Student Essay Contest

Julie Haggerty’s Journey to the Clouds

2017 AWM Essay Contest: Hihg School Level Honorable Mention

By: Macey Broadwater Fairview High School (Boulder, Colorado)

In 7th grade, Julie’s science class used a work-in-progress textbook. Filled with exploratory labs and investigations, the premise was simple: let the middle schoolers try a myriad of experiments, learning new content about biology, chemistry and physics through dissections, reactions, and collisions, while simultaneously providing the author with direct feedback. Julie recalls one lab where she peered into a microscope and found tiny amoebas floating about in petri dishes, which, moments before, seemed to be filled with only water. The miniscule creatures stirred a wondrous curiosity in 12-year-old Julie that never faltered, and science took center stage in her academic interests as the trial labs, exciting and unrefined and fresh, laid down the first bricks in her lifelong career path.
Julie’s Yuba City, California high school had top notch science and math programs that would start to pave Julie’s road to becoming an atmospheric scientist. Her teachers, who saw Julie’s inherent bright and hardworking nature, spiced up her school work with extra challenges, having her explore topics beyond the class material, and giving her tricky bonus problems to solve. Kind words of encouragement and earnest recommendations for her to enter into a science or math career similarly boosted her interest in the fields, and she set off to the University of California, Davis, with a solid resolve to become a scientist, and a vague notion of studying biology. However, the world of math and physics soon captured her passion, with their cleaner cut answers and analytic methods, Julie felt a more complete understanding of the concepts in the mathematical world. She began to focus her studies towards atmospheric science, a route she would hike for years to come as she earned an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D.
Even so, college was not a walk in the park for Julie. Instead, it was marred with thickets and thorns that would try their hardest to send the young scientist reeling off her chosen trail and
back into a more traditionally feminine avenue. The then extremely male dominated fields of mathematics and physics posed an ever-present challenge to her confidence, constantly lurking in the woods alongside her and matching Julie’s stride. The growing feeling of being out of place and questioning her worth was fostered by often finding herself as the only girl in her classes, and lacking any female professors to look up to. Further, with constant talk of how the men in her classes planned to have fantastic careers, working 12 hours a day and being completely immersed in discovering and researching, Julie sensed a hesitation in herself, and a disconnect from her peers. She had all of the same ambitions as her male counterparts, and yet her heart still wrenched, as she thought, “But, I want to have a family!” All of the boys who had these aspirations, she explains, never had to face this dilemma. They could travel their ardent career paths, brimming with hard work and triumph, then tack a family on without fretting. Julie’s younger self was caught in a frightful tug-of-war—were a vigorous career and a family mutually exclusive for a female scientist? Bobble and quake with doubt as she might, Julie managed to stay in her lane of atmospheric science, but several years would pass before Julie gained full confidence in both her merit as a physicist and her ability to blend work and home. The shift, as she describes it, was a gradual realignment due to time and life experience. Repeated evidence of her abilities, as she earned high grades, published peer reviewed studies, and wrote a dissertation on measuring properties of clouds in the arctic, evaporated any lingering qualms about her intelligence and stamina. Meanwhile, the gender norms of the time became more progressive, and, little by little, she learned that she did not have to give up her adored job, and her success, in atmospheric science to have children of her own. Julie walked straight into the foreboding woods, combining her love of problem solving, physics, nature, and family, to create her own path for inhabiting and doing with as she pleased.
When I prompt her about this, and ask how she balanced this coveted relationship between work and family, she laughs and says “Sometimes, not so well.” She goes on to say that when her kids were young, she had to give less to her job. Raising two rambunctious children, two years apart, who were just as often performing elaborate and belly-achingly hilarious puppet shows as they were throwing rocks at each other, required a great deal of her energy, time, and love. “Something had to give!” She exclaims, but with a mother’s tenderness. Currently, her oldest is at Stanford studying mechanical engineering and the youngest is a senior in high school, planning to attend college and study journalism in the fall.
Julie now lives in Boulder, Colorado and works at the National Center for Atmospheric Research as a project scientist. She is still more than happy to play around with equations and apply her knowledge of math and physics to nature, and she delights in the travelling and collaboration that she is able to do through her job, from France to Australia to the Virgin Islands. She also speaks to the rewards of helping the younger scientists and mathematicians, seeing them grow and learn. Whether it be taking a step back from a project to give a budding physicist the chance to lead, or offering specific and valued guidance, she savors the chance to encourage and mentor younger people, just as her teachers and coworkers did for her years before. Despite all of the gendered obstacles she faced in her quest to become a scientist, Julie persevered and constructed a confidence in herself, believing she could be just as brilliant and hardworking as the boys, and trusted in her ability to balance her passion for math and science, and her love of her family.
About the Student:
Macey Broadwater is a senior at Fairview High School, where she loves learning about physics, chemistry, and calculus. Her favorite areas of math are statistics and mechanics because of their real world applications. She plans to become an environmental engineer, as she cares deeply about nature and seeks to protect and preserve it. Outside of academia, she enjoys dancing, playing piano and ukulele, cooking, and filmmaking, and volunteers for the Joshua School and is a part of the Girls Who Code club at her school.