Hidden Figures

On my 25th birthday, Hidden Figures came out in UK cinemas. In my mind, there was no better way of marking a quarter of a century in age than celebrating the lives of amazing female scientists.

The biographical film depicts the story of three NASA scientists, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who arguably served as the brains behind one of the biggest moments in American history – the Space Race. The film was all that I hoped it to be, an engaging story, beautifully shot, which highlighted the barriers they faced.

It shone the spotlight on the overt discrimination experienced by the three scientists, with scenes where Katherine Johnson had to run between buildings to use the bathroom, or having to use a separate coffee pot; helping to paint a picture of the institutionalised racism and segregation experienced on an everyday basis.

But cleverly, I found that many of the scenes in the film acknowledged the less obvious forms of discrimination which we still sadly see today. With the women being excluded from discussion, doors slammed in their faces, and even leaving their name off publications that they have contributed to.

And although the film clearly had added a Hollywood spin to their lives, it was heart-warming, informative, and (most importantly) it was celebratory towards women who have been ignored.

(And don’t even get me started about how Katherine Johnson joined the actresses on stage at the Oscars, because I will cry.)

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British Science Week: Let’s Talk about Women in STEM

Today is the first day of British Science Week, and as scientists set up their tables at festivals to engage the public with science, its also important to engage people with some of the issues in STEM.

Totaljobs has undertaken some research which has highlighted some of the issues that face women within STEM careers, and illustrates some of factors that lead to inequality within science.

The lack of representation of women in STEM is a huge issue, as we loose girls from science education through unconscious bias and we loose women during their careers due to lack of support. It also appears that not only are women in STEM suffering from a social disadvantage, but they are also at an economical disadvantage, as totaljobs research across 1,450 STEM-related professionals showed:

•Women in STEM typically expect to be paid £7,107 less than men

•Men in STEM earn £639 more than women in bonuses

•65% of women admit they don’t feel comfortable asking for a pay rise

•37% of women believe their male counterparts are paid more for the same role

Alongside their research, they have made a useful video demonstrating some of the issues that lead to a lack of women in science – including a lack of female role models at a young age.

We find that young girls really enjoy science at school and don’t necessarily say ‘science isn’t a women’s job’, but we do find that they say ‘science just isn’t for me’. This is due to a lack of female role models in STEM and limited depictions of women in the media, leading them to not identify with a career in science.

Unconscious bias also has a role to play in the lack of girls engaging with STEM. As we are products of a biased society, we find that teachers can be subconsciously less encouraging towards girls in school: by allowing boys to answer questions more or scolding girls more often when they shout out in class – subtly reinforcing the idea that intellect and academia is a ‘boy’s world’.

Parent’s also display this unconscious bias, in fact as a science museum, parents are more than three times as likely to explain the exhibit to their boy child than their girl child.

And as totaljobs’ research suggests, we see gender differences in grown adults as well, due to stereotyping. We tell girls that women are passive and less competitive, so when they reach their career they feel unable to ask for a pay rise (as well as the clear gender pay gap within science, demonstrated in their research).

So as we get into British Science Week, spreading the joys of science, lets keep in mind the unconscious bias that can prevent girls from interacting with STEM subjects and how this can follow them throughout into their careers.

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Mind-Ful celebrates #IWD2017

iwd2017

For International Women’s Day, I wanted to share some experiences and stories from fantastic women in STEM.

I don’t need to say anymore, I now hand you over to these inspirational women.

Amanda Gray – Geologist – Scottish Stemettes

IWD amanda

My Story: I was inspired into a career in earth science after watching BBC’s Planet Earth when I was 14 years old. I even went to my Science Teacher and requested to do an extra Standard Grade subject so that I could do all three sciences!

After not getting the Maths grade needed to get into my first choice at Edinburgh University, I went through the UCAS clearing system to get a place at Aberdeen University to do a BSc in Geology & Petroleum Geology. Excited by the opportunities in the oil & gas industry I went on to get an MSc in Integrated Petroleum Geoscience.

I had landed the dream job with a small oil company but it did require moving far away from my family and friends. I did have a great experience as a Graduate Geologist; gaining many skills and trying to make the most of every opportunity from field trips in Greece and France to visiting an onshore oil rig in Kazakhstan! I met many wonderful mentors and friends who shared my enthusiasm for geology and science in general.

