Article by Caroline Carruthers

Career ChangeMy bedside table currently has four books. They cover critical thinking, psychoanalysis, nutrition and vampires. What does this have to do with women in STEM? Read on…

First, a confession. I’m considered a data expert, but I don’t know everything there is to know about data. In fact, I probably don’t even understand 10% of subjects that I would like to. The truth is that anybody who tells you they know everything they want to know is lying to you. There’s still so much more that we can all learn, both inside and outside of our chosen fields.

Some people would describe the desire to want to constantly strive to know more as belonging to that of a lifelong learner, but I’m not a fan of that phrase. “Learning” makes you think of cold classrooms, being forced to read textbooks and write on chalk boards (for those of a certain age!). But that’s not what that thirst for knowledge feels like. When I seek out new information, I feel like I’m exploring. I read, listen, watch. Then I try, inevitably fail, and learn from my mistakes. The most important lesson I ever learned was to explore knowledge with anyone who is generous enough to share it with me.

That eclectic mix of books on my bedside table reflects the best piece of advice I could give to young women looking for a career in STEM: let your curiosity lead! Early on in my career, I tried to fit in and learn how people did things by simply following their lead and their orthodoxies. But then I found that the most effective way to really progress and perfect your skills is to understand things at your own pace and let a thirst for knowledge lead your development.

Career development shouldn’t be linear. How can you know what you’re good at if you don’t try new things? On my bookshelf I’ve got books on psychology and food, business practice and fiction. Just because you’ve found something you’re good at, it doesn’t mean you should forego all of your other interests. This is especially true for young women who want a career in STEM.  You shouldn’t allow yourself to settle for something. Rather, you should always be looking to expand your knowledge and branch out into new areas. This will help your career to progress, but it will also help you progress as a well-rounded person.

So, my advice to any young woman looking to break into a career in STEM is simple: don’t limit yourself. Never be afraid to wander a different path or let your curiosity lead you somewhere unexpected. Knowledge is knowledge, and even if it’s not obviously useful today, it could be a game changer further down the line.

About the author

Caroline CarruthersCaroline is an international data cheerleader and was one of the first Chief Data Officer’s in the UK. Leading data for Network Rail among other companies, Caroline became a pioneer in the UK data industry. She has used her position to set up a data literacy and consultancy practice and dedicates time to going into schools to encourage and inspire girls to take up careers in STEM subjects.