My Father | Shreyasi Mukerji

about the storyteller

I'm an ordinary person with ordinary amount of zeal in life, and I believe that I was able to achieve my dreams relatively comfortably because of my father. 

He made me take things apart and put them back together, he told me to be proud of being a "nerd." He didn't overprotect me, he didn't think I needed protecting just because I am a girl. Where I come from, that's rare. So I think he's worth talking about.


In my junior year of college, I transferred from a university in India to one in the United States, where I went on to graduate with a Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. Having been the only girl in my class in my mechanical engineering classes in India, I was looking forward to having more girls in my class once I transferred to a "first world country". I was one of three or four girls in a class of 80-something to graduate in my field in the summer of 2009. 

It finally hit me when a teammate at work in my all-male team at my first real engineering job told me that I was, most likely, just a "diversity hire": support changes everything. Women in STEM fields often talk about the steeper learning curves than those laid out for men. Not counting professors' biases, occasional mansplaining, and a generous sprinkling of snide comments, I have had a significantly privileged life compared to the hardships a lot of my fellow female engineers have had to overcome to get to where they are today - hardships that require spectacular tenacity to overcome. The majority of humans (and consequently women) are obviously not spectacularly tenacious by nature. Needless to say, women are underrepresented in STEM.

Support changes all of that, and I know this because of my father.

I had my mother to show me how to create, and to imagine. But it was my father who taught me to question. You could not and cannot convince this man of anything unless you lay a theorem-style two-page proof for him with a "quod erat demonstrandum" in the end. It was more than once that I heard the words: "Even if you decide to become a villain, you better be your personal best at it!"

It was sometimes as stressful as it was comical, but I was always very sure of myself because of his approach. As a result, I was a 100% sure that I wanted to become a mechanical engineer, just like him, despite his warnings that I would have to be prepared not only to get dirty, but also to be treated differently. 

All most women really want is to be seen as equally capable human being. I get my definition of feminism from my dad, who never saw me as anything else but a brand new homo sapien that could be capable of anything and everything. He, in turn, got his definition of feminism from his mother, who brought up two boys and two girls, all of whom have equal college education, have learnt music in whichever form he or she preferred, can at least sew on a button, and have been taught how to cook. 

Dads are so important in who a little girl eventually turns out to be.

We were not all born spectacularly tenacious; we need help from the first men in our lives to learn how to survive in a presently male-dominated world. There would be a lot more women in STEM if fathers had prepared their girls for the nuances STEM fields come with, with the confidence they currently need to be taken seriously. STEM fields aren't any harder for a woman if she has the confidence of a man.

There are so many little things that parents could do differently. Compliment a little girl's abilities rather than her looks. Teach her to be confident by being sure, and to not say sorry unnecessarily in the workplace. Teach her brothers any skill that you may teach her. Teach all children to shun anti-intellectualism: knowing big words and/or scientific data is cool, not pretentious.

These are all things that my dad did, and continues to do, for me.


 

You can follow Shreyasi and her journey as a woman in STEM on Instagram. Or feel free to simply tell her what a great father she has :)