However, when the oil price dropped in 2015 the industry I worked in became a very uncertain and unstable environment to be in, and the company I worked for got bought over. This brought about big changes in the job roles available and where I would be expected to live and work. Ultimately, I wasn’t happy in my personal life living so far from home and I wasn’t excited about the new job opportunities on offer. So, I turned down a job offer for a big oil company in London, took a redundancy package and moved to my favourite city in the world, Edinburgh.

Through that complicated experience I had lost my mojo. I needed a change. I figured if I couldn’t work as a geologist at this moment, let’s throw my energy into another passion – STEM education. I strongly believe that everybody deserves to have the career that they love and I want to help young people discover that their career could be in STEM.

So, I volunteered at a Stemette’s event and loved it so much, I asked if I could work for them. I am now the Scottish Stemette, leading the establishment of the not-for-profit social enterprise in Scotland. On a day to day basis I get to organise fun events, inspire young people, and meet other people passionate about STEM. It is one of the most rewarding job roles I’ve ever had and has inspired me to continue science outreach work throughout my career.

Only recently, I saw a geology PhD project at Heriot Watt University that excited me and I was have been fortunate enough to be offered a place to study there for the next 4 years, and will be starting in autumn this year. I felt like this was the next challenge in my career. I love getting to share stories of inspiring women in science to girls, and I wanted to make sure that I continue doing research so that I can be one of those role models too.

Favourite woman in STEM experience: My favourite experience as a Woman in STEM, so far, has been inspired other young women that they are capable of careers in STEM. At the my first ever Stemettes event I did speed mentoring sessions. I asked teenage girls if somebody has ever made them feel like that couldn’t do STEM… I was heartbroken to hear several stories from these young women ranging from “My teacher said ‘are you sure you want to do computing science? That’s a boy’s subject’” to “The boys in my maths class laughed at me when I said I wanted to be an engineer”. This cemented my commitment to make sure girls have more role models to show them that they can do STEM too.

Nicola F. – PhD at University of Westminster – Blogger at FreshScience

IWD Nicola

Advice I would give to girls in STEM: Having the confidence to push yourself to achieve something great, through the hardships, is so important for women in STEM, and something that every woman is capable of.

Quote I am inspired by: Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained” – Marie Curie

 

Jessica Fletcher – Educator – PhD in Cancer Studies – Science YouTuber

IWD Jessica Fletcher

My story: I can’t remember the exact moment when I decided that science was for me. I do know that from a young age I had a mental image of myself looking down a microscope and helping to save the world, and growing up I was lucky enough to have a supportive family around me who let me know that I could do just that!

Throughout my school years I had some wonderful female science teachers, however it was (and still is) hard to find strong female STEM role models represented in society and the media. I have worked hard and been successful in my STEM career so far, and am fortunate to be working in an environment which has many strong female STEM role models, however my journey hasn’t been without its moments. Moments where it has been made painfully aware to me that certain archaic discriminatory views and prejudices against women in STEM still exist. As a proud feminist and STEMinist

I hope to encourage girls and women of all ages to pursue their passion for science through my work at Swansea University Medical School and my YouTube channel ‘Science She Wrote’.

 

Jordina Escoda – Studying Chemistry at Universitat Rovira i Virgili

IWD Jordina

My thoughts on science: Science is much more useful than I thought. I love it because I can learn as well as experiment with everyday’s things.

 

Carys Huntly – PhD in Spectral Imaging Science – Aberystwyth University

IWD Carys

My story: I always say that I “fell” into Physics, it’s not something I enjoyed at GCSE, finding the topics covered at the time fairly dry and uninspiring. However after receiving my results and seeing that it was my strongest science I decided to give it a chance at A-Level – and found I loved it! In a large part because of this I now take time to go out to schools and different public events to talk about my experience and research in the hope that others will find it at least half as exciting as I do!

I am currently studying for a PhD in Physics at Aberystwyth University, where I also completed a BSc in Physics with Planetary and Space Physics.

My PhD is based around Spectral Imaging Science, using specially modified, or custom built, cameras to analyse data about the scene. The applications of this technology are widespread but I am focussed on agriculture and planetary exploration. I am fortunate enough to be sat in the team working towards the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 mission, where the primary objective is to search for evidence of past or present life in the sub-surface of Mars.

Quote I am inspired by: “We look at science as something very elite, which only a few people can learn. That’s just not true. You just have to start early and give kids a foundation. Kids live up, or down, to expectations.” – Mae Jemison

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