Girls in STEM need to think like a proton. Always positive.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the negative stories (and stats) about the gender inequality in work and life. So it’s great when you hear about people working to address the issue. Even better when those people invite you to contribute in some small but hopefully meaningful way to the convo.
My friends Lara Lang and Catherine O’Hallaran are both inspiring science teachers and all-round nice humans. They’re both incredibly passionate about supporting the next generation of thinkers, creators and innovators. This was how The STEMable Project came about. Wanting to do more, beyond the typical school hours and curriculum, these two dynamos have set out to inspire more students to take a genuine interest in STEM, particularly young female students.
Earlier this month, Lara and Catherine invited me to sit with over 50 cool inventive girls from multiple schools at their annual Innovation Girls workshop day. I joined a line up of other incredibly inspiring women from all walks of STEM life including engineering, health science and business.
The intention was to share our stories to illustrate the diverse career paths that STEM can take you on. I kicked off my comedic string theory aka my journey from lab to legal, by simply asking if anyone knew what a patent attorney was or did. *Crickets*. This is the correct response. I didn’t know what a patent attorney was until I was prepping for my interview as a trainee attorney (thank you Wikipedia).
In the interest of full disclosure, I also admitted that the magic of television (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), was what got me interested in a career in forensic science and why I pursued my undergraduate degree. It had the word “forensics” in it but turned out to be a marketing spiel to disguise the straight up chemistry degree I had stepped right into. Also, the realities of the forensic job market were somewhat limited and not as glam as they make out on tv. Funny that. I ended up in the malting/beer industry before becoming a patent attorney. The point of my string theory story was to show that sometimes there is no one direct professional pathway. Where you think you want to be, might not be where you end up. And that’s ok.
I was really hoping my story might have inspired these next gen boffins in some small way. But it wasn’t so much me inspiring them as much as they inspired me. Their energy and interest in their future, and that of the communities around them was incredible. These girls will reinvent how we invent. After attending the event, 3 out 4 of the girls said they’re more interested in science, maths and tech. Also, really happy to report that I did not hear the words “Instagram influencer” once in the time I spent with them. The outlook is positive.
My own take away from the day was that students are more inspired and informed than ever before. I think businesses and professionals need to do what we can to support and nurture this curiosity. Here’s the Girl Friday Guide for any aspiring future scientists, engineers, creatives and innovators out there:
Recounting my own story made me realise that STEM can lead you to a career beyond the confines of a lab bench. Science and technology can be applied to a wide range of industries, not just within the academic or tech space. For example, the so-hot-right-now topic is that tech is at the forefront of advancing human creativity. AI is flexing its creative muscles painting and composing with the best of them. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t pigeonhole your ideas about what a life in science or tech might look like. The future is wide open for new industries and job opportunities.
As part of the day, the girls got involved in hands-on workshops to create solutions for different real-world problems including designing and creating wearable tech, alternative sustainable food packaging, VR occupational therapy tools for sick kids and disaster relief housing. As the projects ticked along, I noticed some students would erase what they thought to be “mistakes” on paper. It’s important to appreciate all your ideas, no matter how “wrong” or strange they might appear at first. Problem-solving for the real world is all about creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. These skills together with fundamental STEM subjects, will give you a solid foundation for any future training and career in STEM.
It’s safe to say that sometimes adults aren’t all that observant (hello a 16-year old activist is putting most politicians to shame). The point is, if you’re interested in finding out more about a particular job or industry, reach out to someone in the 9-5 know. Don’t be shy! You won’t know unless you ask, and we won’t know unless you ask either. You might find great educational or work experience opportunities, that can help you understand more about possible career paths and how to get there.
Sidebar to all the adulting folks out there. The students I met were info hungry and primed to learn from real world experiences. Increased engagement and mentorship from businesses of all shapes and sizes can help support this next generation of thinkers and innovators. From increasing awareness of problems and trends within industries to highlighting job opportunities, it can help shape and future proof industries. So innovators assemble and be accessible!
To everyone I met at the Innovation Girls event – students, teachers and volunteers alike – thanks for letting me sit with you. And for all the next gen sisters in STEM, I’m excited to see where your interest in STEM might take you all. You got this ladies.
Read more about The STEMable Project event here.