In my last post, I spoke about women in STEM fields and stated that I would be interviewing Dr. Sojka, an Environmental Science and Physics professor at Randolph College. She earned her undergraduate degree at Eckerd College (liberal arts) in Environmental Studies-Public Policy. Following her undergraduate career, Dr. Sojka obtained her M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of Virginia. I was very fortunate to be able to interview her as she shared her experiences as a woman in a STEM field. Below you can find my interview with her!
- How old were you when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in a science field?
I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t love science. When I went to college, they did not have environmental science at my school, so I studied environmental policy. By the time I graduated, I knew that I wanted to follow a career more focused on science than policy.
- What was your parents’ opinion on you being a woman entering into environmental sciences? Were they supportive?
My parents have always been very supportive. I asked my mom if she was surprised when I went into environmental science and she said, “I would have been surprised if you did anything else.” Working women are definitely nothing new in my family; both of my grandmothers worked for much of their adult lives. I am even one of very few women my age who can say that my grandmother was a physicist.
- Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I am really lucky in that I have never had to think much about being a feminist. I absolutely believe in gender equality and have probably even fought for it without even realizing that was what I was doing. In actions and beliefs, I am almost certainly a feminist, but have never really identified myself as one.
- Did you encounter any discrimination or challenges through your education process or during your career?
I have been really fortunate to have had really supportive mentors and colleagues throughout my career, but that doesn’t mean I have not encountered discrimination. One of the moments I remember most clearly was as a new graduate student. One of my advisers had just had twins and was also the director of the research site where we worked. Every January, we had a large meeting of all of the faculty and students who worked at the site and my adviser had to miss the meeting because she was at a board meeting for a journal she edited, clearly a professional conflict. The former director of the site chaired the meeting and announced on the first day that my adviser would be there “but you know, she just had twins.” I do not know that I can exactly explain why that offended me, but I remember feeling much less welcome than I had before.
- As a woman in a STEM field, do you ever receive questions from people that you are tired of hearing or are not comfortable answering?
Women are much more prominent in some fields of science than others and environmental science is one of those fields. I get much more of a response when I mention that I teach physics. I worked in the engineering and construction field a lot between graduate school and teaching at Randolph and I also got a lot of surprise there. I do not think that I really get questions that make me uncomfortable.
- Why is there still not a whole lot of women in STEM careers even though the government is pushing the idea so heavily?
If I could completely solve this, I definitely would. Most of the information we see is that young women lose interest in science and math and begin to doubt their abilities around middle school. I think we still give young girls the message that science and math are for boys. I think we also paint a picture of a scientist that doesn’t appeal to many girls: a man in a coat, working long hours by himself.
- Do you believe having more women in STEM fields would beneficial or would it not make much of a difference?
I think that increasing the diversity in STEM fields in general would be beneficial. I am generally skeptical of arguments that talk about women bringing a special set of skills or characteristics to STEM fields because I think everyone is different. That said, I think there are a lot of women who could make great contributions in STEM fields who choose other paths.