Women in Science

Posted on by Alyssa Llamas
“When I grow up, I want to be an industrial hygienist.” Hearing a ten-year-old girl say those words would probably warrant a double take. While there might be some little girls out there dreaming about one day conducting research and working in a laboratory, studies suggest that more often, it’s a ten-year-old boy who will have the dream and will realize it when he grows up. The reality is that a disproportionately smaller number of women than men follow careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Scientific organizations agree that a better balance is needed. Perhaps, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, more girls will one day enthusiastically say, “epidemiologist, health communication specialist, medical officer, engineer, psychologist!”

In order to remain competitive and innovative in science and technology, we must close the gender gap and harness the full potential of the female STEM workforce in the United States. Women are widely underrepresented both in STEM jobs and STEM undergraduate degrees. Although women make up close to half of the U.S. workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.[i] There appears to be a disconnection between women with STEM degrees and STEM jobs. About 40 percent (2.7 million) of men with STEM college degrees work in STEM jobs, while only 26 percent (0.6 million) of women with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs.[i] The numbers make it clear that we need to encourage and support women in STEM.

Several factors may contribute to the disproportionate number of women in STEM majors and jobs, such as gender stereotyping, less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields, and a lack of female role models.

There is certainly no shortage of female role models at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. NIOSH employs over 500 female workers –nearly 40% of the workforce- in a wide range of jobs including epidemiologists, physicians, and engineers.

Some of these talented women are featured in the new NIOSH Women in Science video series. They discuss their journeys to science, challenges and experiences along the way, work duties, and how they balance work with family. Also, they offer advice to aspiring scientists, encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM.

Enjoy these fun facts about the different STEM disciplines featured in the NIOSH Women in Science video series.


  • Like detectives, epidemiologists investigate the causes of injury or illness to prevent them from happening again.[ii] In the movie Contagion, the character played by Kate Winslet was an epidemiologist trying to understand the cause and progression of the outbreak.
  • Epidemiologists study a variety of public health areas including infectious disease, chronic disease, occupational health, and injury. At NIOSH, epidemiologists perform the vital work of determining whether workers in a given industry, occupation, or work site are suffering an unexpectedly large number or rate of injury, illness, or death, and why this may be so.
  • John Snow is considered the father of modern epidemiology for his work in identifying a water pump to be the source of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854.[iii]
To hear from epidemiologists at NIOSH, check out:

Health Communication Specialist

  • Health communication is the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health.[iv]
  • Health communication specialists use science to determine the best methods of sharing health information. For example, they evaluate the effectiveness of using certain channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, for specific audiences.
  • At NIOSH, health communication specialists work behind the scenes with researchers to develop user-friendly fact sheets on the prevention of work-related disease and injury.
To hear from a health communication specialist at NIOSH, check out:

Medical Officer

  • Medical officers in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are at the frontlines of public health. At NIOSH, medical officers detect and investigate occupational health problems, research and implement prevention strategies, and develop and advocate health policies.
  • The Commissioned Corps is one of America’s seven uniformed services.
  • The earliest evidence of occupational medicine can be traced to the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, written approximately 1700 BC.[v]
To hear from a medical officer at NIOSH, check out:


  • The word engineer is derived from the Latin root ingeniare, which means to devise in the sense of construct, or craftsmanship.[vi]
  • Only about one out of every seven engineers is female. [i]  
  • Within the 4 major branches of engineering (chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical), there are over 25 engineering subdisciplines.[vii] Engineers at NIOSH work in a variety of areas, including electronics, mining, and environmental health.
To hear from an engineer at NIOSH, check out:


  • Psychology is the scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes.[viii]
  • Psychologists can work in variety of settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, and government agencies.[ix]
  • At NIOSH, occupational health psychologists apply psychology to improving the quality of work life, and to protecting and promoting the safety, health and well-being of workers.
To hear from a psychologist at NIOSH, check out:

Industrial Hygienist

  • The goal of industrial hygiene is to keep workers healthy and safe by identifying and correcting hazards, such as chemicals, germs, noise, repetitive motion, and stressors. [x]
  • Industrial hygienists use their expert knowledge of occupational health, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, toxicology, and epidemiology to improve workplace conditions. [x]
  • As part of the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program, industrial hygienists travel with interdisciplinary teams throughout the country to evaluate work environments and provide direct recommendations to reduce hazards. Employees, employee representatives, or employers can request an evaluation of possible health hazards associated with their job or workplace.
  • One tool industrial hygienists use is the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, which can help workers, employers, and occupational health professionals recognize and control occupational chemical hazards.

