Science

The truth about women in science and engineering

 

Elrica Degirmen, is a second year physics student at the University of Leeds. Here she provides her account of being a woman in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

scienceSomehow, I stumbled upon an article on the WeAreTheCity’s website where they reported that the IET has complained that only nine per cent of the engineering workforce are women.

It is not that difficult to browse through the internet to see the supposed reasons as to why the figure is seen to be so low. However, I think the issue runs deeper than women are put off from having a career in engineering or because there is a lack of female role models in the industry. In fact, I think it has nothing to do with that.

I am currently a physics undergraduate and I personally want to work in the fusion sector one day, be it in plasma physics, fusion materials or nuclear engineering. It is a multi-disciplinary field and I wanted to study physics for the solid foundation that I believed would help me enter into one of these three pathways into the future, irrespective of what I eventually decide in the end. As someone who has already had undergraduate research experience in national laboratories, I fail to accept the notion that the sector is not welcoming to women. This assumption that the scientific and engineering industries are off-putting to women is lacking in evidence and arguably counter-productive as it reinforces impressionable teenagers that STEM industries are sexist, when they are not.

I have a possible explanation as to the low rates of women in engineering. The normal way for one to obtain experience is to apply for engineering internships. It should be mentioned that an accredited engineering degree gives you the specific skills and knowledge that allows you to be chartered – providing you eventually fulfill all the academic requirements. Many summer internships stipulate that you must be studying an engineering subject, which automatically closes off potential applicants who may have the ambition and attitude to succeed in an engineering career, but just happened to have studied another STEM subject at eighteen. It is far harder to be chartered as an engineer if you studied a different subject at the age of eighteen.

I am aware that the Institute of Physics provides its own pathway to be chartered in engineering if you have studied physics, but even so, one has to get into the engineering industry in the first place. Thus, how does a science graduate compete with someone who already has studied engineering in the first place? The answer it seems, is pretty difficult. There are no obvious or even formalised schemes for those who are studying quantitative-heavy degrees to pursue an engineering career.

Engineering is worse compared to other sciences in terms of the proportion of women studying it. If women do not choose to study engineering, they are almost closing off their options later in life to be chartered as an engineer. Even if one decides to pursue postgraduate studies in engineering where their science qualifications are accepted, then there is the issue of finances. Engineering programmes are relatively more expensive to run, and the £10k loan recently introduced by the government can only go so far. Perhaps more funding should be directed for postgraduate engineering courses that allow science graduates to “convert”.

I feel that the profession closes off potential people, irrespective of gender, who may want to have a career in engineering, but just happened to have studied physics or computer science or even mathematics as their undergraduate degree.

I personally do not subscribe to identity politics, and I do not care about the proportions of women in whatever industry so long as the best people are working in the jobs. However, I feel it is a major distortion of the reality to suggest that women do not want to work in engineering. Even if people decide later on to pursue an engineering career, they find that it is too late because of the choices that they made whilst applying for university during school.

Perhaps it is the case that that there is a lack of awareness of what engineering is, or the value of studying engineering at university. Even so, I do not think that specific efforts to increase uptake from pupils to study engineering deals with the specific issue of many students whereby they later decide they want to do engineering.

I know that I will find it much harder to get into engineering (if I choose that as my desired career path). Not because I am female, but because I just happen to have studied physics as opposed to engineering at eighteen. Considering that only a relatively small percentage of women even take up engineering in the first place, I am shocked that the figure is as high as 9% personally as for a wide variety of factors not all those who study engineering will go on to pursue an engineering career.

In my opinion, if you are going to complain about the lack of women in the industry, you have to understand the real reasons why the statistics are as they are, rather than assuming it is owing to false claims of sexism or misogyny. Competition for a restricted number of engineering internships (which for many people is the first step to enter an engineering career) is already competitive by those who have studied engineering. The reality is that it is difficult for anyone, but if women do not make the right A-level choices at sixteen, then greatly hinder their chances of studying science and engineering at eighteen. I think it would help if there were a wider variety of routes for young people to enter engineering. I appreciate the need for vocational training schemes such as apprenticeships, and I fully support it but even then, you have to decide early on to pursue this. There seems to be only one academic route, in other words choosing to study engineering at university during sixth form.

I think that the IET, and other professional engineering institutions, should develop alternative routes for chartership for those who have not studied engineering but have studied a scientific subject. School outreach programmes are not enough, and talking about the perceived sexism in these industries is counter-productive.

