Girls, to Make an Impact, Stick With STEM

If girls enjoy these subjects so much when they're younger, why don't they continue to study them at GCSE and A-Level? Why do females only account for 15-20% of engineering and computer science students at University?

Despite Maths and Science being more popular among boys than girls, you might be surprised to learn that girls aged 8-15 years old still voted Maths and Science among their top five favourite subjects in a recent poll by E.ON*. There are a number of news articles which suggest that girls have a negative perception of STEM subjects, but the research shows that this isn't the case when they're young.

If girls enjoy these subjects so much when they're younger, why don't they continue to study them at GCSE and A-Level? Why do females only account for 15-20% of engineering and computer science students at University?

I was in the minority - one of around 20 females in a large lecture room of 150 when studying my Chemical Engineering degree at University. But it wasn't a love for all STEM subjects from day one that inspired me to become an Engineer at E.ON.

Like the research results suggest, Maths was one of my favourite subjects at school. I loved the problem-solving aspect and the satisfaction of knowing instantly that I've solved a problem correctly. On the other hand, science wasn't one of my favourite subjects - simply because of the way it was taught at the time. It wasn't appealing to me and I struggled to see how it related to real life. Little did I know that I'd later be pursuing the subject which would ultimately enable me to build and create things that exist around us.

It's schools, parents and organisations who all have a duty to work together to ignite, and re-ignite, this passion for STEM subjects. Parents need to show encouragement and provide their children with the opportunities to build, design and make things from a young age. Last week, Dame Athene Donald said girls are being held back because of the toys they are given during childhood. They should be given Lego and Meccano where they can build, imagine and be creative, she said.

My parents were key in helping me realise that by shutting off STEM subjects, I'd be shutting off a lot of different career opportunities. They were right.

Organisations and businesses can help by funding sessions that get pupils out of the classroom and allow them to gain hands on experience with subjects like Physics and Chemistry. This is what was missing in my school - I found it hard to translate textbooks and theory into real life.

E.ON recently organised a 3 day event for 43 pupils from across the country to experience work as real life engineers by undertaking a series of challenges, including an activity using wind, solar and gas energy to deliver light to a consumer household. It's workshops, activities and sessions like these which will enable pupils to see that they can really make an impact by sticking with STEM subjects.

Similarly, schools must make these subjects as exciting and engaging as possible for students.

Society as we know it exists because of Science and Engineering. To advance, develop and maintain everything that we've built and created we need people to understand these principle. My ChemEng degree opened up a whole variety of career options for me - from food manufacturing to cosmetics, the world was my oyster.

My job as a development engineer in oil and gas is to take the discoveries made by the exploration team and work out how to turn them into valuable products. At present, myself and other engineers are striving to figure-out how many wells need drilling, how big the platform must be and what type of pipeline will be most effective for transporting gas back from a North Sea gas field.

However, my role as an Engineer takes me further than gas field development projects.

Being an Engineer exposes you to new technologies daily and gives you the opportunity to travel. I even recently had the opportunity to take some time out to work with the BBC Science Unit as a Science reporter.

My advice to girls?

The world we live in depends on Science and Engineering, so it's vital to understand how these things work. I could never have studied Engineering without STEM subjects. They really open doors for the future and will take you to some incredible places. If you want to make an impact, you should stick with STEM.

*Survey by E.ON in July 2015 among 2,000 pupils aged 8-15 by One Poll

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