I am a girl and I am not that good in math: My pursuit towards engineering and how you can take the step too

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

When I was a kid (ever since I stepped into the education system), I never liked math. Really. It felt like I am looking at an alien language of some sort and I even wondered why the boys in my class just seemed to get it. You might agree that we can’t help but think that maybe, boys are born to be good in math and girls are not. The more we get to think about it the more convinced we get. And so I found this comfortable excuse of being a girl since we have this preconceived idea that girls do poorly in math (as if our society even expects us to be so). If you’re a girl reading this, maybe we both shared the same thoughts and conceded to the idea that we’ll never be good at it – we are simply not a “math-type” of person and there’s nothing we can do to change that. Why even bother?

Fast forward after 17 years within the four walls of academia, I got my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering (and taking my master’s degree in energy engineering at the time of writing).

Like what? Isn’t engineering too masculine and for math-type people kind of degree too?

So what happened?


Let’s go back to the part where we started to adapt this preconceived notion that there’s nothing we can do to overcome the things we think we cannot do.

Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.
Proverbs 4:23 NCV

Yes, you read it right. Our thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies by themselves and our beliefs propel us into action or a lack thereof.

We might have our personal reasons that shaped our way of thinking regarding our abilities and they may be coming from our:

  • Parents telling us that we can only do this and be that
  • Teachers telling us that we are a hopeless case
  • Report cards taunting us that grades are what define us
  • Inner voice nagging at us that we will never change

The moment we start to limit ourselves to things we think we can only do, we stop learning.

What on earth would make someone a nonlearner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward. What could put an end to this exuberant learning? The fixed mindset. As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart. I have studied thousands of people from preschoolers on, and it’s breathtaking how many reject an opportunity to learn.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

To pass my math subjects through the course of my grade school and high school, I tried to study of course. However, in no way did it change my perspective towards my math ability. I did get by, sure, but I still think of myself poorly (my report cards even said so). But it all changed when I started to see myself in high school drama (we all know who are the authors of a high school drama). I wanted an escape and thinking that engineering would be comprised of people who are not fond of drama themselves, I thought it is the solution to my dilemma. And so my adventure to ‘change of perspectives’ began.

I was really dead serious with my escape plan. The motivation was so strong that when I was in senior high (the turning point of our lives where we get to decide what degree to pursue), I pushed myself to actually learn how to understand the alien language I used to stay away from. I decided that I have to go over the boundary I set myself and give learning a chance.

If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Skill Building

We are a generation of instants – instant coffee and instant messaging to name a few. However, we must understand the principle that change does not happen overnight.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

Outliers: The Story of Success

During my undergraduate years, I really invested time and effort to learn and understand the language of algebra, trigonometry, solid mensuration, electric circuits, dynamics of rigid bodies, and other engineering subjects you can think of. When I said time and effort, I meant that I get to spend hours and hours of solving different problems throughout the course of my five years in the university. My boyfriend once told me that when I get to solve a lot of problems, I will realize that they are much likely the same after all – that practice is what really makes much of the difference. And from my experience, I can say that learning math is like learning how to bake a cake – you study the concept or motivation behind it (know the story of the recipe), you familiarize the formula (learn how much sugar and flour to use), and then you get to try to apply it by solving problems (actually do the baking).

You must get-over with the idea that engineering is an all-boys kind of degree like I did and realize that it welcomes those who are willing to enter its doors of hard work regardless of gender. I learned that it is really doable to be good at something, not just in math, but in everything we think we are not capable of. The only difference is our willingness to learn.

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.

Outliers: The Story of Success

Wrap Up

To be good at something you think you are not:

  • Change your perspective. You become what you think of yourself. The moment you give learning a chance, you will realize that it is doable if you are just willing.
  • Build your skill through practice. It is time to invest your time in learning that skill you want to have. Practice is what makes us better.

I would like to tell you that my whole engineering experience was not really easy. No one said it would. I did shed a lot of tears trying to understand things that were really new to me and I even had a lot of sleepless nights too. But choosing engineering was worth it knowing that I was able to overcome something I thought I would never be good at for the rest of my life. The whole experience also strengthened my existing ties and enabled me to meet wonderful people in the process. (Shout out to my boyfriend, college friends, and family who made the journey worth remembering.)

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