 

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Women in Coding

From science technician to coder: how to completely change your career

Women in Coding

According to new research by professional training providers Learning People, IT and coding is now the most popular second career choice for those currently working in declining industries.

Meanwhile, the job prospects are great, with UK employment agency Reed reporting an eight per cent year-on-year rise in IT vacancies so far in 2019, contributing to a 35 per cent rise in technology vacancies since 2016. Yet only 17 per cent of all UK specialist tech jobs are held by women.

28-year-old Charlotte Skinner is a part of that 17 per cent. 18 months ago, she broke into the tech world, moving from a role as a science technician to a career in coding. As the first female developer in her current team, Charlotte is keen to encourage other women to take advantage of the many opportunities a career in code offers. Here, Charlotte shares her career change journey and advice for others to make the same leap.

I spent three years working as a biology technician in a sixth form college. While it was rewarding to work with students and watch them develop their understanding and skills, I began to feel personally dissatisfied by the lack of progression opportunities available to me – not to mention a lack of salary increase. I soon knew it was time to switch careers.

I’d always had an interest in coding so began my research, exploring what a career in code might actually look like. At the same time, I began to learn some basic programming concepts and quickly became hooked. Even being able to create the simplest website gave me a great sense of accomplishment; I immediately wanted to learn more. I sought the advice of those around me who had made a similar career jump and was seriously impressed at the speed in which they were able to make the transition and the salary increases they had achieved.

Feeling ready to make the leap, I got in touch with professional training provider, Learning People. I had a career consultation that enabled me to understand the exact steps I needed to take in order to achieve my goal of becoming a coder. I embarked on a Full Stack Developer course and within three months secured my first coding role. I’ve now climbed the ladder to my second job, as a Junior Application Developer at My PT Hub.

My current role leaves me feeling fulfilled and happy every day. I value being part of an industry that is rewarding, supportive and endlessly innovative. I’m convinced that there are many other women who would love coding as much as I do, but perhaps feel intimidated or unsure of where to begin. My advice to those women?

Do your research

…but don’t be put off by job adverts which show that your experience doesn’t fit the bill. You’ll already have transferable skills that apply and that you can build upon. Identify those and then look at what tech job might suit.

For example, I love investigating problems and coming up with inventive solutions to them, persevering until I find the best answer. This makes me perfectly suited to my programming job.

It’s also worth reaching out to relevant organisations and individuals that might be able to help, finding out more about certain roles and requirements – and what the day-to-day looks like.

Consider salary

The move to tech requires appropriate training, but it’s an investment that will absolutely pay off. The average starting wage for an entry-level role in tech is high. Since starting the course, my salary has increased by £10k. It means I’m able to save for a house deposit, providing me with even more security.

Find the right course

As mentioned above, I trained with professional training providers Learning People. They supported me in making the transition from technician to coder and also helped me to manage my hours so that I could work alongside training.

Don’t let gender hold you back

The tech industry is currently dominated by men, but many employers are actively working to redress the sector’s gender imbalance. With the right skills, qualifications and enthusiasm, you’ll be able to secure a role and progress quickly.

Further to this, do expect a warm welcome! I feel incredibly supported in my role, both by my colleagues and managers – and also by industry peers. I have found that the tech world is a supportive, nurturing environment for those who demonstrate a willingness and passion to learn. It’s normal to feel intimidated, but rest assured that others have experienced similar worries and will be happy to offer their advice, bringing me to my next point…

Connect with mentors

This could be within your own team or further afield, with multiple viewpoints providing richer advice. I have some brilliant mentors at my current workplace, who have really helped me to advance my coding skills over the past six months.

They’ve also alleviated any fears of feeling like I don’t know enough. It’s a natural symptom of working in an industry that’s forever changing and evolving – even senior developers sometimes feel that way. There’s so much to learn and it’s one of the most exciting things about the job. So finally…

Be curious

One of the great advantages of a tech career is the constant change. You get to update your skills every day on the job. A willingness and passion to learn can keep you advancing, creating and problem-solving, and this is what leaves me feeling fulfilled every day.

Charlotte Skinner - Junior App DeveloperAbout the author

Charlotte Skinner is a junior app developer at My PT Hub. She developed her coding skills through online training with Learning People and secured her first role in just three months. Prior to this, Charlotte worked as a science technician in a sixth form college. She believes it's vital that we close the gender gap in the tech industry and hopes to inspire more women to consider a career in coding with her story.


Marie Curie featured

Inspirational Quotes: Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winning scientist

 

Marie Curie, born 1867, was a Polish physicist and chemist who was famous for her work in radioactivity.

