Unleashing your skills for the world of STEM
by Nadia Earl, WISE Young Professionals’ Board Member
It’s interesting to me how the paths we take can seem normal to us. It wasn’t until I began my career at a large pharmaceutical company, fresh out of university, that I realised some of the barriers young women face when looking for work in STEM subjects.
Why do girls and young women become disinterested in pursuing a STEM career? The typical answers are that there is unconscious bias, there are gender moulds that are hard to crack, that girls believe they are not capable. I want to explore another possibility for this, and that is simply the lack of knowledge about what opportunities there are.
I can’t count how many times I have heard at career fairs I have attended where people ask “I didn’t know you could do that at your company…” As someone in history probably once said, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. I fell into my line of work not really knowing what I would be doing; rather, it was my greater intentions and desire to make a difference that made me apply to a pharmaceutical company in the first place.
Entry into the working world can be uncertain and unsettling at the best of times, let alone when someone with a science degree who had great passion for the subject might feel like their options are limited, when in fact they are rather limitless. With the constant messages about lack of graduate jobs, whether university is worth it, it’s easy to see how so many STEM students eventually fall out of these subjects. It’s certainly important to get children’s, especially girls’ imaginations hooked on STEM subjects but, how about maintaining that after college, university? For young people whose parents are not already involved in STEM, this can be especially tough and it’s easy to see how someone can be demotivated if they are not exposed to role models in STEM or seeing and hearing about opportunities.
Let’s take an example. Would an engineering graduate know that there are literally hundreds of opportunities to use their skills at a pharmaceutical company? The likelihood is that they would be exploring more traditional routes like, dare I say, oil and gas. What happens if they don’t find their ideal and traditional engineering role? Can they be put off?
Society not only has problems with unconscious bias but also with trying to dictate specific requirements for job roles, for example painting an image of only the classical roles you can do with an engineering degree. It would be much more productive if we changed our views in society that an aptitude and interest in STEM means that an individual has special and unique skills to excel at anything. As a Biomedical Scientist I myself have had opportunities to work on projects that have been engineering, chemical and data analytics centric, therefore using skills and specifically behaviours I learnt at university and applying them in a different setting.
If there’s one thing that I can share out of this, it’s that whichever job or company you might end up at, there will be plenty of opportunities to get involved in different tasks and activities. In the real working world, it’s not so much about what you’ve learnt at school, college or university but rather, how you apply your skills of agility, determination and enthusiasm that you spent years perfecting by studying STEM subjects. With these skills, you can do anything!