My name is Lynn Komu. I’m an awkward creative and a bit of a nerd. I’ve always been fascinated by things that make the world beautiful but more so, how they work. My mom said that as a child I was always taking things apart and putting them it back together if I could; if I wasn’t bored by then. In adulthood, I decided that I wanted to build so I’m currently a civil engineering student living and studying in Namibia.
Phro: Do you remember when you become interested in pursuing a career in Science?
Lynn: [It was] In my last year of high school. We did physical science, a combination of physics and chemistry. We got this new teacher who talked about chemistry like it was her best friend. She made it simple and that gave me the room to really try and understand physics and I discovered that I liked it! I also realized that I was fond of biology; but I knew I wouldn’t want to take the interest further even though I was expected to because my father is a doctor and my mother was a pharmacist.
Phro: Were you exposed to Science outside of school curriculum in any form growing up? And did your exposure encourage your interest in Science?
Lynn: I had this book about astronomy which made me want to be an astronomer. Maybe I’ll follow up with that later in life. I watched Star Wars in high school which fuelled my love for space even more. I’d watch a documentary here and there on the Discovery Channel about a building that collapsed and or a train that caught fire; why it happened and what went wrong. I wish I had been pushed to do science fairs instead of entertaining boys, LOL! But I doubted myself a lot until my final year of high school, I never thought that I was in any way capable to comprehend science. I think I needed some kind of validation which I only got in my final year of high school when I was labelled as “smart” and people would approach me and ask me to help them with physics. I was shook!
Phro: Would you say that your work is a job, something you do for a living that is separate from your life or is Science a significant part of who you are?
Lynn: I’m not working yet but I can speak on identifying as a scientist of sorts. I identify as a creative as well. But I feel like I can figure that out in my own time. It feels like it [Science] comes more naturally than Mathematics. I need that environment that pushes me to learn more, calculate more, read more. Whereas I create as a means of survival. I picked my struggle I guess. I’m not sure how I’ll balance this when I’m working. I see myself building my own lane (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? Civil humour. We build roads. Laugh with me!)
Phro: What were your expectations/fears (if any ) when you entered the field of science for the first time as a woman? Were your fears confirmed or challenged?
Lynn: I expected it to be difficult but I’ve always been a tomboy so somehow I fit in. It’s just sometimes men want to take over the manual labour with lab work (crushing soil samples, moving bricks to be tested, compacting soil etc.) and I think this sells me short in the long run because what happens when I must handle these things myself? I think the fact that I live I Namibia where women are very hands on in many fields, including full time manual labour has made it easier to be a woman studying engineering. Civil engineering particularly has more women which I think has also helped. I noticed for a while that a friend doing mechanical engineering was ostracized by the men and sometimes got blatantly sexist treatment. Engineering is a team sport, you can’t get that degree alone. So that is a challenge I saw with her. Even her lecturer had issues with her having a pink calculator! She has it figured out now and works well with her classmates but she had to earn respect which I don’t think is a thing anybody has to do, especially because they’re a woman. She’s now that girl who will wear the most extra heels for a presentation or make a prototype pink, I love it so much! She hasn’t changed and is still doing what she loves but it was definitely a challenge at first.
Phro: Studies have shown that women drop out of STEM fields at an alarming rate. Have you witnessed this first hand? If so, what do you think causes it?
Lynn: The first time I thought about this was in my drawing class in my first year of engineering. We had to draw something isometrically, which means on each plane; x, y, and z. The guys found it easy and me and my female classmates had a difficult time. Soon after, I watched a YouTube video where a woman covered the lack of women in STEM and how when growing up men are taught how to deal with spaces and see things from different angles i.e when they play with Legos and drive with their dads. It also made me think about how women aren’t encouraged into “difficult” and male dominated fields. Nobody ever sat me down and said I could be an engineer. So many of my classmates said the same things. It’s like because you have long hair and indulge in self-care, you don’t belong here. There’s just a lot of sexism from childhood that plays a role overall. At least in my opinion, this is just what I’ve witnessed in observation. Even when you get there it’s still like you have to prove yourself.
Phro: Are you constantly aware of your gender as a scientist or do you ever feel like it is a barrier for you or in how others treat you?
Lynn: Sometimes; when guys hit on me during labs or whatever (ew). But otherwise, only once in a while like when a lecturer says something that is sexist and stupid. Last year one lecturer talked about how “we dress how we want to be addressed” and how when women are harassed for wearing less, they deserve it. I WOULD have said something but I was already struggling with his module and didn’t want to lose points or have him holding a grudge (because he holds them for life) even though women’s right are important to me.
Phro: Some women Scientists have said that gender-based awards for Science give them special treatment and that they prefer to be judged on a level playing with all genders. Do you agree with this? Or do you think gender-based awards are useful?
Lynn: I think they are useful. For the longest time, women who have been influential in the science field have been overlooked (Look at Mileva Einstein!) and it’s tragic they have to be forced into it but it’s necessary.
Phro: How can society do a better job of sharing the stories of women in Science and encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in Science?
Lynn: I wish being a woman in science was seen as prestigious as being a married woman is perceived to be. I wish we talked about them [women scientists] like that. I wish it was as respected as men in the field. Women make all these discoveries but society wants to judge them off their husbands and children, especially the lack of them. I think that sexism in society needs to be addressed. I think little girls need to be told that they too can become engineers, scientists and so forth and that will seep into the science field which honestly, is basically a boy’s club.
Thank you Lynn for taking the time to do this interview, it was a pleasure interviewing you! To get in touch with Lynn:
Facebook: Lynn Komu
This series is a collection of interviews from women studying or working in Science. Please note it is open to all transwomen and non-binary persons too. If you would like to share your story please contact me here.