Marie Curie
Marie Curie provided by Shutterstock.com

Throughout her life, Curie had many notable achievements. She was the first women to win a Nobel Prize; the first person and only woman to win the award twice; and the only person to win twice in multiple sciences.

She also founded the Curie Institutes, leading research centres, in Paris and Warsaw. During the First World War, Curie established the first military field radiological centres, meaning that mobile x-rays could be taken.

Curie died in 1934, aged 66 due to radiation poisoning from carrying around test tubes of radium in her pockets and coming into contact with radiation from x-ray machines.

Below you will find the best inspirational quotes from Marie Curie herself.


“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”


“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”


“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”


“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”


“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.”


“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals.”


“You must never be fearful of what you are doing when it is right.”


“I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.”


“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”


“We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”


“First principle: never to let one’s self be beaten down by persons or by events.”


“Each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity.”


“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”

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Kat Arney

Inspirational Woman: Dr Kat Arney | Science Writer and Broadcaster

 

Dr Kat Arney is a science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists, BBC Focus, the Times Educational Supplement, the Daily Mail and more.

She has written two books about genetics, 'Herding Hemingway's Cats - Understanding how our genes work' (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016) and ‘How to Code a Human’ (Andre Deutsch, 2017), and presents the monthly Naked Genetics podcast.

 Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

[ Laughs ] no. When I look back I can see the path that got me from there to here, but there was never a real plan.

I just kept saying ‘yes’ to interesting opportunities, and working on doing the things I love (and paying the rent).

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

When I was young I wanted to be an inventor or a mad professor. I loved science so I did science A levels, went to university to study natural sciences, and did a PhD in genetics. I even went on to do two short postdoctoral research jobs. But it turns out that I’m really bad at lab research. I have a very short attention span, I’m clumsy, and I never felt happy as a researcher.

 By my mid-20s I was working in a lab in London and seriously depressed, feeling like a failure. Then I realised that I did have other passions and transferable skills, and started applying for jobs that were related to science but not research itself – medical writing, journal editing and so on. None of these seemed right until I got a job at Cancer Research UK – the world’s biggest independent cancer research charity. I spent 12 years there, working up to becoming science communications manager and one of the charity’s main media spokespeople.

It was really hard pulling myself out of the research world and working out that I could use my skills and passion elsewhere, but it was my dream job.

I’m now in the next phase of my career as a freelance writer and broadcaster. Again, making the move over to being a freelance 18 months ago was very challenging, as I was terrified that I’d have no work. I ramped up my freelance work in my spare time and holidays, and went down to four days a week at Cancer Research UK and it has worked out so far. I also took a chunk of unpaid leave to write my first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, which I believed would be a stepping stone into a successful freelance life. It was a gamble as I didn’t receive an advance from my publisher and I had to rely on odd bits of freelancing and savings, but it was definitely worth it.

 What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

I don’t have much advice about leadership, as I deliberately turned down the opportunity to become a team leader at Cancer Research UK. At that point I knew I wanted to focus on writing my first book and eventually using that to take the plunge into a freelance career, so it didn’t seem fair on me or my colleagues to take on leadership responsibilities. For me, it was about realising that an opportunity to become a leader in one part of my life (along with a nice pay rise) might actually not be a great idea if I wanted to focus on becoming my own boss in the longer term.

 When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I’d go with the one that can make me laugh, or who laughs with me. My personal rule in any interview – whether that’s a job interview, or an interview that I’m doing with a guest for a radio show – is to always try and get a laugh out of them. Working relationships should be professional, but shared laughter is a useful glue.

How do you manage your own boss?

I’m my own boss, and I’m still figuring out how to work with her! I work from home and only have to answer to myself, so discipline and time management are an issue. I’m a ruthless user of to-do lists and calendars, and I love Trello for managing the many projects I’m working on at any time. I also use a website blocker called Stayfocusd to keep me off social media when I have looming deadlines.

More importantly, I’m learning how to view myself as a professional business, and make sure I account properly for my time.

Saying ‘yes!’ to almost anything (paid or not) has got me a long way, but I’ve hit the point where I simply can’t do that anymore.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

I’m a bit of a night owl, and tend to do my best writing in the evenings unless I have a talk or event to go to. As a result, I’ll usually go to bed at about 1am so I get up quite late. My brain doesn’t really work in the mornings so I tend to do admin, chores and other mindless stuff before going to the gym at lunchtime. Once I’m back and have stuffed my face with lunch, I can get down to some proper work, such as writing, editing audio, researching.

