Scully, born into a close-knit Catholic and military family, received her Bachelor of Science in physics, then went on to medical school at Stanford University. She was recruited by the FBI and after two years was assigned to the X-Files. Because of her history in STEM, she was no stranger to the unequal treatment most women receive in STEM fields, but she never let that stop her. She defied one female stereotype after another, proving to be the least squeamish and the most qualified in her field. Her skeptic nature provided a balance for Mulder, and her constant need to explain the cases she witnessed with science grounded her as a character. The science presented in the series was substantiated with help from real-life scientist Anne Simon. Besides serving as the science advisor for The X-Files, she is a virologist at the University of Maryland, author of The Real Science Behind the X-Files, and a friend of show creator Chris Carter – you can hear an interview with her here.
The presence of such a strong woman in STEM in a pop culture touchstone such as The X-Files had ripple effects for the women and girls who consistently watched the show. An anecdotal trend began to emerge, referred to as “The Scully Effect," where young women were inspired by Scully's character to pursue careers in science, medicine, and law enforcement. Scully soon became a “pop culture patron saint” of women entering STEM fields. Gillian Anderson was asked at Comic Con if she was aware of the Scully Effect, and she replied, “It was a surprise to me, when I was told that. We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully. And I said, ‘Yay!’” The aforementioned X-Files science advisor Anne Simon also is quoted as saying, “I asked my Intro Bio class back then how many of them were influenced by the character of Scully on The X-Files to go into science and half of the hands in the room went up. That’s huge! That was saying that the show was really having an effect.”