How a computer science podcast made me realize the influence of gender stereotypes on my identity

I kind of cheated a bit with choosing an uncomfortable piece of nonfiction to read. Well first, I didn’t read — I listened, to one of my all-time favorite podcasts called “Radiolab” by WNYC Studios. The discomfort comes from the certain episode I clicked on, which normally would be one I’d scroll past a million times and never, ever listen to.

Why? Well, it’s about computer science. It appeals to the EECS and CS majors of the world, something I couldn’t be farther from. In the podcast, they talked about the number “4096” like it was spiritual. They tried to explain a computer’s memory through “bits” and powers of 2 and lightbulbs. The entire time I was staring at a blank wall to make sure I’d pay attention. It was one of those podcasts where if lose interest for a even single sentence, you’re not going to understand the next 10 minutes of what they’re saying.

Thus, you probably understand why listening was difficult for me — numbers, computer processing, math. But my discomfort with science goes a bit deeper than just not being able to understand CS.

I went to a small, catholic K-8 school that reinforced typical gender stereotypes: boys are good at science and math and girls should stick to English and history. Since I knew I was a strong writer and could memorize historical facts, I believed them. This continued into my all-girls catholic high school education. English was our strongest department, and all things STEM was the lowest. So I stuck to what I knew. I took APUSH and AP English, and even though I found ecology and space completely fascinating, there was no way I’d ever take an AP science class.

I’ve said “I’m terrible at math” since I was in 6th grade. Even though I received stellar scores on science on the Iowa test and the ACT, I never gave it a second thought.

At Michigan, I was set to become a PitE major. I thought Earth and Environmental science would be too much math, or too “sciencey” for me — whatever that means. However, this summer, I went to Wyoming through U-M’s Earth science program called Camp Davis. I found out I love rock formations and the concept of dead zones and nutrient pollution. Not only did I love the material, but I received most of the top scores in the class. I even allowed myself to take Geobiology this semester (which happens to be my favorite class thus far).

I’m still hesitant about being a science major. I keep waiting for when it gets too “sciencey,” or when there’s a math problem I can’t solve. But I’m trying to find a comfortable home in my newfound STEM-ness. We’ll see how I do.

So I guess my discomfort with the computer science podcast comes from a place of deep-rooted gender stereotypes and extreme self-doubt. Maybe as I learn to be more okay with science in general, this won’t scare me as much. I’ll check back in a year or so.

One thought to “How a computer science podcast made me realize the influence of gender stereotypes on my identity”

  1. You are such a talented writer Livvy! I had a similar experience of assuming I must be good at social sciences and . bad at STEM, even though I went to public school and not a Catholic one. It’s so inspiring to see you push yourself out of that comfort zone and I have no doubt you’ll achieve great things in Environmental Science. 🙂

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