Hey there! I’m Catherine, a member of the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) class of 2019/2023. I’ll writing for Blogside Manner this year, posting updates about the Program, the grueling application process, my life as a Brown student, and perspectives on being a STEM student at Brown. Hopefully, I can give some insight into the Brown experience, and see some prospective students on campus in the coming years!
Like the MCAT, PLME, tragically, requires a year of physics. However, PLMEs can choose to fulfill the physics requirement through engineering, pure physics, or a mix of the two. I chose full on engineering. During these past semesters, I realized I DO NOT want to be a doctor-engineer no matter how cool that would sound. But in the School of Engineering, I made some great friends. These friends are impressively physics, engineering, and math minded; I bow to them, for I am not. One of these genius friends, is Kelly Williams, a biracial Japanese American freshman from the East Bay area in California.
What are you concentrating in?
At this point I think I’m going to concentrate in biomedical engineering (biomed engine).
At Brown it’s an interdisciplinary concentration with the School of Engineering and the medical school (Alpert). It will offer me a lot of interesting opportunities to be able to sort of explore more of the human side of what I’m doing as opposed to just focusing on the technical.
Why did you choose your concentration rather than other options?
I started off thinking I would do chemical [engineering] initially. I enjoy doing chemistry, but I’m just not passionate about it in the same way I am really passionate about bio and its actual applications. And, I feel like I would have been limited by chem. A lot of the opportunities within chemistry, chemmy, are working on an oil rig in Texas which is something a lot of people from Brown don’t want to do, so chemical engineering firms don’t really recruit at Brown.
And, I knew I wanted to work in biotech so [biomedical engineering] made sense.
What has been your experience in STEM courses at Brown?
Personally I feel like, maybe this is true just for math and engine, the guys just talk so much more than the girls; it’s honestly a little absurd.
The faculty is great. They obviously love their job, that’s very inspiring for me to see. It’s definitely a cool thing to see adults who are working in STEM who are doing their own research.
In terms of class, they’re difficult but you learn a lot really quickly, and it’s intellectually challenging which I really appreciate. I feel like in terms of box checking it’s, well I guess it depends on what class you’re in, fairly diverse in terms of gender but not so much race. There are obviously some groups that are really underrepresented in STEM like Latinix and Black. There are a lot of white people and South and East Asian people.
Also, it’s not that there aren’t as many women, I just feel like…. Well, I did robotics team in high school, so I knew a lot of people who wanted to be engineers. It just seemed like the guys had more opportunities when they were kids, and therefore just had more background knowledge of engineering from working with their dads or boy scouts. They just had all this background knowledge when girls [come into Intro to Engineering] having their first experience with [engineering]. I feel that’s why [girls] are more likely to drop out, if ENGN 3 (Intro to Engineering) is your first experience with engineering. That specific class could end up discounting an entire career or field.
What do you think could have improved your experience as a STEM student?
I feel like they throw you in without telling you what you’re in for. I had a pretty strong background in STEM from AP work in high school, but I know a lot of people who didn’t and really struggled because of it. Actually, not having a strong physics background is hard to overcome especially in engine. That’s something I didn’t think about in high school like, “I should really learn how to draw a free body diagram before I get to college.”
Besides, that [classes are] definitely taught very differently from high school classes. I think more so than in the humanities.
What are challenges that you think Women especially Women of Color face in STEM?
This isn’t as prevalent at Brown, but it is hard to be in a field where there aren’t a lot of people who look like you. I feel like that is an issue for women and women of color. Although, there is faculty within the STEM departments, like I’ve had female profs for chem. All my classes this semester have female professors, but they aren’t the course heads especially in engineering.
I guess that’s the glass ceiling. You can ascend to a certain point, but at a certain level your promotion is not based on merit anymore. It’s based on how liked you are by the managers or the board or whatever, and that is something that can be very consciously and unconsciously gendered.
What do you think should be done for Women and Women of Color in STEM?
I’m not super active in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), but they create a community within the engineering department. I know the National Society of Black Engineers, which I’m not super familiar with, also does. These groups play a role in sort of creating some solidarity and showing potential engineers that there is representation within their field and that they can become an engineer.
SWE also does a good job of providing scholarships as well which also helps in terms of representation.
What advice would you give to yourself first semester?
Don’t take five classes. Just don’t take five classes ever.
The group of people within STEM is very interesting, so I would want to try to met more people within those classes.
PSA from Kelly: Don’t Take Five Classes, when three are concentration requirements.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Funny Gifs? Rugby Jokes? Cool New Music? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below! I’ll try to respond as soon as I can!