Trailblazing Latina in Science

Trailblazing Latina in Science

Today I co-hosted a STEM Women on G+ Hangout on Air. We spoke with engineer Candy Torres who gained a degree in astrophysics in the 1970s, when she was only one of seven women in her classes. Candy spoke about the challenges of following her career in science, which included gender exclusion and not having any women colleagues to support her education. Candy talked about how, even though her Puerto-Rican parents supported her love of science, they were also at a loss as to how to directly guide her. This is where being based at an all-woman university helped transform her love of science into a career.

While Candy attended most of her science courses at Rutgers University in the USA, she was based at Douglass College, which is a woman’s college with a strong history in Liberal Arts and Humanities (their current dean, Jacquelyn Litt, is a sociologist!). Candy’s career counsellors did not know much about the specifics of her science degree, but they provided social and educational support at a time when family circumstances led to Candy contemplate the need to drop out of university. With their encouragement, Candy persevered, and to this day, she sees that women-only learning spaces play an important role in women’ education.

Candy also discussed how learning science at a time when women were a minority was even more tricky because of her Latin background. (Understanding the impact of several bases of social inequality along race, gender, sexuality, class, disability and other issues is known as intersectionality theory in sociology.) Candy noted that the competitive science environment was the antithesis of the Latin culture she grew up with, which was more community-centred and focused on mutual support. Candy reflected on how this community spirit can also make it difficult for Latin women who want to study science, as migrant families would prefer to have their children close to home. This is why Candy advocates that educators work on a more collaborative approach with parents and communities to better support the inclusion of Latino and minority youth in science. Helping parents and communities see the various applied (practical) uses of a higher education degree is key. For example, promoting how science provides transferable skills in problem-solving, and how this knowledge can be put to use in new and innovative areas. 

We talked about how important networks are to building a successful career in science. Candy recommends that students get talking about their passion to teachers and to use their social networks to let people know they are looking for mentors or for work in science. This is how Candy got her first job as a software engineer at Princeton University, and later in NASA – her professor remembered her enthusiasm for science and offered to act as a referee for a job. 

You can watch our chat on YouTube – make sure you subscribe to our youtube channel ( if you have a broad interest in supporting women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). And note that we’ve already spoken to three social scientists from anthropology, behavioural science and education, as well as other amazing women scientists!

#sociology   #stem   #stemwomen   #engineering   #appliedscience   #socialscience

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