The Santa Barbara STEM Major, and Seeing Yourself in Science

After one of our weekly research group meetings, Dr. Moskovits (my advisor) regaled us with stories of his trips around the world, of the food he has eaten and the beautiful places he has visited throughout his life. When he came to the EUREKA Dinner with Faculty, he entertained our entire table with the jokes and stories he’s accumulated over his career.

At the same dinner, I met a number of other professors who are equally entertaining and worldly—in particular, I spoke to Drs. Joel Rothman and David Lowe, whose characteristic sense of humor is definitely Dad Joke™. I think every undergraduate who attended was enthralled with the warmth and depth of personality that each of these professional researchers possessed.

The stereotypical STEM major is characterized by a lack of hygiene, interpersonal skills, and appreciation for activities that do not involve a computer. I do know plenty of scientists and engineers who scoff at any artistic, spiritual, or physical endeavor outside of the lab. These people do exist—as they do in all fields.

Upon entering college, I was extremely surprised and very happy to realize that the vast majority of the STEM fields are composed of talented human beings of every flavor and fashion. Scientific research is not conducted in basements exclusively by old white men with crazy hair (this I say in loving acknowledgment of many friends and researchers I know). Perhaps this was once true, but today’s leading researchers and innovators are vivid personalities with amazing stories to tell.

For each of the shut-in savants I’ve met, I could fill entire lecture halls with hilarious, athletic, artistic, and inspiration people who have enriched my pursuit of a STEM education. We are yoga instructors, artists, scholarship athletes, musicians. We are some of the best-dressed, well-read students and professionals around town. The fields we work in require us to hone our written and oral communication skills and to thrive in team settings.

The scientific fields are becoming more accepting and accessible to students from all walks of life, but that may only be apparent once immersed in the world of science. You don’t see this in popular culture or even from high school counselors. For those on the outside—the students who are making the crucial decision whether or not to pursue a career in STEM—this kind of stereotypical and patently false image is off-putting and discouraging.

That is why it is so important for scientific institutions to have these blogs, and outreach programs, and community participation—to show, not just tell the world what the true scientific community looks like, and to show children and young adults that they have a place in it.

Scientific researchers don’t just look like Einstein and stock photos of Mad Scientists. Scientific researchers look like you and me—young people with backgrounds as diverse as the passions and pursuits we have, both inside and outside of science.

Rachel Alvelais

Rachel is entering her second year as a Chemistry major at UCSB. Her desire to understand the universe has led her to pursue a career in scientific research and to create innovative solutions to the problems of the future. This summer she will be electrochemically depositing solar absorbers on the nano scale in the Moskovits lab. She also interns for CSEP, where she hopes to instill a passion for science in young students from minority, low-income, and first-generation backgrounds, and to help them receive the same opportunities she has been given.

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