Studying a STEM subject as a woman
Important questions and answers

Unfortunately, women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are still more or less in the minority. Nevertheless, that does not mean anything, as four female students from different fields of study will display here. They share their stories and what they experienced studying a degree programme as a woman that is stereotypically studied by men. Helena, Judith, Julia and Ravan report on their experiences studying in the STEM field. They answer the questions, they have asked themselves prior to starting their study programmes.

Ravan,
Civil Engineering B.Sc.

Since mostly men work in the construction industry, women are in heavy demand.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Ravan
Picture: Britta Hüning

What do you particularly enjoy about your studies?

Ravan: “New challenges, new knowledge that is acquired, and interests that are (re)discovered again and again”.

Judith: “The platitude of practical content such as excursions as well as field and practical laboratory courses. This means I spend a lot of time outdoors and I enjoy that!”

Julia: “The diversity. Some days are very business-heavy, while others seem to be a pure mechanical engineering degree. But that also allows you to design your studies to your own liking.”

Helena,
Mechanical Engineering B.Sc.

From both fellow students and professors I often had to listen to statements like "You have to be smart for that", "Can you do that at all" or "Why don't you do something with a teaching degree instead”?

Helena vor der ULB in Darmstadt
Picture: Felipe Fernandez

How does studying help you in your private life?

Helena: “During your studies, you are almost forced to develop yourself. You learn to be independent and how to deal with failure.”

Julia: “It broadens my horizons and helps me understand the world around me a little better. Things I never thought about are suddenly of great importance and become very interesting.”

Judith: “It gives me self-confidence and shows me that I can do something superbly and challenges me mentally.”

Julia,
Business Administration/Industrial Engineering – specialising in Mechanical Engineering B.Sc.

A woman has to prove that she can do it, that she delivers just as much and is just as robust as a man is. Most of the time this does not stand out directly in lectures, but during practical training or in exercise groups it does.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Julia
Picture: Britta Hüning

Do you have to work more than men to achieve the same success?

Julia: “Regarding written exams, this is not an issue, but as a woman you have to prove yourself first. A woman has to prove that she can do it, that she delivers just as much and is just as robust as a man is. Most of the time this does not stand out directly in lectures, but during practical trainings or in exercise groups it does.”

Helena: "It depends. It often happens that you are underestimated as a woman. If that means that they expect more or perhaps even less of you cannot be said across the board.

Get a taste of STEM

You are not quite sure if studying STEM is an option for you? You can find all the information on the topic “Can I do STEM?” on the ZSB website.

At TU Darmstadt, there are also various opportunities for women to get a taste of the STEM field:

On Girls’Day, the girls' future day, schoolgirls can discover technical, craft, and IT areas at TU Darmstadt.

“Schüler:innen-Mentoring” (mentoring for pupils) is aimed at those interested in STEM studies starting from the age of 16. Here you can meet students from the degree programme of your choice and talk to them about studying and student life.

Do you notice sexism during your studies? If so, how does it look like?

Helena: “Definitely. Both from fellow students (ALWAYS boys) and professors. I often had to listen to statements like ”You have to be smart for that“, ”Can you do that at all“ or ”Why don't you do something with a teaching degree instead?”

Ravan: “Fortunately, not yet.”

Judith: "I have not noticed any of that in my subject area so far – fortunately. Even during our field placements and excursions, where you have to be physically active sometimes, I always felt like I was treated equally.

Judith,
Applied Geosciences B.Sc.

When people have low expectations of you, you can only exceed them.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Judith
Picture: Britta Hüning

Do you also see advantages as a woman in STEM?

Judith: “Before I started studying, two male acquaintances (my age!) asked me whether I really thought I could do it (as a woman), because there would be a lot of physics and other things involved. When people have low expectations of you, you can only exceed them.

Julia: ”Women are (unfortunately) still in the minority, which means that it is often easier to get internships, student trainee positions, etc., or that you are treated preferentially.

How good are the chances on the labour market for women in STEM? How do you rate them?

Ravan: “As it is mostly men who work in the construction industry, women are even more in demand.”

Helena: ”At the moment, I think my chances in the job market as a woman are good. Nevertheless, difficulties can arise, such as having children, which make it difficult to start a career.“

Judith: ”I find it difficult to assess that. I am afraid of being disadvantaged as a woman later on and not being able to defend myself against it. I also lack a female role model who can be my mentor. In general, I am a very good student and can prove that with various documents. However, I do not know if that will help me, I can only hope so."

Offers for female students during and after their studies

There are already various offers and support opportunities for female students during their studies.

Big Sister is an offer for female students with a migratory background or from abroad for networking and exchange at TU Darmstadt. The programme offers opportunities in the areas of mentoring and networking.

Femtec networks female STEM students in business as well as science and provides support for personal career development, for example in the form of the Femtec scholarship for the Career-Building Programme.

You will also find many female role models at TU Darmstadt! There are several female professors and scientists and even a separate female research group. The young female scientists conduct research on the topic of “Interactive AI for Domain Experts and Everyday Users” (IKIDA).

The Gender Equality Officer and the Gender Equality Office at TU Darmstadt are responsible for equal opportunities and gender equality. With a wide range of services, they promote equality in all areas of study, teaching, research, and administration.

There are many female role models who can motivate you among the alumni of TU Darmstadt. They share their successes are careers in their stories.

It becomes clear that each of us has had a different experience. This is bound to happen once a woman steps food into the working force and is confronted with it one way or another. But everyone grows with their own tasks and learns how to deal with them.

Women in STEM are confronted with other problems than our male fellow students – but we do what we enjoy. We do what our interests and strengths are and thus contribute to an equal society. The more women get involved and show men what they can do, the easier it will be in the future. Every woman should do what she likes and follow her passion.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Julia
Picture: Britta Hüning

Julia

Hi, I'm Julia and I have been studying Industrial Engineering, specialising in Mechanical Engineering. I am one of the first students who started their studies digitally. It was different from what I imagined, but considering the circumstances, I liked it. There were many online activities to meet new people, which went very well.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Judith
Picture: Britta Hüning

Judith

Hello, my name is Judith and I’m doing a degree in applied geosciences at TU Darmstadt. I’ll tell you openly and honestly why I decided to come to Darmstadt – the City of Science – to go to university! If you look for me on campus, you’ll most likely find me at the Botanical Garden campus. Not just because it’s particularly beautiful there, but because that’s also where my department is located.