When I first started writing for The Prospect over a year ago, I wrote my first article (and one of my favorites so far) on my decision to major in Mechanical Engineering. I haven’t regretted my decision once, but there have definitely been lows and highs during this time. Like, I like what I’m doing, but do I love it? Or, this is fun, but do I really want to do this for the rest of my life? As cliché as it sounds, all of these things, plus all the homework, plus the I-can’t-believe-I’m-the-only-girl-in-this-class factor, have really made my decision stronger, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Ok, maybe a little less homework would help.
I went to a high school that really valued science and math over any other subjects, so many of my girl friends were going into some sort of engineering- or medicine-related course of study after high school. I knew far less girls in engineering than boys, but wow, was I surprised when I walked into my Intro to Mechanical Engineering class over a year ago and only saw one other girl. Today, more than a year later, most of my classes follow that same pattern. I guess I’ve gotten used to it because it wasn’t more than two weeks ago when I realized there was only one other girl in my Physics II class (and I’m talking about a class with more than sixty people).
From my own experience in high school, watching my female best friends (and myself) struggle and thrive through challenging math and science courses, I know girls are up for the challenge. I’ve met amazing girls in Mechanical Engineering, who are driven, responsible, and so many other things I aspire to be, and it truly makes me sad to see so many few girls in my sophomore-level classes sometimes. This reminds me of the Ban Bossy campaign because I’ve noticed girls in my classes are less likely than boys to sit in front or ask a lot of questions. While I’m definitely a huge nerd, and while I will probably continue to sit in the front for the rest of my academic life, it worries me that society has created an environment that makes girls feel like the odd ones out.
I’ve also been noticing how professors respond to this, and most of them either completely ignore you or like you immediately. For example, my Statics professor almost always exclusively refers to the class as “you boys.” I mean, I know there are like five girls here, but we are still here. On the other hand, my Physics professor, who is a woman, is super helpful. I walked into her office to pick up a test, never having talked to her before personally, and she knew my name and how I did on the test, and she was incredibly helpful. For the most part, I’ve had really great professors, and I’m very thankful for that. I’ve had a couple meh professors, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I’ve also noticed guys tend to underestimate girls in engineering classes. Whenever a professor says “discuss this with your neighbor,” or “check your answer with a partner” or anything like that, no one automatically runs to me. Having started college a semester early and going through general requirements at a fairly quick pace, I know I probably look younger than my classmates. I think I have a baby face, and more often than not, I’m wearing neon or pink, so I don’t look like a math whiz or anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart! So, on days when we receive graded exams, I love getting good grades and proving boys wrong while still wearing pink and a bow in my hair.
I’d be lying if I said it’s easy. It’s not. Most of the time it sucks. As I’m writing this, I’ve had at least three mental breakdowns because of schoolwork in the past two days. That “*panics and procrastinates simultaneously*” text post going around on Tumblr is basically my life. But engineering can be pretty amazing if you give it the chance. If you are a girl, and you think this might be what you want to do, then go for it. How did I know I wanted to go into engineering, and more specifically, mechanical? I knew that I wanted to build roller coasters one day. It really was as simple as that. Plus I love numbers, I really enjoy my math classes, and I have a love-hate relationship with physics (I love physics, physics does not love me back). And you won’t be completely alone. I like to think we girl engineers really look out for one another, and there’s probably a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers in your school.
Truthfully, I’m still not 100% sure of what I want to do the rest of my life. And I think that’s fine. I mean, I’m only eighteen. Sometimes we focus way too much on the end result instead of the journey. The end result depends on so many different things, and what we want now may not be what we want to tomorrow, but I’d like to think that as long as the journey is fun, you’re probably headed somewhere fun. So what is it like being a girl in Engineering? It’s a lot of things, but at the end of the day, it’s always fun.