On the 31st of March, I took the train to BBC Television Centre, selected as one of 25 women for BBC Expert Women 2017. This was a call from the BBC Academy in conjunction with BBC News and Women in Film and Television UK to find women with particular expertise to appear on television, radio, and online as contributors or presenters.
The 25 women who were invited ranged in specialism from law to terrorism, from sex education to fashion. We got the opportunity hone our skills in radio and TV interviews, as well as meeting with programme editors.
As someone who would love to work in STEM journalism and make science documentaries, this was incredibly useful. Not only that, but I was left in awe of the amazing women I was surrounded by, from varying industries, who all show outstanding expertise in their field. More schemes like this need to set up to ensure that women can give their opinion on current affairs and increase the representation of female experts in the media.
Last week, a new state-of-the-art school laboratory was launched, with the aim of encouraging every child to get involved with STEM. As part of an £11m investment, Bayer opened Baylab, which aims to inspire young people to pursue opportunities in life science and strengthen the UK STEM talent pool from the bottom up – highlighting the access gap for children from a low-income background.
There is a huge lack of diversity in science, which is something I talk a lot of on my blog in terms of gender, but economic background is also an issue close to my heart. During my education, being from a working-class background put me at a statistical disadvantage to my more economically-advantaged peers – as there are stark differences in attitudes and experiences between affluent and poorer areas when it comes to interacting with science at school. Research by Bayer showed that in affluent areas, 14% of teachers said that a scientist was something the children aspired to be, whereas this was only 7% in poorer areas.
The Wellcome Trust revealed that around one third of GCSE students enjoy access to ‘hands-on’ practical science lessons less than once a month, with poorest pupils being the most likely to miss out, demonstrating how easy it is for some young people face barriers in their STEM education.
Children from poorer areas are less likely to get the hands-on STEM experiences at school, which are both educational and inspirational. And therefore, Baylab aimed to support teachers with delivering the national curriculum and fill the ‘hands-on’ science gap which can occur due to time and cost constraints in the classroom.
Baylab launched on the March 29th, opening its experiments to the public – ranging from giving children the chance to extract their own DNA to characterising the proteins of an enzyme, trying their hand as a formulation scientist and even working through crime scene forensics. KS1-4 students of all ages and abilities were invited to work with professional scientists on real-life experiments to show them how science is used in our everyday lives.
Alongside the Baylab, Bayer has launched the Inspiration Space, a high-tech interactive exhibition; through the latest motion sensor, touch technology, and body scanners, students will understand what constitutes sustainable food and provide informative insight into the complexity of the human body in relation to maintaining a healthy heart, skin and wound care.
These sorts of projects are vital in ensuring equity of access to STEM subjects for children across the UK, as research shows that we have a long way to go in ensuring that girls and children from a low-income background are given the same opportunities – and to help them realise their full potential in a future career in STEM.
For more information and to register a school with Baylab, headteachers, science coordinators, teachers and parents of children in KS1-4 should visit www.bayer.co.uk/en/baylab
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.)
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
I was joined on the judging panel by Dr Tim Cockerill and Beth Evans, to judge the contestants on their charisma, clarity and content – and believe me it was incredibly hard!
All of the contestants were amazing science communicators, who could turn something as complex as brain surgery or time travel into an understandable and engaging presentation. They had three minutes to present a topic of scientific research to the gallery and the panel of judges, and whoever was successful would go on to compete in the UK wide final.
I was incredibly impressed with the standard, and how well humour and narrative was used to explain very difficult scientific topics (including the physics of time), making the research understandable for the general public, and an audience of a variety of ages and levels of scientific understanding.
This made judging the winners very hard, and it was a close contest. The panel had to choose a wild card winner and an overall winner, from the contestants who came from all over Wales.
After deliberation, we decided that our wild card would be awarded to the charismatic Daniel Olaiya, a neurosurgeon who gave an engaging presentation about Parkinson’s disease, the midbrain and Deep Brain Stimulation; which featured a clever use of dance moves and song lyrics to get his points across.
The overall winner of the FameLab regional final was awarded to Carol Glover, who told a humorous story of deterring a thief from stealing a bike by educating him about corrosive worms. Her use of comedy and a storyline helped to make the topic clear and understandable within the three minute time limit.
I came away from the event impressed by everyone. All of the regional finalists were fantastic, and it was a truly hard decision to make, as all of the contestants were knowledgable in their field and effortlessly made their topics understandable and exciting – the key to science communication!
Join me for a talk about ‘STEMing the flow of women out of science’ at Swansea University on this year’s International Women’s Day.
Seeing as it is St David’s day in my home country of Wales, let’s take a look inside bilingual brains for episode 13 of Gray Matter.
Robots are coming to Cardiff! (And not in the apocalyptic kind of way – but in the way that will inspire young girls and boys into STEM)
The Royal Institution is bringing the world famous CHRISTMAS LECTURES to Wales, with the inspirational electrical engineer Professor Danielle George MBE discussing how to hack your home. The series of UK live shows will culminate in Cardiff, challenging audiences to use their imaginations to change the world, inspiring the next generation of inventors and engineers.
The aim of the tour is to engage local areas across the UK with topics in STEM, making science topics easily accessible and exciting.
If you have been reading my blog a while, you would have heard me talk a lot about the power of making science accessible at home, and how Science Capital can help improve diversity in STEM. But if you haven’t heard me talk about this before, let me break it down.
Certain groups are significantly less likely to interact with science on an everyday basis – these groups tend to be girls, non-white children and working-class children. Because of this, these groups are less likely to describe science as a ‘subject for them’, and are less likely to see STEM as a potential career path for them. Therefore, creating events or projects that bring science into the home and make it accessible, are vital in the endeavours of improving diversity in STEM – and the RI are doing just that!
Not only do they have a YouTube series, ExpeRimental, that has free science activities for families to do at home, but they are also bringing science to local communities across the UK, through their series of lectures. This will help to reach children who are less likely to interact with science regularly, building their confidence in STEM subjects, and will help to capture their imagination.
And the lecture is presented by a woman!
Danielle is Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering at the University of Manchester and presented the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES ‘Sparks will fly: How to hack your home’ – and will be inspiring young girls without even realising it.
By increasing the representation of women in STEM, we are helping to create excellent female role models. By seeing women doing science, it will help little girls to imagine themselves doing science in the future as well.
If you are in Wales, come along to the Reardon Smith Theatre in the National Museum Wales in Cardiff on March 13 – whether you are four or forty, I am sure you will enjoy it!
It is vitally important that shows like this are set up, because not only are they educational and are engaging people with STEM, but they are helping to capture the minds of young girls and help them to realise their full potential in science careers.
(Psst! Also, the tickets are buy-one-get-one free!)
For more information about the event, click here.