Trigger Warning: mentions of harassment and assault.

The amount of times I’ve heard that third wave feminism is absolute crap by a middle aged man who just likes to yell and swagger off is enough that, if they had paid me the London wage of the average man, I would have paid off all my student loans.

Interview with Cindy Hsieh: Women in STEM

  


 

First off, briefly introduce yourself!

Hello, world!

Ha ha (: jokes aside…

Hi there, beautiful people! My name is Cindy Hsieh and I am a current Applied Statistics graduate student. 

What’s your boba order?

Hmmm… oh boy… I can’t decide on one so I’ll give my top two orders: 

Taro milk tea with pearls 

Passion fruit black tea with lychee popping pearls 

Just all depends on my mood that day!

Could you outline your journey into the field of STEM for us? 

Well, I’m sure many Asians can relate to this upbringing, but my parents were really huge proponents of me becoming a doctor growing up. I loved learning about the human body and mind and I had a natural inclination towards science. Thus, they really instilled the idea of being a doctor in me early on. I’m pretty sure one of my first toys was a toy doctor kit. So, I’d say that is when my journey into STEM began. I was able to take some STEM university classes in my junior and senior year of high school and I stayed in the field of medicine for quite some time. I had researched at universities nearby and volunteered at hospitals, mainly oncology centers. I think it was through my extracurricular involvement with medicine that I noticed how many other fields interacted with life sciences. For instance, data analysis played a huge role in the research I had done in the labs I worked with. On another hand, music and art therapy played a huge role in my volunteer work. Anyway…after taking all the classes required for medical school admission, I really dug deep after finals of my 2nd year. You know deep down inside when you love something, and as much as I wanted to love medicine, I just couldn’t get myself to. I like to use the metaphor that medicine and I were like the perfect couple on paper. I wanted it to work out so badly and I truly tried so hard to make it work…but at the end of the day, I still didn’t feel the spark that I needed (especially before accepting a $300K commitment that was not sparkly). 

Thus, this turning point led me to delve into my true interests and passions. I noticed patterns amongst things I was drawn to time and time again. I had gotten so immersed into statistics when I was researching and I also loved being able to objectively view situations that may be inherently subjective. Analyzing data to draw conclusions applies to so many fields: science, law, business, etc. Long story short, I decided to pull the trigger and graduate undergrad early 2 years early. And that is how I am now an Applied Stats graduate student at a younger age!

What do you enjoy most about your work in STEM?

I had dug deep into my interests and had to figure out how they meshed together. Luckily for me, data is EVERYWHERE. Every single field has data. So, in combining my love for objectivity applied to subjective matter, I have delved into law and exploring the field of patent and intellectual property (IP) law. To me, law is the most objective way to approach a subjective conflict. This specific area of law is very STEM oriented. Actually, fun fact, you need a STEM background to become an IP lawyer! Thus, I have been interning at a law firm that works with IP and patent law and it’s been so amazing and interesting to see this field in conjunction with medical technologies and patients. I’ve also noticed there is a lack of data analysis in law so I have been helping the firm with understanding and speeding up efficiency of certain tasks. It’s exciting for me to see how I can combine and utilize my skills in another seemingly unrelated field that I am very interested in. 

Describe for us the culture and demographic you have observed in your STEM institution? 

To be candid, I definitely am biased when answering this question. The city I reside in lacks diversity. So, a lot of the people I see often are predominantly Caucasian. That being said, I do see many Asians in STEM fields, more so in the life sciences though. I haven’t met as many Asian females in the computational/analytical fields of science. 

I think, in my current environment, the ratio of Asians to Non-Asians is higher in STEM than other non-STEM fields (in my experience). As for Asian women, I do think the ratio is even smaller, but I genuinely can’t answer that for certain. Also, keep in mind I say the ratios (with no mention of size)in comparison to one another seem to differ. 

In terms of the law firm I intern at, it’s mainly women and a women owned business and that is something we pride ourselves on. But again, I can’t draw any correlations due to my small universe of experience and knowledge. 

Are there any ways in which your identity as an Asian woman affects your involvement with STEM? 

 As of yet,I don’t think I’ve personally experienced anything blatantly, super in-my-face bad about being an Asian woman in STEM. However, I do get caught up in the “model minority” tunnel vision and feel some outside stress. I start to place pressure on myself and feel that other people automatically expect me to perform very well because I am Asian. I appreciate the external pressure and I am lucky that I function well under it. However, I will admit that at times it can get to be a bit much. I start to feel like I’m not doing enough or replaceable and ergo need to prove myself to others – which definitely shouldn’t be the case, but it does happen to me. That is something I’m working on (: – to know that growing at your own pace is totally okay. 

What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges facing Asian Women today? What are the biggest challenges facing women in STEM/or women who aspire to STEM careers?

My answer to this actually ties into the answer above. I believe a common assumption people have is that Asian women are doing fine in STEM and they are well-represented in the field. However, data  (my fav (; ) tells a different story. Being an Asian woman in STEM is like concurrently being invisible and visible. The growth of Asian females in STEM actually lags behind not only men, but also women of other ethnicities. Very few Asian women become full professors or reach managerial positions in government jobs. According to the National Science Foundation, the percentage of Asian women who are full professors or tenured is the smallest out of all ethnicities and gender groups (falling approximately 10% behind hispanic and black women, and 20% behind white women). Moreover, Asian Women are also the smallest percentage out of doctoral scientists and engineers at universities (race and ethnicity included). There is also the lowest percentage of Asian Women (0.9%) who hold managerial positions in STEM compared to other races and ethnicities.  These results point out two barriers Asian women face: the glass ceiling via gender bias and the bamboo ceiling via ethnic stereotyping. Interestingly enough according to Advancing Asian Women in the Workplace by Catalyst, Asian American women in STEM are the most likely to have graduate education, but the least likely to hold a position within three levels of a CEO. I think the most difficult challenges facing Asian women are the double bound ceilings and realizing that people may expect nothing less of perfection from us, even if those standards are not applied to others. 

Any advice for Asian Women who aspire to work in the STEM fields?

Fight the invisibility with poise and confidence! Like many other Asian women, I was raised in a family that told me to not take risks and to play things safe. However, I think it’s important to make those leaps (big or small). It’s beautiful to be part of a small, but growing group  that is already so unique and talented. Being an Asian woman in STEM means that you have the power to redefine stereotypes and eliminate risks gracefully simply by just being you and having fun whilst working hard.

 


Cindy Hsieh is a proponent for minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She has been involved in advocacy and entrepreneurship groups on university campuses, as well as American Mensa Leadership workshops to foster new ideas and growth for equality. Her love for the arts has continued to shine through her volunteer work as a piano performer in hospitals and on a daily basis through her drawing and writing. Cindy is working towards further connecting with her Asian-American identity and sharing her experiences with others.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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