Alternatively, I might be out and about giving talks or interviewing researchers about their work. No two days are the same, and I’m entirely in charge of my time. It’s incredibly liberating and also terrifying. I could spend the whole day on the sofa eating popcorn and reading Facebook if I wanted to (and believe me, I often want to), but the sensible bit of my brain knows it wouldn’t be a good idea.

 What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Don’t be afraid to challenge, raise suggestions or ask questions when you see the opportunity. Good leaders recognise the benefits of having staff who can clearly articulate ideas, ask questions and voice concerns. Obviously, it’s a bad idea to be contrary or obnoxious just for the sake of it, or to ask a question you haven’t properly thought about, but strong organisations need people who are prepared to think, stand up and speak out. All too often this kind of thing falls to men, who stereotypically tend to be more confident with their opinions in the workplace, but it’s vital that women step up too.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve had a couple of mentors in my life, which were useful at the key transitions between leaving research, and then again more recently going freelance.

The first one was little more than a chat in the pub with an established science journalist, who talked me through my fears about leaving the lab. He doesn’t know how important that chat was, but it helped to set me on the path towards science communication.

My second mentor was Vivienne Parry, a fantastic science communicator and TV presenter, who has given me a lot of good advice about the media world. I should also mention Professor Dame Amanda Fisher, who led the last research lab I worked in. She was so patient with me as I wrestled with my feelings of unhappiness and tried to figure out what to do with my life, and still sends interesting science communication projects my way.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Yes, incredibly important. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without networking and (more importantly) following up those interesting leads and opportunities. People now tend to connect on social media, but I would always come home from events with a bra full of business cards, and then the next morning I would make sure to send follow-up emails where appropriate.

 My top tips would be:

1) Always follow up quickly if someone offers you an opportunity. If you can’t take it up right now, get in touch to say “not now but I’d love to later.”

2) Be brave and get in there quickly if there’s someone you really want to meet. There’s nothing worse than plucking up the courage all night to approach someone, only to discover that they left an hour ago.

3) Don’t feel you have to stay stuck in conversations that you aren’t enjoying at networking events, especially if it means you’re missing out on making new contacts. You’re expected to circulate, so make a polite excuse (popping to the loo is a good one) and get out of there.

 Also it’s tempting to stick with friends at events if you’re feeling shy, but it can hold you and them back from meeting great people. Make sure you and your buddies know it’s OK to break off quickly and grab a chat with an interesting person if they’re nearby. It’s also handy to share ‘hit lists’ of people you each want to talk to, so you can all keep an eye out for each other in case opportunities arise.

What does the future hold for you?

Right now my agent is about to start pitching my third book, so hopefully writing another book will be in my future. Apart from that, I’m just taking opportunities as they come. I’m writing for a range of outlets, making my monthly Naked Genetics podcast, taking up invitations to speak at events, festivals and conferences, and pursuing TV and radio opportunities. I’m always hustling, baby.

About the author

Dr Kat Arney, Science Writer and Broadcaster/Musician and Harpist

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Book: Herding Hemingway's Cats- Understanding How Our Genes Work


Laura Holland

Working to bring expert science to everyone

 

The ‘expert’ has had a troublesome time in the past few years. The rise of ‘fake news’, widespread issues of trust in the media, and the apparent increase in scepticism towards the scientific community are all signs that being known as an ‘expert’ may no longer hold the meaning it used to.
science
Laura Holland inside the synchrotron hall at Diamond Light Source. © Diamond Light Source

Scientists are true experts. The adage of ’10,000 hours to master your sport’ applies to scientists too – that’s roughly how much science a graduate emerging from a PhD will have completed. Being an expert doesn’t always make a person right, just as mastering a sport doesn’t guarantee that you win every game or race, but it certainly means that you can’t underestimate the time and dedication in understanding their craft.

The enormous amount of knowledge accumulated by most scientists is often overlooked by scientists themselves – they can find it hard to shake off the jargon, or remember that for most people, the laws of science which are engrained through study in academia, were either never learnt or are long forgotten.

However, science is more than theory – it is a living discipline which every human interacts with daily. From the worry of a warming world, to the race to find new antibiotics, we must all engage with science whether we choose to or not.

