And as International Women’s Day approaches, here’s my story
Growing up I don’t think I was actually aware of the gender gap in STEM. Having gone to an all girls school, I grew up in this idealistic bubble where I thought I could do anything and be anything I wanted. I am glad for this bubble as it didn’t hold me back from trying to be the best at Science, Maths and Computing. However in yr10 this bubble was popped. No it wasn’t popped by some boy saying he was better than me or a teacher telling me girls couldn’t be engineers. Ironically, it was popped by an organisation trying to help girls into STEM, but it was my first exposure to the reality that there aren’t as many of us girls out here in science. This program gave me the chance to delve into a world of Science and Engineering beyond what my school could offer me, an insane opportunity I wouldn’t dare pass over.
Heading into Sixth Form, now very aware that I was a minority as the only student in my further maths class whilst History and English classes had over 15, I was beginning to get an insight into what lay ahead of me in this treacherous path into STEM. I was constantly being compared to my counterparts at the boys school, with this expectation for me to be worse than them. Left in a poor situation by my school and ending up self teaching most Maths and Further Maths modules, I was beginning to feel like I was in a situation where I couldn’t win, whilst the boys were sailing through with their very experienced teacher.
Unfortunately the set backs didn’t stop there. I was then under predicted in Further Maths despite achieving near perfect marks in yr12. On questioning my prediction, I was told it was because of the “previous performances in the school”. Meanwhile all the boys, in the same situation, were predicted A*s, even though I had outperformed them (not that it’s a competition!). It’s important that students are judged based on their own performances and not that of others, as all students have different potential and work ethics. I was lucky enough to have a chemistry teacher and Head of Sixth Form who whole heartedly believed in me and reassessed my predicted grade to rectify the situation. From this I was left more motivated than ever to prove to my maths teachers and myself that I could get that A* in Further Maths, even if my ability was doubted and it was something that hadn’t been achieved at this school for a number of years.
A Level results day will forever be one of the best days of my life. The day I was able to prove my ability, show how hard I’d worked and most of all secure my place at Imperial, a university where I knew I’d be able to continue my journey in Maths. A part of me will always be grateful for the teachers who doubted me and the work I had to self-teach as it really did push me to try to achieve the best I could and show them that I could do it despite additional barriers. As women, we often undermine ourselves and doubt our own abilities, believing we are less than we actually are. Through this journey one of the biggest things I learnt was to have faith in myself. People tried to put limits on me, but what was important was for me to know my own limits and to push them, working to MY best ability not the ability that someone else thought I had.
Whilst at Imperial I have met some amazing women (as well as men), my fellow students, lecturers and women in industry. I have been inspired and learnt so much about using Maths in a career and life as a woman in STEM. I’ve even had an opportunity to share my story here and through Her Imperial. Whilst being a woman is often viewed as a disadvantage, we should actually see it as advantageous, something my undergraduate liaison officer, Inkeri, has been trying to show us. Being a woman in such a male dominated environment as Maths just makes us all the more special. We stand out. We are smart, employable, hard workers and most of all, we’re just as good as the boys! We just need to believe it.
So from one young woman on this path to another, all thats left to say is: Be you, be proud and believe in yourself.
Happy International Women’s Day!