazine Wired publishing a picture of her on the cover with the headline: “The Next Steve Jobs”. In 2016, Olga Medrano made news across the country and was called Lady Mathematics, when she won the gold medal in the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad. What do these two successful girls have in common, apart from their talent for mathematics?

Paloma comes from a lower socioeconomic level and attends a school in one of the most underprivileged areas of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, while Olga, who is from Zapopan, Jalisco, comes from a middle-class family. Therefore, they have clearly both experienced different circumstances and challenges specific to their social environments.

 

"The role of teachers in the classroom is essential to foster curiosity and a liking for mathematics."

 

After analyzing the answers both girls gave in interviews and documentaries in diverse media, I discovered three characteristics that I believe they have in common:

  1. The moral and economic support of their families, who, despite limitations, have encouraged them to pursue their studies.
  2. The tenacity and focus displayed by Paloma and Olga when preparing for a math competition, as well as their innate talent, of course.
  3. The fact that a teacher had the capacity to recognize the girls’ talent, support them and awaken their curiosity and liking for this subject, making them want to deepen their knowledge.

The important question is: How can we support and encourage our girls and young women to practice this discipline, or any other related to science, so as to discover more pupils like Paloma and Olga in the coming years? This topic is critical in order to achieve greater participation by girls and women in the fields of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM).

A study conducted in 14 countries revealed that the likelihood of female students completing a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a science-related subject is 18%, 8% and 2%, respectively, compared to 37%, 18% and 6% for male students. This is the reason why the Agenda 2030 Mexico for Sustainable Development includes gender equality in science as a key topic.  

 

"The inclusion of a greater number of girls in science from an early age will be fundamental for the development of new research and our own understanding of the sciences and their potential."

 

Therefore, professors and researchers in these disciplines must necessarily make a significant effort to find financial support for projects related to this cause and motivate girls from an early age to become interested in and aware of the meaning of “doing science”, as well as the wonders of this profession.

International programs such as “1000 girls, 1000 futures”, organized by the New York Academy of Sciences, seeks to foment the early engagement of young girls in this field. I have had the fortune to collaborate as a mentor in this initiative to a girl from a region near Puebla, who, through this program, has been able to travel to New York and consider studying a degree in computer science.

This type of experiences provides young girls with more opportunities for their professional development and to apply their talent in traditionally “masculine” areas. The inclusion of a greater number of girls in science at an early age will be key to the development of new research and our own understanding of science and its potential.

 

About the author

Ruth Rodríguez Gallegos is a research professor in Educational Mathematics at Tecnológico de Monterrey. Her areas of interest are: the use of Mathematics in fields of Engineering and computer modeling and simulation.