Having moved to a new school for sixth form, that is known for its science facilities and intrigued in why my fellow classmates had chosen to take STEM subjects. I chose to ask them a couple of questions in the hopes of getting to know them better and finding some inspiration.
I asked them all the same questions but their responses varied greatly.
Firstly this account from Eliza Wigdahl, 17 studying Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
“I would love to go into research science, particularly to research Oncology. I cannot see my future without science being a part of it. I have not only chosen my subjects in hopes to find a good career in the future but have chosen ones that I truly enjoy and always have. I love the idea that I am learning things so relevant to every aspect of everyday life and no information I take in is irrelevant or impractical.
I had lots of encouragement from my lower school teachers. They agreed I would make a good triple scientist and were proud. My parents of course were thrilled I had chosen STEM subjects as they were proud of my ambition and are very supportive. I have never felt in any way forced by others to take these subjects, if anything the opposite.
From many, instead of imparting positive encouragement, I received comments like ‘why would you choose those? They are so difficult!’ or ‘what have you done! You can’t do those’ and my favourite ‘no girls will be doing physics’. But in my opinion Many of these comments have come from those who fear the unknown and haven’t taken the risk. A few have tried to deter me from research science, they say ‘it’s cut throat’ or ‘you too often come across failure’ I understand this and I am willing to take the risks. I am inspired by Rosalind Franklin’s pioneering work in DNA and viruses, without such ground-breaking discoveries the double helix would not have been found.”
Rebecca Robinson, 16 studying Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Philosophy
“I have big dreams of being a nuclear engineer. I really enjoy Physics, more than anything, but Chemistry and Maths are equally as fun and useful to me in the long run. My family doesn’t really believe in university and told me I was being foolish for taking such difficult subjects. Despite this, Professor Parker, Founder of IRIS (Institute for Research in Schools) was a great role model for me as she gets so excited and passionate about her subject. It would be nice to see more women in STEM. Apart from them being hard I don’t think there are any other obstructions from me achieving my dreams.”
Emilia Keam, 16 studying Maths, Chemistry and Biology
“I have plans to go into Medicine so I chose subjects that not only interest me but are also extremely useful in getting into Med School. The only person who really encouraged me to take these subjects was myself and my own drive to achieve my goals. My family warned me of how difficult these subjects might be to take forward and perhaps I should investigate alternatives.
Despite this I’m really glad I took the subjects I wanted as I’m really enjoying them but I still believe there should be more role models, especially for girls, to show that it can be done and is not too hard as many believe.”
I was really inspired by these responses, I often doubt my ability in class, particularly in Physics so I found it heart-warming to know that with a little self confidence and drive it’s possible to not only take subjects you love but be successful in them too, despite what others may believe.
Lastly, I wanted to talk with my friend Lizi, who I knew was having the hard time of deciding whether to carry on with the A-level subjects she had chosen.
Lizi Watson, 17 studying Biology, Chemistry, English and Politics
“I planned to do Medicine so chose accommodating subjects but soon realised A-level Chemistry was not for me. It just feels that to be able to succeed at a subject like that you have to be so intelligent and prepared all round. I understand that it’s looking after people’s lives, but it’s so cut throat. I wanted to do medicine to benefit other people so I’m looking at some humanitarian aid work instead or perhaps nursing because that doesn’t require chemistry. I’m glad I had the opportunity to try STEM and realise it wasn’t for me rather than being too afraid to start. My role model is Lucy Worsley, she’s head Curator of all the English heritage sites and does amazing documentaries, the passion and knowledge she shares is amazing, she has such an important role and the fact she’s not an old man but gives all this life to her work, really inspires me.”
Lizi made me realise that although we need more amazing women in STEM (like Eliza, Emilia and Becca) it’s okay to decide that it’s not what you want to do, it’s more important that we make the opportunity available to girls so that they can make that decisions for themselves, free from outside restraints or influence.