Best Books by and for Women in STEM

Reads That Can Inspire Women’s Journeys in STEM

STEM. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Stack of books with science education doodles and hand written word "STEM"
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For women in STEM, seeing themselves in the media is rare. As of 2023, 72% of young women and girls said they wish there were more STEM women characters in movies and TV. But when they do, the impact is huge.

Studies have shown that women’s mindsets are impacted by what they see in the media. For instance, it’s been shown that seeing powerful women in the media decreases negative self-perceptions and increases interest in leadership roles among women watching. The same effect occurs when women in STEM see characters who look like them in movies, TV, and books.

While the overall number of women in STEM displayed in the media has stayed static in recent years, STEM characters who are women of color increased 13% between 2017 and 2022. As a result, women of color feel encouraged to pursue a career in STEM. In surveying girls about the film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, 72% and 68% of respondents said characters Shuri and Riri had a positive influence on their STEM interest, respectively.

In addition to fictional characters, there are multiple real women in STEM who have documented their stories on the page. Here are a few books to check out for high school and college women in STEM.

“The Sky is For Everyone: Women Astronomers in Their Own Words”

The Sky is For Everyone is a collection of personal essays from women astronomers who have impacted the field for the better. The book’s contributors are made up of women with experience and recognition in aerospace engineering, including Gabriela Gonzalez. Now a professor at Louisiana State University, Gonzalez has a PhD in physics and has spent a lot of time in STEM researching instrument design and noise diagnostics relevant to gravitational waves with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).

As a professor, Gonzalez has seen firsthand how representation impacts women and other minorities in STEM. “When I teach introductory classes to first year students, women and Hispanics are more likely to ask questions and come to office hours than with my male colleagues, and I think that's because they see me as more similar to them,” Gonzalez shares.

On women in science in the media, she adds that the lack of female STEM characters can imply that there are limited women in STEM. “The number of female characters [in STEM] is so much smaller than male characters that the natural assumption is that you have to be exceptional if you are going to be a woman in science.”

When she read the book herself, Gonzalez recalls being surprised by how many different perspectives the book represents. “There is no typical story, there is no stereotype, there is no one way to overcome challenges or take advantage of opportunities,” she asserts. “We all make our own story and anybody can follow their passion…even with obstacles in the way.“

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is arguably one of the most well-known stories of women in STEM - thanks to its representation in mainstream media. Hidden Figures uplifted Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Jackson, and Mary Jackson, three legendary women in aerospace engineering. After the book’s release, it hit the Top 10 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

Hidden Figures was monumental for women in STEM, especially Black women. The book was authored by Margot Lee Shetterly, who came from a family of scientists and a different landscape of STEM. Her website references this upbringing: “For me, growing up in Hampton, Virginia, the face of science was brown like mine.”

In the Press Site auditorium at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the media participate in a news conference with key individuals from the upcoming motion picture 'Hidden Figures.' From the left are: Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe. The movie is based on the book of the same title, by Margot Lee Shetterly.. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Her book, which led to an Academy-award nominated movie, brought the history of women in STEM into mainstream culture. For young women, especially those already involved in STEM, Hidden Figures was inspirational. It even led to the creation of programs to increase women in STEM, like the Hidden No More program by the U.S. State Department, which brought women from across the world together to advance efforts for more gender diversity in STEM.

Hidden Figures is a testament to the impact of media representation on the STEM landscape. Normalizing women in STEM and highlighting their stories shows that women can and should be leaders in STEM. Whether you’re a woman in STEM yourself, someone who appreciates women in STEM, or just someone who wants to read a powerful story of influential women at NASA, Hidden Figures is for you.

“The Beauty of Falling: A Life in Pursuit of Gravity”

The Beauty of Falling: A Life in Pursuit of Gravity by Claudia de Rham is a unique memoir about one physicist’s journey with gravity. de Rham’s book highlights her experiences exploring gravity through diving, flying, and being a physicist after her career unexpectedly derailed away from being an astronaut.

Gravity is central to the science of our everyday lives. While everyone can enjoy de Rham’s book, it has a special significance for girls and women in science. In an interview with Princeton University Press, de Rham made a connection between dark energy in the universe and the role of women in STEM.

“Dark energy is an invisible substance that fills the Universe. In our everyday life, it is utterly imperceptible,” she shared. She continued, saying that there have been times she’s witnessed people’s contributions being overlooked because they may not be what you’d expect to see in STEM, just like dark energy. “Contributions may seem unnoticeable because [people’s] characteristics are sometimes different to what we are typically looking for. Yet these contributions are sometimes the most fundamental and ultimately influential.”

It’s known that women interested in STEM are more likely to pursue a career in the field if they have mentors and role models who look like them. The Beauty of Falling is a great book for young women in STEM to check out not only for interesting perspectives on gravity, but also to connect with de Rham through her story of being a woman in science.

Getting Inspired by Books About Women in STEM

Reading books authored by and about women in STEM is a great way to remind yourself of the community of women in STEM. It can feel isolating to be a minority in STEM fields, but the reality is that there are plenty of women in the field who are going through the same things that you are.

Connecting with other women in STEM, either in-person or through their stories on the page, can help you find determination, get empowered, and maybe even learn from other women’s experiences.

Hailey Dickinson (she/her) is a freelance writer for Built By Girls and has been writing for the publication since January 2023. She is a creator passionate about using digital platforms to build community, make connections, and ignite positive social change. Outside of writing for Built By Girls, she manages social media and communications for multiple non-profit organizations. She is a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota and has a Bachelor’s degree in communications.