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Women of UNT take root in male-dominated STEM programs

Women of UNT take root in male-dominated STEM programs

Women of UNT take root in male-dominated STEM programs
March 27
15:46 2019

According to Catalyst, women account for less than a third of those employed in scientific research and development across the world. This fraction is even lower for minorities who collectively make up less than 10 percent of these jobs in the U.S.

In a study from Best Colleges, UNT was ranked as one of the 20 least likely colleges to graduate women with STEM degrees, with female students making up 6.6 percent of the school’s STEM majors. Even with these statistics, three women at UNT are blazing their paths to a future in STEM.

Biology sophomore Carolina Menchaca is currently working on a biology project where she and a UNT graduate student study the different aspects of bacteriophages. Image by: Isabel Anes.

Carolina Menchaca     

UNT biology sophomore Carolina Menchaca plans to graduate and pursue a dual doctoral degree that will simultaneously give her the vocational training she needs to practice medicine and the expertise to continue research in her field of study. To prepare for this, Menchaca has been studying a bacteriophage called Rima and the way DNA replicates for her undergraduate research project.

“Our research in the lab is merely a stepping stone,” Menchaca said. “The procedures we develop for studying these viruses can one day be used to study other viruses such as those that infect humans.”

Menchaca works under supervisor Dr. Roxana Hughes in her microbiology lab with a team consisting of an even number of men and women. Menchaca said while she was in high school, she saw a push for women to pursue a STEM career but statistically, there is still room to grow.

“I feel like this is mainly a UNT thing, but there’s a lot of women in STEM right now,” Menchaca said. “A lot of my professors, especially in the chemistry field, [are women], which is really nice to see. But definitely in other things, like physics or engineering, I see that still a lot of women are not a part of that field. Even in biology, we continue to see the more prevalent scientists [and] the more prevalent researchers are in the male population, but I think we’ll have our time.”

Menchaca said by listening to other prominent female doctors, she has learned more about biases she could face as a woman in the STEM field.

“Apparently, most of the doctors who are female don’t wear makeup because when you wear makeup, other male workers make a comment like, ‘Oh, is this a runway?’” Menchaca said.

Although her family did not discourage her from pursuing a career in STEM, Menchaca said some of her family members still questioned whether or not she could handle the difficulties of studying a STEM major.

“A lot of people are going to tell you that you can’t do it or that it might be too much work for you,” Menchaca said. “They might tell you that just because you’re a woman. Even if they don’t mean it, they still kind of imply something like that. But you should go for whatever you want to do because your gender shouldn’t be a part of your career decision.”

Jin Maneekul, a biochemistry and molecular biology graduate student, obtained her bachelor’s degree in Thailand before attending graduate school at UNT. She is currently working on her thesis along with a project where she studies bacteriophages. Image by: Isabel Anes.

Jin Maneekul

After completing her biomedical science degree in Thailand, graduate student Jin Maneekul transferred to UNT to work on her master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and hopes to become a professor.

Maneekul said she decided to come to UNT for her graduate’s degree after her advisors, UNT alumni, recommended the program. She is now set to graduate in May.

“It is definitely hard since I am over [in America] by myself,” Maneekul said. “My parents disagreed with me coming here, but they respected my decision. It was a huge difference between [America and Thailand], even with a strong motivation and work ethic.”

As a graduate researcher in the microbiology lab, Maneekul is studying bacteriophages, observing bursts that occur when phages infect a cell. This research can be used to treat human infection. Once a phage enters a cell, it replicates and bursts into the environment, killing the host cell. Maneekul said in her research and her classes, she has seen an even mix of male and female classmates and professors.

“We’re equal right?” Maneekul said. “So whoever has ideas, whoever enjoys working and produces results, they should be given respect and be accepted.”

Mikayla Lambert, a mechanical and energy engineering sophomore, looks for a screwdriver while she and a team member work on assembling a car. Image by: Isabel Anes.

Mikayla Lambert

Mechanical and energy engineering sophomore Mikayla Lambert is working with UNT’s Society of Automotive Engineers this semester to determine if a career in the automotive industry is right for her. Every year, the organization builds a formula car to race against other collegiate teams from around the world at the Formula SAE Lincoln competition in June. Last year, the competition hosted 80 registered teams and 1,317 participating students.

Lambert said she is one of the only women working on the SAE team at UNT, which is consistent with the ratio of males in her mechanical engineering classes at Discovery Park.

“As a mechanical engineer, there are not a lot of girls,” Lambert said. “The majority of girl engineers kind of tend to go toward a biomedical engineering field so I think some of those classes are more evenly mixed. But the majority of my classes are like a 5-to-20 or 5-to-30 mix of guys to girls.”

Although her degree choice is not common among women, Lambert said she thinks society is trying to change as the world has started to realize the lack of women in these kinds of fields.

“I know in general, the world is trying to push STEM on more females and trying to get more females out there,” Lambert said. “I think society is pushing us up more than bringing us down.”

Both of Lambert’s parents are in science and technology careers and she said they have always encouraged her to follow the path she loves.

“If you’re good at it, pursue it,” Lambert said. “Don’t let anyone discourage you. You’re going to make mistakes, but you can’t be discouraged at all going through this process. You just have to keep going. If something does knock you down, you just have to get back up and keep going and keep studying.”

Featured Image: Biology sophomore Carolina Menchaca spreads bacteria in a petri dish at her work station in the Life Sciences Complex. Menchaca is working on a project where she studies the different aspects of bacteriophages. Image by: Isabel Anes.

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Talia Snow

Talia Snow

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