Women in STEM Express How They’ve Been Critiqued for Their Looks Rather than Their Work


Our writer and friend Melissa Marquez took over the @biotweeps twitter page and ran a telling poll on May 16th.  The poll asked:  “Women in STEM: Have your looks (rather than your work) been critiqued before?”


Out of 682 votes, 74% of the people who took the poll said: “Yes”.


“When I was first pursuing a science degree,” Said Sara Cannon, who’s studying coral reef ecology.  “I was told I’d go far because I’m pretty. [It was frustrating] because it totally discounted all my hard work!”  Sara was far from the only one to comment about her own experiences in this manner.


Dr. Melanie Seiler, our friend from the Female Scientist, recounted a bad experience herself.  “Before my Ph.D. defense,” She began. “I was told to dress nicely, be flirty, and never disagree with the (male) reviewers.”  She told Melissa that she had seven data chapters, three of which were published at that time. “Apparently not convincing enough [to show] that I deserved the Ph.D.?”  She inquired.  Thankfully, though, Seiler did mention that the man who told her this was called out later on.


“When I started my Ph.D.,”  Recalled Ecologist Emily BurdfieldSteel. “My office mates joked that I was hired because I was my supervisors ‘type’.  Strange how jokes get less funny the longer they go on for. They only stopped when I threatened to report them for harassment.”  Possibly the worst part?  Emily considered these people her friends, and really did not want to have to report them for these jokes, but she felt like she might have to.


One women complained that she had been criticized for her looks by other women — showing that  it’s certainly not only men who have participated in this bad behavior.


This incredibly shallow behavior needs to end if we’re going to bring people together in the science community (or any community, really).  When field geophysicist, Mika McKinnon, went to give a talk, she was introduced as “the Sexy Scientist”.  These kinds of things degrade the hard work that women put into their fields.


Though it needs to stop, it most likely will not.  At least, not in the near future.  It’s going to take much time before people realize that commenting on another’s looks like this only takes us backwards as a community.




Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.