While the pandemic has challenged the world in unprecedented ways this year, we still have much to celebrate around STEM/STEAM, which was honored by National STEM/STEAM Day 2020 this past Sunday. There are so many educators, organizations and companies committed to programs that encourage and enable students – our next generation of problem solvers – to explore the world of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Yet, we still have work to do. Continued research shows an unfortunate declining interest among young girls to pursue STEM careers. Ensuring that STEM professionals serve as role models can be key to maintaining girls’ interest, particularly as they become older and interest tends to wane, according to research from organizations such as UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), youth leader Junior Achievement and Microsoft.
As chief medical officer of Spark Therapeutics, I am a female who has experienced the joy and satisfaction of a successful career in science. I am proud to be part of a diverse team united in our goal to break barriers for people and families affected by genetic disease. Now, more than ever, science needs our daughters. So, I am taking the time to remind my own daughter of what she needs to know to keep aflame the internal fire she has found for scientific endeavors and to not let it burn out! I share this in hopes others do the same!
When you started at your new school, your teachers asked you to fill out a form to get to know you better. As your mother, I knew most of the answers (purple is your favorite color! Ice cream is your favorite food!). Yet, one question made me stop and think, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Today, you want to be a veterinarian, however through the years, this exciting and sometimes serious question will come up over and over, and you will likely explore many ideas as you work to find your passion and joyfully live your life.
I’ve even asked myself, “Do I want you to follow in my footsteps?” Part of me wants to tell you, “Only if you want to.” The other part of me wants to tell you about the feeling you will experience after telling a patient that, “The new treatment worked, your disease is being managed.”
Let me remind you, as you continue to grow (more quickly than I would like!) into the young woman you will ultimately be, Margot the field of STEM needs you more than ever. So, if a spark for scientific endeavor burns within you or should doubts about the STEM field cause these to smolder, let this lifelong physician scientist share with you the secrets to keeping the flame burning brightly:
While I continue to chase my dreams, committing to the exciting field of gene therapy, overall women remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce. With love, I implore you, your friends and other girls of your generation to break this cycle.
aka Dr. Gallia Levy, Chief Medical Officer, Spark Therapeutics