The darker side of expertise rears its head here – one of the stand out moments in the Brexit referendum was Michael Gove stating that ‘the public have had enough of experts’. The findings from research are often uncomfortable – they urge us to change our behaviours in ways we might not like, they present frightening or unpalatable versions of the future, or they run counter to many people’s lived experience. The tension between studies linking drinking to cancer at a population level, for example, will always be contrasted with personal experience of the uncle who drank pints every day until he died age 103, and the pleasure of a glass of wine feels tainted with new threats when these links are pointed out.

So how can scientists take their work to public audiences, and create a playing field which enables them to communicate their research fairly? Their role as experts is undeniable, but a didactic and one-directional mode of engagement is clearly not effective.

Science communication and public engagement are the disciplines which aim to help scientists communicate their work with diverse audiences. Communicators are experts in language and message, and are there to help scientists see the world through the eyes of others, be that patients, school students, local communities or even funders and politicians.

I am a science communicator at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron light source. We are home to a 562m particle accelerator which produces light brighter than the sun, allowing researchers to study the atomic and molecular structures of the world around us. We are home to over 9000 experiments every year, producing light around the clock for researchers from all over the UK and further afield.

The facility I work in is incredible. It is a feat of engineering, and the work we do to tackle issues as diverse as malaria and HIV to improved battery technology and perfecting concrete mean that it’s impossible to get bored.

One of the most amazing moments of any day is taking a school group through the doors and watching their eyes widen as we enter the enormous experimental facility – as big as Wembley stadium and unlike any other lab they’ve ever seen.

Big science has a really important role to play in linking scientists with public audiences. Our size and the range of work we do make us a perfect place to talk about how science works, what it can achieve, and most importantly, how people can get involved and contribute. Encouraging young people that science is ‘for them’ is a huge challenge – it can seem daunting to many young people, and the perception that science and engineering are hard and elitist subjects is hard to shake.

One of the most important things we can do is enable young people to meet our staff actually doing the science and engineering, and to prepare our staff well for engaging publics with their work. Our philosophy of opening our doors as often and as widely as possible is key to our engagement programme, and we currently welcome around 7,000 visitors each year.

Our next open day will be a special one for us, celebrating a decade of science at the facility. Researchers from around the country will be participating, and we will have interactive arts, virtual reality demonstrations and a chance to get into our awe-inspiring facility. We hope that the people who attend will leave feeling excited about the possibilities of science, curious about the way science is carried out, and empowered to engage with research and the way it impacts on their lives.

If you’re interested in the next Diamond open day more information can be found here.

About the author

Laura Holland, Public Engagement Manager, Diamond Light Source

Laura Holland is the Public Engagement Manager at the UK’s synchrotron light facility, Diamond Light Source. After studying cell biology and medical biosciences at university she has now worked at Diamond since 2007, and has brought her public engagement experience to @DLSProjectM, Diamond’s biggest ever public engagement project.


Claire Murray featured

Breaking the stereotype of women in science: Dr Claire Murray, Chemist working at a particle accelerator

 

I’m guessing most people wouldn’t guess that my response to this traditional conversation starter at parties would cause me such consternation. In a way it feels a bit like a party piece-cum-confession: ‘My name is Claire and I’m a chemist working at a particle accelerator’. I’m clearly a little uncomfortable with saying this and I’ve recently been reflecting on why this is the case.

I’ve worked hard to get through my degrees and am now an active scientist managing different strands of projects including one where over 1,500 secondary school students are completing real scientific research, called Project M.

I’ve published many articles, given many talks at conferences and to the public and regularly chat with some of the top academics in the UK. Yet I still feel uncomfortable when someone walks up to me at a party and asks me what I do.

The origin of this discomfort is perhaps not where you might assume it would be. Many people think it wouldn’t be surprising for a woman like me to declare that I struggle with an inferiority complex. I actually find this terrifying - that it has become a norm to expect women to have inferiority complexes - but this is another article unto itself. The origin of my discomfort lies with the fact that I am going to be navigating the tricky waters of explaining what I do.

Given the fact I’ve mentioned already that I am au fait with public speaking, you would quite rightly expect that it should be no bother for me to discuss what I do. I relish the chance to discuss my science, which I love, but the challenge I face is working out in less than five seconds how interested someone is and how much they know about science already.

More often than I would like, the word scientist creates an automatic disengagement – you can actually see people physically shirking back from the conversation. I’ve only told them my name and job title and this is enough information for them to disconnect. Why? Well I think it is fair to say that science STILL has an image problem. Rather than being seen as interesting or fun, it is difficult or hard. We also are living in a society where being an ‘expert’ no longer means people will trust you.

To be fair, scientists are perceived to be less likely to lie than the police or the clergy but only 12 per cent of the public are likely to seek out scientific information.

