A Place for Us [Farewell]

Last semester, as my graduation date loomed closer, I began to experience end-of-school anxiety. Not because I was anticipating the stresses of job hunting, but because I was panicked about not having my next program lined up. I didn’t get a chance to go to school as a teenager and young adult, so I have developed a serious and irredeemable addiction to learning. For example, in between two busy semesters, I’m taking a course on science writing just for fun in addition to classes on the new statistical programs I need to know in preparation for next semester. It’s hopeless.

The creeping anxiety began to build until I found myself researching potential grad programs in between completing assignments and doing work-work. This wasn’t a new search. I had been perusing grad program of different kinds, in different places, on different topics for a few years. Part of why the search took so long is because of the stories I was telling myself about not doing something I really wanted to do. I love science (a big portion of my undergrad was focused on neuroscience), but never saw a place for myself in it. I know how hard it can be to squeeze into a space that is constructed around keeping you out, and I chose to stay on the periphery.

For my farewell post, I thought I’d share a book that changed all that for me. I found it through my research for my library science thesis class a couple semesters ago, and it helped to open a door in my mind. Once I read about the women who came before me, the ones who pursued their interests despite the obstacles, it gave me courage to do the same. It gave me courage to risk rejection and apply for a program in Biology. After putting together my application bit by bit, soliciting reference letters, and going through the interview process, I found out I was accepted in to a master’s program in physiology and behavior. I’m thrilled beyond words and excited to share this book with you in case it happens to crack open any doors in your mind too (or someone you know who has some closed mental doors of their own).

Women Scientists in America: Forging a New World Since 1972 by Margret Rossiter

One of the few, foundational and often cited monographs on the topic of women in the history of science is “Women Scientists in America: Forging a New World Since 1972.” The motivation to research and produce the book was sparked when the author, Margret Rossiter, was studying the history of science in graduate school and asked her professor about the scientific discoveries made by women in the field. She was told that no women scientists of note had existed in the past. Her subsequent publication of three volumes of “Women Scientists in America” proved that statement untrue.

Rossiter’s books were groundbreaking and showed that scholarly work can also serve as activist work. Her skills as an investigator are exceptional and stand on par with any librarian considering the challenge of sifting through the sheer volume of information produced in the last forty years. The story told in Rossiter’s work is one of unbelievable persistence amid a societal shift that allowed for a greater participation of women in science—in addition to a fierce resistance to their presence.

The book was organized primarily thematically and mostly chronologically. Rossiter gave an account of the over-arching societal forces as well as including the names of the many women involved in both science and activism in each period. There were many, many names. In fact, Rossiter wrote another, separate article after the book was published describing the process of discovery, how one source of information led to the stories of a dozen other women, and how she hoped someone would continue the quest after her.

The inclusion of so many people in the narrative increased the readability and made the book highly engaging, especially the way the sociopolitical and institutional factors were woven into the stories of the scientists. While the text could be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of information included within, it is also a strength of the book. Rossiter understood how change occurs—through small increments and with the efforts of many people.

Rossiter produced an excellent resource for researchers and an intriguing read for anyone interested in the history of women in science. She told the story of a large group of people actively excluded from scientific discovery and from a gainful profession. We need the next volume to continue where she left off and tell the stories of a more diverse group of people.

What are some of the books that opened your mental doors? Please share them with us in the comments below!

Categories: Hellos & Goodbyes

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