Orphan Black - TV women in STEM
Orphan Black. Image: Netflix

7 kick-ass TV role models for aspiring women in STEM

25 Jul 2017

Television has thrown up plenty of fictional role models. Who’s your favourite TV woman in STEM?

Role models are one of the most important things we can have while developing our professional career.

While it’s true for everyone to a degree, having role models becomes even more vital when it comes to the gender gap. As the old adage goes, you can’t be what you can’t see, and this can often be true for women in STEM.

We’ve previously highlighted some fantastic role models who speak out about the importance of women in these industries, but what can arguably be even more influential is what we see on the small screen every night.

Luckily, there are plenty of kick-ass women in STEM gracing pop culture, so we decided to focus on fictional television series. Did we include your favourite fictional female scientist?

Dr Temperance Brennan, Bones

Top of her field in forensic anthropology, Dr Temperance Brennan had to be first on the list. She is fearless when she is out in the field with her FBI partner but in the lab, examining skeletal remains is where she really shines, and why she’s better known as ‘Bones’.

Played by Emily Deschanel, Bones is a force to be reckoned with, finding ways to make dead people tell her so much more than the living. When she’s not catching murderers, Bones also finds time to be a best-selling author.

Dr Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory

While The Big Bang Theory has a number of strong female scientists, we decided to single out Melissa Rauch’s Dr Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz.

In the early days of the programme, viewers see the character paying her student loans by working at The Cheesecake Factory and working her way up her own career ladder as a microbiologist, before getting a job at a big pharmaceutical company.

Outside of her role as scientist, Rostenkowski-Wolowitz also has a fiery personality behind a deceptively sweet demeanour, which would keep anyone in line.

Cosima Niehaus, Orphan Black

Cosima Niehaus is a kick-ass addition to the world of television STEM women. A self-professed ‘geek monkey’, Orphan Black’s Niehaus is a PhD biology student with a scientific mind verging on genius levels.

The role of Niehaus is played by Tatiana Maslany, who won an Emmy for her portrayal last year. Niehaus, an extraordinary scientist and a strong female character, is also a lesbian but, as she says herself, her sexuality is not the most interesting thing about her.

Dr Martha Jones, Doctor Who

While Doctor Who is finally breaking gender barriers after 12 male doctors, the show itself has showcased plenty of admirable women. However, from a STEM point of view, none can compare to Dr Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman.

Starting off by telling ‘The Doctor’ himself that he had to “earn that title”, Jones arguably became one of the best companions on the show.

While many of The Doctor’s companions have had superpowers and importance thrust upon them, Jones was a normal medical student who chose to step up and become a rebel fighter.

Dr Dana Scully, The X Files

What list of fictional STEM women would be complete without Dana Scully from The X Files? Not only was she an incredible FBI agent, she was also a medical doctor with a scientific background.

Brought to life by Gillian Anderson, Scully stands out as one of the greatest feminist role models on TV, particularly when it comes to women in STEM. In contrast to Mulder, Scully’s cool, scientific brain acts as the voice of reason time and time again, making her a definite favourite.

Apologies for getting the creepy theme music in your head for the rest of the day.

Dr Samantha Carter, Stargate SG-1

When it comes to a CV, few are more impressive than Dr Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1. Played by Amanda Tapping, Carter is an astrophysicist, engineer and pilot as well as a member of the United States Air Force.

She played a key role in establishing the Stargate programme before she was assigned to the Stargate Command’s flagship team, SG-1. So impressive was she that her commanding officer, Jack O’Neill, declared her a national treasure. We’re not crying, you’re crying.

Dr Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD

Dr Jemma Simmons, played by Elizabeth Henstridge, is a biochemist who works for SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). She is incredibly talented at her job, graduating three years early, and holds two PhDs.

Similar to Brennan in Bones, Simmons takes her amazing lab skills out into the field. While she’s not afraid to admit when she gets scared, she certainly keeps her cool and proves herself to be yet another kick-ass woman in STEM.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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