An Open Letter to the Girl Who Inspired #BugsR4Girls

To the little girl who wants to study bugs when she grows up:

I don’t know your name, so I’m going to call you Beatrix (like Beatrix Potter, who I absolutely loved growing up).

Bea, I was really bummed to hear that you are being teased at school for liking bugs. Bugs are really cool! Ok they are not my speciality (show me a spider and I will break a glass with my opera-style, high-pitched scream), but they are a part of the wonderful world of science, and science is incredible.

When I was young, I remember watching a brain surgery on TV. My mom walked into the room and jumped in the air, not believing what she was watching, but I was as close to the TV as I could be while still seeing the whole screen. You see, in this surgery, the patient was still awake. The surgeons needed to make sure that they were not harming some important parts of the brain, so they would talk to the patient, ask questions, listen to her jokes and songs. I was fascinated. How could her brain be open but she was still awake? Still talking? It was the coolest thing that I’d ever seen. And I was hooked on science forever.

Aurora borealis above Canada. Image credit: NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/multimedia/gallery/iss030e097783.html

A few years later, I did a book report on the aurora borealis. The Northern lights. I grew up in South Carolina, where the chance at any given time to witness the Northern lights in person was pretty much zero. But the images pulled me in. They were magnetic (sorry for the bad joke). I wanted to understand everything about them. What were they? How did they happen? When and where do they appear? I just couldn’t get enough.

When the other kids were playing outside at recess, I wanted to finish the next chapter in my book. Or learn the names of a few more countries. (My school had a map of the world painted outside, with each country being painted in one of about five or six different colors. We played our sort of version of Risk, but you could not conquer a country if you didn’t know the name of it.) These were the things that gave me energy. Reading, learning, doing experiments with whatever I could get my hands on in our kitchen. If it’s bugs that give you your own energy, your own superpowers, then explore as many bugs as you can find!

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who works at UCLA sent me a message. She was eating lunch when she overheard an undergraduate say to one of her female friends: “But you’re too pretty to be a STEM major!” (STEM is a quick way to talk about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math disciplines.)

There is an idea that people have of what a scientist “should” look like. You are already aware of this, if the kids in your school are teasing you about liking bugs. Beatrix. Bea. Bug, please use all of your superpowers (you have them, I promise!) to fight against this. Anyone can be a scientist! It doesn’t matter at all what you look like, or what you wear, or how you speak, or what music you like, or what clothes you think are cool, or what music you listen to, or any other metric that someone else will use to tell you that you cannot love bugs. That you cannot be a scientist. That you do not look like how they think a scientist should look. Take a look in the mirror, super Bea. YOU are what a scientist looks like! Keep your head high and your favorite bug on your shoulder. I cannot wait to see what great things are in store for you!