No Sympathy in Science Class

Storyteller: Angela (she/her/hers), 28, Illinois

Story Transcript:

My name is Angela. I am a speech therapist, which isn't exactly a STEM profession, but uses a lot of STEM principles. So I do have a lot of experience with it, starting in Kindergarten, obviously, up through grad school, but all my overall experience with STEM hasn't always been terribly positive. 

I think mostly back to eighth grade and beyond -- particularly 8th grade through 11th grade, where I was struggling so much with the way math in particular was taught at my school, both in my middle school and my high school, that I thought I had a learning disability. And that is pretty far-fetched from the truth. I ended up doing phenomenally well at university and at grad school as well, because I had professors that were able to teach things in multiple different ways. It turned out, I am not bad at math. I'm actually very good at math. I was really bad at the way that they approached it and I don't know if it was just these teachers, you know, I went to a Catholic school. They weren't necessarily the most experienced in teaching things multiple ways. They weren't -- I don't know if they got their teacher accreditations because you don't need to in Catholic school -- but either way, I just remember feeling like, “How am I going to do anything in college if I can't do basic algebra?” That sort of thing. I felt like a failure all the time through high school and it gave me major imposter syndrome when it came to actually doing it well. So yeah, it was kind of like, “There's no way I can do this,” when I actually could. So that's the big thing that I remember. 

But what's interesting, now that I kind of think about it, is kind of the opposite happened with science. In high school, I had a fantastic teacher who taught a bunch of different subjects within science. She was my Chemistry and Biology teacher and she was fantastic at breaking things down, making them very applicable, and then also just like, telling you step-by-step what to look out for. And then once I went to college and tried to do the standard chemistry class that Pre-Health Science people do, I thought it was the hardest thing in the entire world and I ended up kind of switching my major after that, because I felt like, there's no way I could make it through like Organic Chemistry and things like that. So, kind of a mixed bag with STEM in general but I would say my overall experience has been, like, it's been very hard to penetrate. It feels very difficult to ask questions, and I felt this a lot throughout my growing up, like even back to when I was a little kid. 

But I think at least the way the culture is now -- and this might be just more of a cultural thing than anything else -- but I feel like the culture is very much like you get it or you don't. And the people who got it end up being you know, doctors, they end up being engineers, things like that. And the people who don't, they can, you know, do whatever else but it didn't seem like there was room for necessarily improvement, or someone who's like not a super sciency engineering kind of person could learn. It felt very much like you got it or you don’t. And it's sad because I think it really limits what people can do, and I think actually a lot of people can learn STEM principles, but are afraid to because of this. Because they feel like they're going to fail...and why start something if you're going to fail. But anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Thanks.

It turned out, I am not bad at math. I'm actually very good at math. I was really bad at the way that they approached it.