The first week of school just finished and I’ve already noticed a problem: only 6% of my physics class is female. Physics 13 (Introduction to Modern Physics) is not a class that should scare people. The word physics in general shouldn’t scare people, specifically. Granted, for this class Physics 11 and Physics 12 are recommended. But, all engineers have to take Physics 11 and 12, so why aren’t more female engineers taking Physics 13 as their natural science credit?
Physics isn’t just about extremely complicated equations. Sure, the math is important, but if you understand the concepts, then there should be no problem figuring out what the math is really telling you. I won’t sugar coat it, Physics 11 and 12 are very math heavy and I’m not a very strong student so I struggled a bit in these classes. But, Physics 13 is mostly conceptual with a sprinkle of math on top. So, anybody who made it through Physics 11 and 12 can do Physics 13. Plus! Professor Gallagher, who is teaching the course this semester, loves the material and makes you want to learn it too. And, as an added bonus, there’s no lab, so this is a natural science that isn’t as much of a time commitment as other natural sciences may be.
Physics is unlike any other science because it's mostly math. It describes the world we live in in a mathematical way. I think it is important for everyone, not just women, to understand why things happen the way they do. For women, specifically, studying physics will give you a leg up in the world. Women physicists are rare and can give a new take on the equations and theories already out there. Physics will teach you to think in a logical manner. In addition, studies have shown that people who studied physics received higher scores on exams such as the MCATs and LSATs (https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/undergrad/mcat-lsat1.pdf). So, even though many women might not want to be physics majors, taking upper level physics courses will help in any area of study. As I sit in Halligan (the computer science building) and notice all of the women now studying computer science, I can’t help but think it's time to take that to the physics level. Women interested in coding now have The Women’s Coding Collective and Girls Develop It. Time to start a Women in Physics outreach program.
As I continue down the astrophysics track, I don’t want to have to worry about being the only female in the upper level physics courses. Ladies! Don’t be scared of physics. Physics needs more women, so don’t immediately say no to a physics degree because the math is scary or because you think you’ll be stuck in academia if you major in physics. Physics majors can go on to do anything from teaching to working at Google to accounting. So this is a call to all women who are engineers or taking Physics 11 and 12 for fun. Break gender barriers. Break stereotypes that all physicists look like this:
Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Einstein, Hawking… When was the last time you heard a woman being considered a great physicist?