To hear from an industrial hygienist at NIOSH, check out: Science Speaks: Talking to Women in Science (Kendra, Industrial Hygienist)

Please help us circulate these videos so that they can be seen by students at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level. You can forward this link directly or provide us information in the comment section below. We hope these videos can play a part in encouraging young women and girls to consider a STEM career. For more information see the NIOSH Women in Science topic page.

Alyssa Llamas, BS
Ms. Llamas is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Communication & Research Translation Office.


[i] Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, ESA Issue Brief #04-11, August 2011; URL http://templatelab.com/women-in-stem-a-gap-to-innovation/
[ii] BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Epidemiologists; URL http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm
[v] M Gochfeld. Chronological History of Occupational Medicine. J Occup Environ Med, (February 2005). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15706170
[ix] BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists; URL http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Psychologists.htm
[x] American Industrial Hygiene Association: Discover Industrial Hygiene; URL https://www.aiha.org/about-ih/Pages/default.aspx

Posted on by Alyssa Llamas

14 comments on “Women in Science”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    This is a very interesting article and I identify myself with the difficulties and obstacles in getting into a STEM career. I have been trying to reach OSHA and NIOSH to do an internship, but I had not been successful for quiet some time. It would be nice to have more accessible programs for female graduate students to do short internships in federal agencies.

    Here are a few sites that may offer opportunities at the CDC, NIOSH and other organizations in the federal government.

    The CDC Student Worksite Experience Program offers non-paid educationally-related work opportunities to high school and college students. For more information e-mail studentworksite@cdc.gov.

    CDC’s Career Training Fellowships http://www.cdc.gov/Fellowships/CareerInternships.html provide opportunities for those who have, or will soon have, a college or other graduate or health professional degree. These programs can help jump-start your public health career.

    CDC’s student internships and fellowships http://www.cdc.gov/Fellowships/StudentInternships.html provide hands-on training programs for undergraduate or graduate students still in school.

    There may also be opportunities through the Pathways program. These jobs are advertised on http://www.USAjobs.gov. More information on the Pathways program can be found at http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/students-recent-graduates/#url=Overview.

    I find it odd that a NIOSH blog did not interview a female Industrial Hygienist. Even the opening sentence talks about girls being IH’s.

    Women should be encouraged at all levels and environment of their lives. Families should lead them to their mental development from babyhood to adulthood not discriminating them as being a girl playing dolls only . In the family girls shoul not only be led to having motherly attıtudes, but to the other activ ities of life as in science and all others such as administration of all fields of life equally to men.
    As a student successful in maths, physics and chemistry as well as others, but majorly in science and maths I know how jelousy turns to hatred or irony.
    This developmental behaviour change in society can only be made through the support of new regulatiions created and applied to modern human development of men and women equal contribution in society not only in science but every field of life and education by laws and regulations and through education of society. The other benefit of women development
    in science , technolgy and other fields of life will make women better mothers to diagnose their chieldren’s needs in growth.
    As an educated woman , I know how diffic ult it is to reach the top in the administration . be dominating men at work and the
    fight with the conspiracy to exist and step forward .

    With the ever rising cost of education these days, it is then no wonder that a lot of people try to find ways to get their higher education for free. Women, in particular, are rather lucky in this regard since there are quite a few different scholarships that can be had for women who wish to pursue certain degrees in many different fields.

    I think we must close the gender gap and harness the full potential of the female STEM workforce in the United States. How to increase number of women follow careers in science?

    It’s good to see women participating in these scientific endeavors. Women should be encouraged. Thanks for posting!

    Great article! Your writing style is informative and engaging, making it a pleasure to read. I especially appreciated the well-researched insights and clear explanations. Keep up the excellent work!

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Page last reviewed: April 18, 2019
Page last updated: April 18, 2019