A Girl is Born to Be a Scientist

by Marija Strojnik | Mar 08, 2023


Currently, I am a senior professor at a university engaged in research and development. I dedicate most of my time to five activities—conducting independent research, teaching classes, advising and directing student research projects, collaborating with industry to assist in solving problems within my specific area of expertise, and disseminating scientific knowledge through public talks.

Perhaps the least known aspect of my work as a university professor is that of a thesis director or academic advisor. In this role, I advise young women and men on how to achieve their professional goals. Sometimes, this requires counseling my students, offering perspectives, and proposing options for persisting through difficulties. I encourage my students and remind them that we all encounter obstacles. I try to reinforce a spirit of perseverance by noting that overcoming challenges can be interesting and satisfying. 

I like all aspects of my job. I feel useful when I contribute to the discovery of new knowledge, often in collaboration with my fellow researchers, technicians, and students. At the same time, I enjoy an enormous amount of satisfaction seeing my former students progress as productive, accomplished researchers. People who are satisfied with their life tend to give back to society far more than they receive from it. When I see my mentees advance professionally and hold key positions at their universities, I simply feel proud. It is a feeling like that of a parent who guided their children to be respectable and responsible adults. All this work requires a reflective process that includes patience, confidence, and sound judgment.

I remember helping my parents with their work as a child. When I was five years old, I started doing housework and taking care of my younger siblings. Little by little, my responsibilities increased. My parents saw me as a very mature girl. My father, who was an engineer, began asking me to collect data and check his scientific articles for typing errors. I was very proud to be able to work alongside him. For his part, my father was happy with what he was doing. Although I was afraid of not being smart enough, I thought “Someday, I would also like to do the same work as my father.”

At the end of seventh grade, I received a book about atoms as a prize for my academic achievements. The following year, I prepared a talk at school about fission — the process nuclear reactors utilize to generate electricity, and fusion—the process of generating energy inside the Sun to create electricity on Earth. These experiences led me to a previously unknown world. This new world would encourage me to continue dreaming of science. Despite my desire to learn, I was once again afraid that I did not know enough to undertake such an arduous and difficult (yet fascinating) field of study.

When I was a young student pursuing an education in physics, there were very few other women studying physics, engineering, or technology. I lacked female role models due to the societal standards of the time. There were no female university-level professors in the technical departments at any of the universities that awarded me a degree. I felt isolated in classes where the teachers spoke only among men. It took me additional psychological effort to get closer to classmates who were uncertain of my abilities, especially when carrying out laboratory assignments or group projects. Fortunately, I found eventual success working in group environments, but the initial integration was always difficult.

Today, I feel happy in my work as a scientist. I encounter new and interesting research challenges every day. I feel comfortable in confirming that I was born to be a scientist. I am excited to apply and share my knowledge to undertake engineering or technology tasks. I invite all girls and women with interests in science, engineering, or technology to pursue projects in those fields. Unfortunately, many girls and women have learned to avoid this experience. However, I think that a girl can always read books on her own and sign up for school or community projects for extracurricular and complementary education.

Interest in science should grow along with traditional classes. Science and engineering must be integrated together with the general education studies of literature, languages, humanities, and computing. For example, I studied at a humanist school with an emphasis on language arts. It was not until I got to college that I dedicated myself to studying science, math, and engineering. A broad education presents young women and men with an appreciation for life and a wide variety of life options. Comprehensive preparation and knowledge can solve urgent national and global problems. When we see the world with more inclusive eyes, we are able to appreciate the differences among human beings and take advantage of them to make the world more equitable, just, beautiful, and hopefully… happy.


Marija Strojnik, PhD
Sigma Xi President-elect

Read More stories from Women's History Month 2023

comments powered by Disqus

Blog Categories