“Science knows no gender” – students at female STEM careers conference are told

More than 250 students from 13 state and independent schools across the Eastern counties attended a conference on Monday 19 October organised by St Mary’s School, Cambridge in partnership with UTC Cambridge, which aimed to encourage female students aged 15 to 18 to consider a range or scientific careers.

The GSA Girl Power: Women in Bio-Technology and Engineering Conference marked the fourth occasion that St Mary’s School, Cambridge has put on the bi-ennial event in partnership with the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) East Region.
Speakers at the event were all women of extraordinary talent and dedication working at the top of their fields. Among them was Dame Mary Archer DBE who spoke about The Science of Good Health, highlighting the founding ‘fathers’ of modern medicine from X-ray imaging to the magic ‘bullet drug’. The students were delighted to hear that Dame Mary carried out her first experiment at the age of 10 when she tied an earthworm into a knot to see if it could untie itself!

Dr Jasmine Fisher, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and a Group Leader at the Department of Biochemistry, the University of Cambridge, shared her journey to career fulfilment. Dr Fisher’s story demonstrated to the girls that there isn’t just one clearly defined path to get to where you want to be. A panel of women scientists and engineers from CamAWiSE and STEM Team East introduced the students to the diverse career paths in STEM, discussing why they enjoy their work, what motivates them and whether they perceive there are particular issues facing women with careers in STEM.

A break-out session on Nanotechnology enabled the girls to get involved with practical experiments overseen by two 2nd year PhD students of the EPSRC CDT in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge. A hands-on session looked at human-centred design where the students used ideation cards to think creatively about how digital systems could and should be designed, led by Ewa Luger, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge. The girls also heard from Professor Averil Macdonald OBE on the value of Science in the Sixth Form by looking at how to use your natural aptitudes to find a job where like-minded people are happy and successful.

Professor Cecilia Mascolo, Professor of Mobile Systems in the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge introduced the girls to the secrets of mobile phone sensing while Dr Hilarie Bateman, Admissions Tutor, Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, talked to the students about university applications. Further careers presentations included an introduction to opportunities for scientists in drug discovery by Dr Urszula Grabowska, Contract Research Organization and External Collaborations Manager at Medivir.

This inspirational conference enabled the young women who attended to gain a much greater insight into the sheer diversity of roles at the cutting edge of scientific research and implementation. It is hoped that this will inspire more of them to pursue the subject and go on to access a career in Science or Engineering in the future.

Charlotte Avery, Headmistress at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said: “As the only all through girls’ school in Cambridgeshire, we feel it is extremely important to pay close attention to young women’s future careers and especially in areas where women are still under-represented. We are very grateful to all of our speakers for giving generously of their time and experience to inspire and inform the students about a huge range of career opportunities open to them. A lot of passion, energy and determination was shared with the students by our speakers: developing and refining systems at the cutting edge of science, these ambitious women are all aiming for speed, sensitivity and simplicity which ultimately helps systems become smaller, lighter, faster and ultimately, cheaper.

“A key driver for so many of these inspirational women has been wanting to make a difference, affecting people’s lives for the better and applying science to everyday life. Our aim for the day was to open the students’ minds to the wonderful array of possibilities available now and in the future regarding scientific careers and to enable the girls to think and operate confidently as women and as potential scientists.”

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