In 2015, the UN General Assembly established the 11th of February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to ensure complete and equal access to and engagement in science for women and girls. At all levels of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) throughout the world, a considerable gender imbalance has remained over time. Women have made great strides in expanding their involvement in higher education, yet they remain underrepresented in these sectors.
The number of women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a key STEM topic in the UK has increased from 22,020 in 2015 to 24,705 in 2019. For statistics on women in the UK STEM workforce, WISE* discovered that the STEM industry is expanding at a rapid pace – there were already one million women working in essential STEM fields in 2019.
At BioCote®, we have the pleasure to work with some extraordinary women who decided to dedicate their careers to working within the fields of STEM. We interviewed Ellie Campbell, our chemist, and Karen Seff, our current microbiology intern to better understand the fields they work in and what motivated them to pursue a career in STEM in the first place.
How would you explain your STEM field to young girls?
Ellie: I work in chemistry, and I have both studied and worked in a wide range of applications. The basis is understanding how chemicals interact with one another, and the environments you put them in. It’s understanding the mechanisms as to how reactions take place and why they take place. In my current role for example, I explore the physical properties of materials to justify why we choose certain additives for certain applications. Chemistry strongly overlaps with maths, physics and biology, explaining the process of how important things in our lives function, including our own bodies. I have worked in several jobs that focused on the biological aspects of the chemicals we work with, so it’s easy to say that the STEM doesn’t box you in.
Karen: I am studying Biomedical Science. My course involves the exploration of the human body in health and disease, from the functioning of the whole-body systems down to the cell and molecular processes. It expands into the mechanisms, diagnosis and therapeutics of human disease with particular emphasis placed on the specialist areas of biomedical science: clinical biochemistry, medical microbiology, cellular pathology, haematology, immunology, and genetics.
Why did you choose your STEM field?
Ellie: I was initially looking to go into law, and was even planning my A Levels around that. When my GCSE results came out, I had managed to get 100% on my chemistry exams, the only subject I had ever managed that. My parents saw this as a great opportunity for me to look into changing my career prospects. Law is incredibly difficult to get into, while I had the chance to make an equally great career in something I was clearly talented in. So that’s what I did, and have never looked back!
Karen: The universe is made up of galaxies descending to solar systems and further down to planets of all sorts. Each one is self-sustaining and perfectly plays a role that it is required to make up this beautiful, vast universe. And just like the universe, the human body is made up of organ systems descending to tissues and further down to cells. Each cell is perfectly coordinated within its own little universe.
I’ve been constantly mesmerized by the body’s molecular makeup. The further down one goes in understanding the human body makeup, the more universes one discovers that there are, with each one different in its own way. The human body is a big playground of universes waiting to be discovered. I also find it fascinating that the tiniest things, which are the most underestimated and overlooked, can bring you the most inconveniences when out of order or disturbed.
What are some cool things that people in your profession do?
Ellie: STEM is so broad, even the subjects within each discipline are broad. I have worked in a range of industries, some more interesting than others, and at one point was pursuing an opportunity to be a literal rocket scientist. I went to university with people who are now published. Chemistry isn’t just mechanisms and squiggly lines on the page. It can be anything from knowing how a plane engine operates at temperatures above its melting points, working on crime scenes, developing new medicines, producing green energy, as well as working on thinner, lighter and smaller technologies for a whole range of ideas. It opens more doors than people realise.
Karen: Working in microbiology, I deal with bacteria and I am able to study their behaviour, what they need for growth and the effects it has on human beings as well as discover the similarities these single celled organisms have to other multicellular organisms like human beings and animals.
What message would you like to pass on to young girls to inspire them to pursue STEM?
Ellie: It really isn’t as boring as it seems, and the days of it being a “boy subject” are long in the past. It can provide opportunities into a vast, wide range of careers that are much further reaching than what is taught at school. It can be creative, challenging, engaging and actually interesting. It can very literally change your view of the world, and you can really make it what you want.
Karen: All I can really say is do what you like. Do it for yourself.
Thanks Ellie and Karen for taking time out of your day to provide us with an interesting insight into the world of STEM!
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