I wanted to explore the reasons women are not entering certain areas of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) pipeline.
I discovered that; there are two areas in which the United Kingdom needs greater visibility and understanding of gender trends in STEM.
First: fewer girls than boys are entering STEM at a young age, and fewer young people overall place value on STEM subjects compared with their peers in other parts of the world.
Studies show that the paucity of girls choosing STEM options is likely linked to confidence, as boys are already more comfortable with maths than girls at age 10; by age 14, girls’ confidence has declined still further. The drivers for this are not yet fully understood.
Second: more can be done to analyse why some specific areas of STEM have had much greater success in attracting and retaining women than others.
So lets ask a scientist: My first interview is with Joan Cottrell: PhD Plant Physiology and Forest Molecular Geneticist.
I wanted to hear about her experience of becoming a scientist and what advice she could offer young women thinking about a career in science
‘I grew up in a small mining in town in west Wales, and was one of the first generation of my family to attend University, so I had no direct role model (male or female) to follow’. ‘I felt like a fish out of water and found the first 2 years @ at a English university very tough. Nevertheless, I stuck at it and graduated with a good BSc degree and progressed sometime later to complete a PhD in the University of Edinburgh. However after several temporary research posts, I discovered there were no permanent jobs in my area of scientific specialism.
Having previously qualified with a teaching certificate, I reluctantly returned to school teaching for several years but kept alive my wish to work as a research scientist. Eventually I had the opportunity to return to a research post which I was very pleased to take up. I have been continuously employed in research ever since and have greatly enjoyed my career.
If I was to offer any advice to young women considering science as a career, it would be that there are no barriers to gaining qualifications, but finding a permeant job is challenging. Young women need to consider what they want to achieve in the future and make the right choices along the way in order to get there.
I have not experienced sexism in my area of science. The science industry as a whole is largely led by men, although in the life science sector,I would say the ratios are more equal.
I feel at ease being a female scientist, however I read recently read about Imposter Syndrome, which is where people sometimes feel like a fraud and are unable to internalise accomplishments to feel worthy in a role. I sometimes experience this, and find it difficult to acknowledge that I have actually made it and I have the right to be who and where I am today.
So I agree more role models are needed, if women are to be encouraged to become scientists. Science does attract more males towards, physics & engineering, and this may be because girls do not feel attracted to the jobs that are open to them after their degrees, so that better career advice is required for young women. There are definitely more women in the life sciences compared to other science sectors.
‘I would say to young women; have ambition, but do not to think it is going to be easy! Keep your eyes on where you want to go and be determined to get there. Also effort and dedication will enable you to reach your goals, it’s up to you to decide what they are.