So… you wanna be a scientist?

“Shake off your mistakes, be bold, and keep going!”  – Karen Lambley, Virgin Media UK

Yesterday I attended the Accenture Tech UK / STEMettes Girls in STEM event in Edinburgh. It was brilliant! We had about 140 11-15 year old girls come along to the National Museum of Scotland, where they had the opportunity to ask questions of a fantastic panel of women working in STEM, to hear about Scotland’s unsung female STEM heroes from Angela Constance MSP, and to learn a bit of coding in Java as they battled it out in the ‘Hackitzu’ game. I was invited along as the closing plenary speaker – not only to sum up the day, but to inspire and encourage the girls to meet the challenge of STEM head on.

It’s quite a topic to speak about, and I was honoured to be asked to take part, alongside some incredible women with amazing careers in STEM. To get some inspiration, I polled my colleagues working in marine science, as well as the women taking part in the Homeward Bound Project about how they got into science, and what they love best about their jobs. I thought I’d share what some of them wrote here, as it makes a wonderfully inspiring read!

What women in science love about their jobs:

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“What I love about science is that I get to continuously learn about new things. Especially how the beautiful natural world works, and how I can use this knowledge to help look after the world – including people!”

“You get to discover and explore the world in ways few others can.”

“You get to be like a detective, exploring things potentially no one else has looked into – each finding fueling your curiosity to find out more and making you realise how little you still know – and contributing to solving some of the world’s pressing problems.”

“My work in particular means I get to see incredible phenomena from space, pretty much every day, and that never gets boring. Other than the work itself, getting to meet fascinating people and travel to many different places is a huge perk!”

“I love the freedom to pursue an idea that rings true to me, and being able to inspire others to join me on the journey.”

“Working in science offers you the chance to learn everyday, cultivate your knowledge and acquire experience in very diverse areas as statistics, presenting your work at conferences, team management, writing effectively, interacting with the public, motivating young audiences… it is very enriching!”

“Science is like one big voyage of discovery where we don’t yet know how much we don’t know – it’s an adventure.”

“You get to make things better and better. It’s science that allows you to figure out what is working best and what is helping or obstructing you to get to your goal. Whether that’s getting a farm to have better soils or to grow plants on the roof of a skyscraper. It’s not just a new idea but the process of monitoring and improving.”

“Science is about discovery; You will learn new things all your life, with science you can discover what these new things are and what they are made of; Science is about being able to ask all the crazy questions you have always wanted to ask, deep down we are all scientists.”

“Systems thinking applied to world I care about, creating opportunities to help people, nature, our planet.”

“I love that every single day is different, and every single day I’m learning something new. Every day is what you make it and you can never be bored as a scientist.”

“I love science because its fascinating and every new piece of the puzzle we uncover leads us to understanding just a little bit more about the world we live in. I love it because it doesn’t yield its mysteries with the press of a button and we have to think, really hard and long (years not hours), to earn this reward. If you are prepared to commit to the challenge, you will be repaid in ways beyond your dreams.”

Advice for those wanting to take up careers in STEM subjects:

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“My main piece of advice during their studies was to talk to their lecturers and demonstrators about how they got where they are and not to be afraid to ask for help or work experience. Most people want to help you succeed so grab opportunities with both hands!

“The one key thing that got me where I am, is the support of inspirational people – school teachers, university supervisors, mentors I meet at events like the one you’re doing. These are the people that have given and continue to give me the confidence I need to be a scientist. I can also say that being a mentor is something people love (I know I do – just signed up to be a STEM ambassador), so the girls you’re speaking to should never be afraid to chat to people in science about their interests.”

“When I was that age, I was bonkers for animals (well, I still am, actually), but the only career path I knew about was becoming a veterinarian – and at that time, the math and science scared me off. I desperately wanted to be like Jane Goodall or be a dolphin trainer, but nobody could tell me how I could do either of those things. What I didn’t understand at that age was that science was the route to those careers. (In my mind, science was old white men in lab coats.) So, I often ask kids if they want to work with animals, or if they’d like to work in a zoo or aquarium, or if they dream of helping to save a species from extinction, (or if they want to build robots, or cure diseases, etc.) I then tell them that they’ll need to do well in their science classes, and pursue a degree in science if they hope to have any of those careers.”

“Always keep your sense of wonder and never stop asking questions! Also thought that the girls could start e.g. from being citizen scientists in their area (see for instance http://bit.ly/1lQbJQe) and test if they like it.”

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