Each year, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
The day highlights the ongoing underrepresentation of women in scientific fields, and aims to empower women and girls to participate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and currently less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in STEM subjects.
Great progress has been made in recent years to inspire more women and girls to pursue scientific careers and include more representation of women in STEM fields.
However, long-standing cultural biases and gender stereotypes continue to discourage widespread participation.
Even when working, women still face obstacles.The gender pay gap in STEM fields can be vast. Research conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering and WISE has found that just 12 per cent of engineers in the UK are women, and they earn around 11 per cent less than their male counterparts, on average.
Edvoy spoke to three women who are shattering outdated stereotypes to succeed in STEM degrees and beyond to find out about their experience of studying STEM subjects.
Siobhan Duncan, PhD Robotics, Edinburgh Centre for Robotics
Siobhan Duncan is in the final stages of a PhD in Robotics at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, having previously completed an undergraduate degree in Computing and Electronics at Heriot-Watt University.
Siobhan’s passion for STEM started at a young age, from playing with lego and science kits to learning how to dismantle old electronics with her dad.
“Seeing what was inside these machines and how they worked fascinated me, but I also enjoyed designing solutions to fix problems. In engineering I could do both.”
Alongside her studies, Siobhan works part-time for EdTech firm Robotical - something she aspires to do on a full-time basis upon finishing her PhD. She wants to help Marty the Robot — a robot designed to bring STEM learning to life for students of all ages — realise its full potential and use her work to inspire more women to pursue STEM careers.
“Longer term I have this bucket list dream to work on a project that one day will go into space, so at some point in my career I'd like to work on something like one of the Mars Rovers.”
“STEM is so much fun - it’s such a large and varied area that there is something to match all interests, personalities and life goals. It's also a very dependable sector in which to find work, for example, there will always be a need for engineers, and depending on your field you can work anywhere in the world.”
Siobhan was the only girl on her undergraduate course in a cohort of seven, and one of only two female students in a cohort of 12 on her PhD. Her advice to women in STEM is to seek out other women and forge support networks early.
“I thought it was sad that there weren’t more girls on my course, which is what got me passionate about STEM outreach, to try and make a difference in the future.”
“When you get to university, find other women and create a lunch group, or society, or coffee club...any excuse to get together semi-regularly and have a good chat over your course. Being part of an under-represented group can be lonely, but women's networks are the best way to counteract that.”
Aoife Kelly, BSc Software Engineering, Queens University Belfast
Her four-year course is in partnership with PwC - a multinational professional services network of firms. PwC fully funds her tuition as well as providing her with a wage for her duration of study.
Of the 20 people on her course, Aoife is one of only four female members.
“I was in shared lectures with the overall software engineering and computer science courses and the majority were male by a wide margin. (However) the number of women doing my type of course does seem to be growing by the year.”
A strong interest in IT at school inspired her to apply. “I realised that computer science was the path I wanted to take when I found that I always looked forward to going to IT classes in school more than I did any other subject.”
“I really enjoyed my placements at software firms when I went into Sixth Form and I liked learning more about coding and software design when I did SSD at A-Level. When I heard about the PwC placement opportunity it seemed too good to be true and definitely something that would set me on the right track for my future.”
Aoife is keen for more women and girls to get involved with STEM, emphasising that even though it is hard work, a degree in a STEM subject can greatly improve your future prospects.
“If it’s something you’re passionate about, don’t let anything hold you back. It’s a great choice for your future. There’s so many options out there and it’s an exciting field to be involved in.”
Allegra Deverell-White, BSc Biology, University of York
Allegra is a second year undergraduate student of Biology at the University of York. Initially planning to study Veterinary Science, Allegra changed her mind just before applying to university because of the exciting range of modules offered on the Biology course.
“I liked the idea of doing a broader subject and was excited to learn more about neuroscience, immunology and regenerative medicines. There were so many options for modules, all with real world applications and all of which sounded really exciting.”
Allegra intends to do a master’s degree, and is especially interested in delving deeper into neuroscience and degenerative diseases. Looking to the future, she hopes to pursue medical anthropology.
“I’ve read quite a few forensic anthropology books and they have been really interesting. It’s incredible what can be done with our current level of understanding. In this case, the amount of information that can be gathered and interpreted from a small bone fragment is amazing.”
She said that one of the best things about pursuing a career in STEM is the varied nature of the courses.
“There are endless possibilities and so many degree courses to look at, if that is what you would like to do. There are also opportunities for placements and work abroad which are really exciting.”
“There are lots of incredible women in STEM - sometimes you just have to look for them. More girls than ever are pursuing careers in STEM and if it’s something you are interested in you should go for it.”
Interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Check out loads of great courses and helpful articles on the Edvoy website.