Add to this that many people reinforce the negative stereotype by recounting their woes with science as a child when prompted.

It’s very easy therefore to see how this stereotype perpetuates itself in a constant loop and why I end up standing on my own in a corner at parties!

This reluctance to engage with science is a big problem in the UK, as society as a whole is increasingly sceptical about scientists and their work. This is particularly ironic given that the UK punches well above its weight in science and has won many Nobel Prizes to date.

However, science still isn't seen as part of everyday culture. In fact it is more often seen as a stagnant insurmountable pile of facts that is only accessible by the academic elite. Just look at women's interest magazines for example. They apparently cover everything under the sun that women are interested in, apart from the science of the sun. Or any science, directly relating to women or otherwise! This reinforces the message that science is difficult, science is hard, science is only for the chosen few.

So what can be done? The answer is actually a lot easier than you might think.

My personal recommendation is to open yourself to the joy and beauty of science. Allow yourself to revel in the unknown, in the new discoveries. Don’t be afraid to grill people like me on what we do – if you don’t understand then I’m not explaining myself very well!

Hold me responsible and ask more questions. Attend one of the many free talks run by Café Scientifique and the Institute of Physics. There are also many science festivals that run fantastic programs for both adults and children.

You can listen to one of the many podcasts or watch some of the fantastic Youtube Videos.

Come see us at Diamond Light Source (our next column will be about this!) Most of these suggestions won’t cost you a penny but they will entertain and astound you. However, please stop the negative stereotypes and assumptions about science. Don’t automatically assume it is hard, it is boring, it isn’t for you. Because you imprint those beliefs onto yourself and the people around you and one of you could be the next Nobel Prize winner.

About the author

Dr Claire Murray is a chemist working at the Diamond Light Source particle accelerator in the UK.

She is passionate about chemistry and science outreach, and actively promotes women in science. Claire is leading @DLSProjectM, Diamond’s biggest ever citizen science project for UK secondary schools.


Female Careers in Science

Five top-notch projects promoting female careers and leadership in science

 

Organisations ranging from large corporations to small scale businesses are increasingly recognising the gender imbalance that is still prevalent within the science industries. From putting in the hours in the classroom to establishing inspiring expeditions across the globe, women are fighting to have their voices heard.
science
Image via Shutterstock

An increasing number of projects aim to boost the confidence of women in the workplace, empowering women to take up previously male-dominated careers and claim the leadership roles they deserve.

Here are five of the projects helping and promoting female careers and leadership in scientific fields:

Homeward Bound

The Homeward Bound initiative combines adventure and research in a brand new, unique initiative. The project focus around a voyage which takes 100 female scientists to Antarctica on a training expedition with three main strands. These are leadership, strategy and research, with training taking part on-board and off-board for each.

The first trip took place in December 2016, and with trips running for the next ten years the project aims to connect over 1000 female scientists in a strong web of knowledge and support.

Led by leadership activist Fabian Dattner (of Dattner Grant) and ecological modeler Jess Melbourne Thomas, Homeward Bound aims to reach beyond its immediate participants to inspire young women throughout the scientific fields. It will do this through a professionally filmed element of the expedition, alongside the media coverage and outreach work generated by participants.

WISE Campaign

WISE bills itself as a ‘classroom to boardroom campaign’ working to increase the number of girls and women is science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects). Their knowledge sharing events advise on topics ranging from flexible working to retaining and developing female talent. The WISE consultancy works to combat unconscious bias, developing the attitudes of employers through enlarging their knowledge and improving understanding.

The ‘People Like Me’ resources provide girls with examples of happy, successful women working within the science industries, and are offered to both individuals and companies. These resources promote their message alongside day-long courses that are run nationwide.

Looking beyond school to the next stage of a woman’s career, WISE’s four-day career development programme works on the important task of developing the confidence of women already in the industry. This course has seen 97 per cent of participants gain a more proactive approach to their career progression, with 88 per cent gaining higher levels of confidence and self-belief.

Graduate Women in Science (GWIS)

GWIS was started in 1921 as a community of female scientists in America, and still holds steadfast to its three guiding principles: connect, lead and empower. GWIS sends monthly e-newsletters and publications to keep its followers up to date with the latest news and networking events.

Members benefit from face-to-face or online networking services, whilst an annual conference features career workshops and leadership training. Particular importance is placed on providing mentoring and financial aid.

