To Infinitea and Beyond: women working in science (1)

February 11-12th marks International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so what better way to commence our honest conversations than by acknowledging how far we’ve come in this sector and the changes that are yet to be made?

This is the fifth year that the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT) has dedicated a day to women working in science. The Assembly, held at UN headquarters, calls together a combination of high-level government officials, representatives and female scientific experts from around the world; they discuss how to achieve gender equality in this area to better socio-economic development.

“On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s pledge to end the gender imbalance in science.”

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres

Women have historically been excluded from scientific practices or have failed to get the recognition they deserve for their contributions. Although schemes are cropping up to close the gender imbalances, the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects persists.

There is still work to be done to reverse the under-representation of women within scientific research: currently less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Minority Black women are worst represented: they make up less than three percent of all female doctorate graduates in the fields of science and engineering. Studies have shown that women are also less likely to publish their work and that they get paid less, meaning they struggle to progress as far as men in their careers.

This week, I’m Spilling the Tea on some of the contemporary issues young women are facing when pursuing STEM-related careers. To gain a more in-depth insight, I asked the experts in the field – yes, females who are beginning their journeys into a historically male driven domain – all about their experiences.

Kelsie Osborne is now in her fourth year of Mechanical Engineering at Heriot Watt University. Today, I ask her more about her journey into studying STEM subjects, how the Female Undergraduate of the Year Awards helped her and how she secured her internship with Rolls-Royce.

Tell me a bit about your journey into Mechanical Engineering…

KELSIE OSBORNE: fourth year mechanical engineering student.

My school put on a STEM day where engineers and scientists came in and told us what sort of work they get up to. I just got talking to one of the people about a possible career in Engineering and what sort of subjects I would need, which were maths and physics. They were two of my best subjects at the time, so I was pretty much sold on engineering from there.

Fast forward a few years I’m in my fourth year doing an integrated masters in mechanical engineering, which is a five year course. Last year I applied for internships and the Female Undergraduate of the Year Awards, where I was shortlisted for the top 20. As part of that I went down to the Rolls-Royce site in Bristol for a networking day and assessment centre. This is how I got my internship; if I’m honest I‘ve been extremely lucky to get the opportunities I’ve had so I’m very grateful and try to grab them with both hands.

Have you ever encountered any obstacles in pursuing your career?

One thing that I get a lot and find extremely frustrating is that I have only gotten where I am because I’m a girl. Whilst I got my internship through the Female Undergraduate of the Year Award Scheme, I still had to beat out 800+ other girls to get the the assessment centre and I was assessed to exactly the same standard as the thousands of other applicants. I am not, nor would I ever like to be a box ticking exercise for a companies diversity quota.

I was assessed to exactly the same standard as the thousands of other applicants. I am not, nor would I ever like to be a box ticking exercise for a companies diversity quota.

Kelsie osborne

I was quite fortunate that I went to an all girls school and so there was less sort of segregation of boys and girls subjects, but in my experience girls aren’t typically exposed to the early careers advice that boys are in relation to engineering since there is kind of an old school attitude to engineering being a mans job.

Do you think it’s important to encourage more girls to get into science-based subjects?

One of the reasons getting women into STEM subjects is crucial is that diversity and inclusion are so important in inspiring innovation. You need different people who come from different places and that have different opinions to come up with the best solutions because they all think differently.

Any advice for aspiring engineers?

I think confidence to succeed is the key to a good engineer and its something that needs to be inspired more in girls at a younger age. I often get told I don’t look like an engineer or people are shocked when i tell them what degree i do, which just sort of hammers home the stereotype of engineering being a mans job.

Finally, who inspires you?

It’s a bit cliche but my mum inspires me. She was in the army which is another male dominated field, but she was a total boss and is the person who has always been there to tell me I’m just as capable as the next person. I’ve never let the perceived glass ceiling stop me from getting where I want to go and I would genuinely put that down to my mum. 

Be sure to look out for the next instalment for our mini-series on women working in science – we’ll be talking to biologist Grace Padden, as well as vet and academic lecturer Laura Kidd.* If you know any other inspiring stories about women in STEM, please do get in touch here.

Remember to keep in the loop on our social media channels: Facebook here / Instagram here / Youtube here / Personal Twitter and LinkedIn here!

Featured image: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

* Edit: Links here to mini series on other women working in STEM: My piece on Grace Padden here / my piece on Laura Kidd here.

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