Dr. Tanya Shreedhar is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, and a 2023 finalist at the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science UK & Ireland Rising Talents Awards. We asked her to share her thoughts on becoming a woman in STEM, and how we can inspire girls to follow a similar path…
Promoting and empowering young girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is essential for bridging a gaping gender gap in female representation in the STEM workforce. To tackle this issue head-on, it is crucial to actively encourage and support the involvement of young girls in STEM education and professions.
Nurturing a learning environment to inspire girls
I believe that fostering a nurturing learning environment for the next generation of female scientists requires a multi-faceted approach, encompassing various initiatives at different levels. I will elaborate on one aspect: Role-models and representation. I believe that representation matters a lot.
As a young impressionable girl, I felt instantly inclined toward science and engineering when I saw female researchers and scientists being celebrated for their work. One of my earliest memories of this was hearing about astronaut Kalpana Chawla – first Indian woman to go into space.
Kalpana studied in my hometown and her story, journey, and accomplishments were nothing short of a fairy tale. I remember being in awe of her as a little girl, hearing how she soared above the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes. She faced countless challenges and obstacles on her journey to the stars but never gave up.
Women pioneers as STEM role models
Her story will continue to inspire and motivate me and countless others to reach for the stars and achieve our dreams. I found my calling in computer science engineering after getting inspired by many such exceptional female scientists.
From Ada Lovelace, who is often considered the world’s first computer programmer, to Grace Hopper, who played a critical role in developing early computer programming languages, to Radia Perlman, who designed the routing algorithm that makes the Internet work. The list of such pioneers is endless.
It is pertinent that young girls are introduced to such relatable role models and female STEM professionals in schools, and they discuss and share their journeys, challenges, and most importantly successes.
It is essential to discuss the impact of STEM work on everyday life, from tackling environmental issues to medical and technological advancements.
Highlighting and celebrating their achievements can inspire young girls to envision themselves in similar roles. After all, “If you can see it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it”.
Mentorships & Scholarships are a “Must”
However, we cannot just stop there. Young girls must be provided with dedicated mentorships, scholarships and specialised training activities that help them find their place in the community and identify relatable role models they can seek mentorship from.
In computer science, “Girls who can code” is an excellent initiative, which I believe must be replicated in other STEM fields as well.
To make a lasting impact, these endeavours must begin at the grass-root level, garnering support from educational institutions and government bodies.
By doing so, we can inspire and empower females to fearlessly pursue careers in science and create a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce for the future.
Remember, inspiring young girls to explore and thrive in the world of STEM is a step towards a more equitable and innovative future for all of us.
Tanya Sheedhar Ph.D. for WISE, August 2023