Million Women Mentors

MWM works to advance women and girls in STEM careers through mentoring. The impressive 1,315,00 pledges and 640,000 completed mentorings that the initiative already has to its name attests to its success so far.

With sponsors such as BP, Pepsico and Walmart, the project is aiming for – and achieving – impressive goals. These goals span every stage of a girl’s education, from encouraging study of STEM subjects at school and university through to working towards higher retention rates of women in STEM careers.

At the stage where a woman has a STEM job MWM’s workforce mentoring programmes become particularly important, ensuring that women aren’t intimidated and driven out of these male-dominated industries.

L’Oréal–UNESCO ‘For Women in Science’

The L’Oréal–UNESCO ‘For Women in Science’ partnership was founded in 1998, recognising women making a difference in scientific fields and promoting and supporting their work. The project acknowledges that the UK risks losing 33,000 female scientists every year, with 15 per cent of female science students having felt lonely and isolated and 11 per cent worrying about future earning power.

International Rising Talent awards are particularly aimed at supporting younger women who have already distinguished themselves with outstanding research. A large amount of the project’s focus, however, goes towards the 250 fellowships offered to talented female scientists across 112 countries.

On top of this, five international awards laureates are awarded annually, recognising female contribution to the advancement of science. These alternate each year between life and physical sciences, 2017 being the year of the physical sciences.

Altogether the awards and fellowships create a forward-thinking image of motivation and optimism across the field of women in science.

About the author:

Alexandra Jane writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.


Companies need to widen the net on STEM talent to attract more females

shield-1020318_640Companies need to widen the net on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) talent if there are a lack of female Computer Science graduates coming through the pipeline, according to Christine Flounders, London R&D Manager at Bloomberg Technology Labs.

Speaking to WeAreTheCity during the WISE Conference 2015 at The Mermaid in Blackfriars last week, Flounders said: “Businesses need to figure out how to widen the net on talent in Stem. In the US you can change your mind about your studies and be hybrid. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first and it’s not until university where you find out what you want to do and what your course actually means.”

Flounders said Bloomberg launched an enhanced bootcamp course for new employees that are not from a computer science background: “We have set up a bootcamp for new recruits to get up to date on Bloomberg and we have created an enhanced bootcamp for those who are not from a computer science background. When we go to universities, to recruit, we bring women with us.”

She studied Computer Science in New York and started at Bloomberg after graduation: “I came to London to build the London team. We’ve grown to 550 employees in 13 years with 70 different products.

“Two years ago we were at about 330 staff and I was expecting us to have employed more women by that point. I was in a position where I could do something about it and it was clear what the aspect of diversity could do for us. We had a good mix of people, but most of them were men.”

Flounders noted that a lack of women in front-end developer roles can put a company at a disadvantage when designing products: “The business case for diversity was not quite realised until about a year ago – it’s about making better products and being more competitive.

“The amount of decisions developers make are humongous, so ownership and decision making are key skills. We also have a lot of R&D initiated products so if there aren’t enough women in those roles that creates issues too.”


Science Museum opens new exhibition to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day

The Ada Lovelace exhibition opens today at the Science Museum in London to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day and the bicentenary of her birth.Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was a Victorian pioneer of the computing age and has seen been recognised for being the first programmer. She is celebrated for having discovered the potential in symbols rather than just numbers and foreshadowing modern technology almost a century in advance. She was the daughter of the infamous poet Lord Bryon and intellect Annabella Milbanke.

Ada Lovelace is celebrated for having studied maths and science at a time when women rarely did and for collaborating with Charles Babbage on calculating machines.

The free exhibition includes Lovelace’s portraits, letters and notes, alongside the calculating machines she worked on.

Curator of the new exhibition is Dr Tilly Blyth who told the Guardian in a recent article that she hopes the exhibition will breathe life back into her story in the year of her 200th birthday.

Blyth said she wants the exhibition to encourage visitors to appreciate Lovelace’s true legacy, which was something more profound than her instructions for Babbage’s unfinished machine.

“I would say what is really more significant is that intellectual leap that she made for considering what the analytical engine could do,” she said speaking to the Guardian.

“[Babbage] was thinking about the different simultaneous equations that the engine could calculate but what she saw is [that] this isn’t just about number; it’s about symbol and therefore music and possibly letters – and [the machine] could calculate a whole range of different things.”


