Who is Vera Rubin?

I was saddened by a recent article in the Economist over the death of Vera Rubin. I was even more sad that it seemed like almost no other news outlets covered it.

Who is Vera Rubin? She is the physicist who proved the existence of Dark Matter.

She reshaped cosmology with her stunning discovery, yet she never won a Nobel Prize for Physics.


If you read the article, you’ll learn of a brilliant woman that faced stupid obstacles like not having a bathroom available to her. A woman who was told a colleague would present her work for her, and of course, he’d take the credit for it.

She said no.

A woman who had to put her work aside to raise her children, because that’s what women did.

Makes me wonder what more she could’ve accomplished if instead of fighting for a bathroom, she’d been given the same resources as her male colleagues. After all, look what she did with the hurdles she faced.

Reading this article made me glad for the how far we’ve come, but it also reminded me that we’re still not all the way there.

As a bright-eyed freshman, I walked into my Calculus II class and realized I was one of two women in the class. The professor looked at me, snorted, and said I wouldn’t be in his class by the end of the semester. I was shocked. Enraged. And hurt.

I worked my tail off that semester, and I pulled an A in the class. Beauty of math at this level is there’s one correct answer. Hate me or not, I could do the work.

But that professor still won.

I changed my major at the end of the semester.

See, he wasn’t the only patronizing, demeaning professor or student I endured. Frankly, there were certain other students that made the classroom feel slightly hostile. I’d get a sick feeling in my stomach if they sat by me, and I was sure they were saying mean things about me. 

Mean girls in high school was one thing, but they never questioned my right to simply be.

It was things like that which drove me from  the engineering program and to the business school even though the only class I didn’t make an “A” in that semester was German.


I liked the business school a whole lot better. I felt like it was “okay” for me to be there. No one made harassing or threatening overtures. The accounting class was 50% female, so most group projects saw at least one other woman working on it with me. Almost half of my accounting professors were female, too. The math was way easier, but there were other things that made it challenging enough to keep my interest. Good job prospects didn’t hurt, either.

I wasn’t as sure of myself at eighteen as I am now. I couldn’t handle being singled out. Even though I work in a male dominated field now, it doesn’t bother me. I have no issue being the only female at a staff meeting. Or any other meeting, for that matter.

But it bothered me a lot then. Enough to chase me away.

Maybe that made me weak, but it also means the world lost all the contributions I could’ve made to the field.

Makes me wonder how many Vera Rubins there could’ve been.
How about you? Ever walk away from something you wanted because you felt like an outsider? Do you regret it? Maybe you stuck with something really hard? Where did you find the gumption to do it? How did it turn out?

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5 thoughts on “Who is Vera Rubin?

  1. ARG. Rage and frustration. I’m so disappointed to hear that happened to you. Not surprised, but yes.

    First time I remember experiencing was in 5th or 6th grade. There’s a lot of oh if women can’t stand up for themselves then they shouldn’t X. But I was young! Hell even college is young. I’d already had it snuffed out of me by the time I got to college. If I could go all the way back I’d have gone into chemistry, but that might be because that was the only science or math teacher who didn’t actively discourage me. I really admire the people who were able to preserve through all of the hostility and thank them for making space.

    I hadn’t heard she’d passed. 🙁

    This sucks.

    1. For me, it was really tough because high school hadn’t been like that. Yes, there was peer pressure to not appear smart, but the faculty had all worked hard to get women into math and science.

      I loved it, and was sold on engineering after we went to see a nuclear power plant and how it was run.

      I sometimes regret my decision. Not that I don’t like what I do now, but eighteen is a hard age to ask someone to fight the establishment while keeping up their grades so they don’t lose their scholarship. Especially as no one else had to fight.

      1. I think that the things we expect we are expecting of kids 18 and younger, is the really sad thing to me. Expecting them to know what they want and not be influenced by teachers who say girls can’t do math when you clearly have the correct answer to the problem? It’s unfortunate and it makes it so much harder to progress.

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing your experience. I need the reminder that there’s still so much work to do to create an egalitarian society with equal opportunities!

  3. Thanks, I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Vera Rubin either before. It’s always good to hear of the achievements of women scientists.

    Sad to hear of your bad experiences studying maths and engineering. It is outrageous that not only students but even lecturers make women students feel unwelcome studying those subjects to a higher level. (Then they use the fact that there are strangely few women succeeding at that level to suggest that women are not capable.) We still have a long way to go.

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