Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On Being a Mines Girl

This summer, I received an email from an incoming student asking about various things. One of these things was the ratio of female to male students at Mines, otherwise known as "The Ratio". 

Back in my day, (Fall 2011), the incoming freshman class had a 25% representation of women. This Fall, it is up to 31%. Bravo! I can't wait to read what it is in another four years. 

Since becoming a Mines Girl four years ago, I get some questions quite frequently, mostly in passing conversation. When I meet students from other universities, they sometimes have questions on "what it's like going to Mines". I reply that it's academically hard. They reply something like, "No, what's it like being a female at Mines?" I reply that it's academically hard. Wait, what?

But to answer the question, I loved being a member of the Mines community and culture. It's a very unique place, and I can understand that incoming students or friends and family of students may have a few questions. 

Such as...
Is living with The Ratio weird? Sometimes. Sometimes you'll be in a certain class (computer science courses are notorious) and realize you are one of three girls in the room among 30 guys, and it's kind of weird.

Most of the time it's only mildly weird and students will always point out the ratio: like when you go out for froyo with a group of friends and there is nearly half and half women to men, and everybody rejoices. I think that's kind of weird.

I was in a major with 40% girls, and also involved with clubs that are almost always of balanced gender. But even when in social situations where I was the only girl, I didn't really notice it. People are just people to me. But there will always be people who point out the ratio when you forgot it, and it just turns into a overused joke in my opinion. Some girls during their time at Mines feel like they need more interaction with females, so they join a sorority or something. But I never felt this way. 
Is the female population seen as a shortage, or as misplaced uncommon species? Yes and sometimes yes--mostly from a social standpoint. Mines guys, bless their hearts, are never going to be quiet about the Mines ratio and how they can't find a girlfriend. How girls are unicorns or other rare species. Or parking spaces. It gets annoying but everybody learns to deal with it. It also gets annoying when the Mines girls complain and over exaggerate on how desperate Mines guys are and how many offers of marriage they've gotten in the past day (slight hyperbole added). 
Do I ever feel people see me as less likely to be capable because of my gender? No, but yes. This is a pretty big issue in the sciences, but during my time at Mines, I never felt like a victim of sexism or degraded or thought less capable because of my gender. That said, it still happens many places, and sometimes it is more subtle than we realize. For example, a hypothetical professor might assume that his male student writes better code than female students. Or male students might unknowingly take the word of their male colleagues over female colleague's when asking for help on homework or something. Or in another scenario, women might tend to feel intimidated in class discussion or tend to let the guys handle the discussion and end up sabotaging ourselves in a form of imposter syndrome. These are all situations that probably happen often, but again very subtly. They are important to recognize and be aware of so we can all, both female and male, change the culture that is in STEM. 

I remember this one time in class sophomore year, one of my professors spent the entire lecture discussing the Imposter Syndrome with us. Our homework assignment was to write down a list of things we were good at. It was a pretty great day. Moments like these, combined with seminars by campus clubs made us aware and prepared us for potential obstacles for women in STEM. 
Overall, is the ratio an issue? No, it shouldn't be, and in a couple decades it won't be at all. But it still is a part of Mines' culture, for the better or worse.

Unfortunately some Mines guys will complain about how ugly Mines girls are (um sorry, but who has time to comb their hair?? If you look good, I will probably judge you), how mean and terrible they are, and how they use them for homework answers, and on and on. And us Mines girls have had the same complaints about the male population. The cliche's get thrown around until you're sick of hearing them (like "The odds are good, but the goods are odd"). And then you graduate. 

On a different note, the culture at Mines is such that I felt completely safe in Golden, even in the dead of night. Once time I woke up one morning to find a bike seat left in my car--a sort of reverse robbery--but that was about it. 

The bottom line is that in college, you learn to thrive in your environment, and create your own social circle. I'm proud to have been part of the tradition of women at Mines becoming helluva engineers. My fellow Lady Miners have been some of the strongest, hardest-working, most emotionally mature, and most brilliant people I've had the privilege of calling friends. And the same goes for my Mines guy friends who have been pretty awesome too. 

Going to a nerd school was kind of great.