B a r b a r a  T h o m p s o n
Solar Physicist
SOHO Mission

I found it more difficult as a woman to pursue this career, but maybe not for reasons most people would think. I did not suffer direct persecution. I did not have that many people come up to me and say, women are stupid! I did not have too many of those people doing that, but I'm not going to say that I didn't have any-there were a few. But they were people who were obviously not mentally gifted anyway, so I was not very hurt by their assessment of women's abilities. However, most of the problems that I had were because of social expectations of women.

What I tell young women who are interested in pursuing this field is if you are interested in something, you have to remember that fact and keep it close to you. You have got to ignore other people who tell you "you are not interested in that, and that's not something that you want to do." A lot of people will say "that's not something that women want to do" or "women are kind of more interested in other things." Women are interested in all sorts of things, and our knowledge grows if we're given the opportunities.

I had a couple of really wonderful math teachers, and I was always interested in mathematics. There were a few math teachers who really helped me pull that gift out. I went into college wanting to do something that was math-related, and I thought the application of mathematics to understand the physical universe was just something that was ideally suited for me. When I was younger, I remember that in the 70's there were not too many good female scientist role models. And the one thing that I think made the difference for me was that I didn't feel that I had only to look to women as role models. I looked to everyone as role models. If I found someone smart, and he was a man, I did not think "he's a man and he's smart and therefore I can't pattern myself after him." I would think he was smart, for this reason I would admire him. I think women need more female role models, but I think also women have to know that for anything they want to be, they can find a role model. They don't have to restrict themselves by gender, or ethnicity or anything like that. You can find someone that you want to emulate, and you can learn from them.

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