Inspirational Woman I Wendy Jephson, Co-Founder and Chief Behavioural Scientist at Sybenetix

I am a Co-Founder and Chief Behavioural Scientist at Sybenetix. Originally I trained in London as a lawyer, went in-house into business early on and was on the board at Eli Lilly & Company Ltd before leaving to retrain as a business-focussed behavioural scientist. At Sybenetix my role is to help with the design of our Enterprise Behavioural Analytics software that analyses the behaviours of financial decision makers and provides tools to both improve the performance for those decisions makers and enable compliance officers to manage misconduct more effectively.

  1. Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I was 12 I loved watching Crown Court - that combined with a love of debating (possibly more accurate to say arguing) with my brother, and the fact I thought they earnt a lot of money, settled me on a career as a lawyer.  The plan from there was obvious; law degree; law school and Articles in a law firm. I started as a trainee solicitor in my London law firm, with becoming a partner a firm expectation. Wendy Jephson

Two years later having been seconded to Xerox during the traineeship (a right place right time moment), I was offered a job in-house in their Central & Eastern European Team. I duly signed up to the Final Salary Pension scheme and thought I'd be making my way up the ladder there for many years. Two years later I moved to Eli Lilly & Company Limited.  I again signed up to the Pension scheme, but thought 'let's see where this takes me’.

Seven years later in a fascinating industry and multi-layered job I found I had a new interest emerging in behavioural science.  Sparked from an idea from my brother - a fund manager - that analysing financial decision making and using behavioural science to enhance it was a real area of opportunity, I went back to university to retrain.   That interest has grown into a passion over more years than I expected it to take, but when I left Lilly I did tell the Board I was leaving to do the job I am doing today, so there was an outline plan in that sense if the details of how I've gotten from A to B have taken a number of twists and turns.

  1. Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Challenges come in many shapes and guises - from within the work itself to the culture of your organisation to outside of work.  My biggest challenges have come from losing family members much too soon. Events like that though shape what's important and how you will deal with them inside and outside of work, so for me there is learning to be had in everything.

  1. What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

I remember someone saying to me that when you move into leadership positions with the top teams you get to peak behind the curtain - meaning you see the leadership gods are still just normal people just like the rest of us, usually they just have more of the picture.  It's a core skill to be able to maintain the ability to relate to both leadership team and those you are leading.  You have to find your own way of doing that, but again watch how others do it and notice the impact it has.

  1. When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

As a behavioural scientist I can honestly say that no two candidates will be identical even if they have the same qualifications on paper.  They will have differences in how they approach problems, team mates, clients and so on. These can all be tested systematically provided you have analysed the role they will be doing, distilled the knowledge skills and abilities that will be required as well as the cultural fit with the organisation.  Taking a multi-layered approach means you are far more likely to find great people who will fit your role, but for whom the role and organisation will also best fit.

  1. How do you manage your own boss?

As part of the senior management team I don't have one in the formal sense.  The approach that works for me though is to remain open and continue to ask questions to ensure I'm informed and understand the issues.  This helps me know when to challenge and when things are outside my areas of expertise.  I also try to keep as much humour in the relationship as possible

  1. On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

 Usually both ends are on the train although the beginning is always with coffee!  It's a great opportunity to think - I use it try to make sense of the latest challenges and to see where dots join and diverge.

  1. What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Be interested and take opportunities to learn more whenever and wherever they arise - especially when it's outside your usual role's parameters.  Speak to people you don't normally speak to; go to talks because they're on - there are always little nuggets in everything you hear and see, and it means you have a broader ability to speak to people across organisations and industries.

  1. How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

The first and only coach I've had actually really set me on the path I'm on.  I'd been given a coaching package as part of the senior team program - we dealt with the career planning piece in session one and had five sessions left.  In those sessions he really introduced me to behavioural science and the impact it can have in organisations.   I've not had 'official’ mentors, but again I learn from everyone I get the opportunity to work with both within my organisation and outside it.

  1. Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Networking is incredibly important.  There have been studies showing how connected people are in our world and you never know when opportunities will arise.  Just a few weeks ago I was in Hong Kong with a CEO from an Australian company who gasped as he saw one of his great friends from the UK on the slide about our advisory panels!

Three tips would be:

  1. Go for it! Go up to the speakers at events and ask them questions.
  2. Join in group discussions and listen for the opportunities to connect.
  3. Follow up with people you've met for subsequent discussions to keep the relationships alive.
  4. What does the future hold for you?

The future of Sybenetix is incredibly exciting. We are breaking new ground in behavioural analytics, really bringing the knowledge from academia into the messy real-world workplace.  I am working with an amazing team of very talented people in an industry full of very smart people who are actually really driven to improve standards - so the future looks very exciting indeed.