My name is Leah Ridgway, I’m now 30 years old and have a PhD in Electronic Engineering. I now work at The University of Nottingham and teach engineering to undergraduate students. I’m passionate about sharing my love of engineering with others and I’m even hosting a free online course which provides a taster of electrical and electronic engineering (with no hard hats or spanners in sight!) for 16+ year olds.
I’m happy to say attitudes to women in STEM have changed so much for the better since I was an undergraduate, but we’re not where we need to be yet.
To write my list of tips I asked my friends and sent a call out on twitter – there were a lot of common themes, so, I present the Top 5 tips for women studying STEM subjects at university:
1. Your gender has nothing to do with your ability in your studies
“…Remember that you have still earned your place there as much as anyone.” – Grace
During my first semester I was often told that I was only there to make up the equal opportunities quota which was hurtful at the time, but I ignored it and worked hard to prove that I was there because I was good at what I did and excelled in all of my exams. You are there on merit, work hard and ignore negative assumptions.
2. Be yourself. People from all walks of life make fabulous engineers and scientists
“You discover in this industry that you don’t have to conform to anything, whether you like reading, rock climbing or pop music, working hard and having fun whilst doing so is all that matters” – Olivia
I spent a long time trying to be “one of the boys” so I could fit in and it never worked or made me happy. Now I wear what I want (mostly dresses) and sometimes people look surprised when they find out I’m an engineer. I’m so much happier expressing myself and not trying to conform. If you don’t like wearing make-up then that’s fine, if you do, that’s also fine. Dungarees and dresses are both totally acceptable in STEM.
3. Assert yourself
Asserting yourself can be difficult but it’s a really useful life skill to learn. In all walks of life you will meet people with different personalities and it’s all about trying to find the right balance. If you ever feel uncomfortable with anything said to you simply talk to your tutor or a member of staff you trust.
You are well within your rights to ask anyone who may have taken a joke too far to stop.
4. Make friends and form support networks
“Study with others, it helps all of you when you can bounce ideas around…there were two girls on my foundation year” – Jasmine
This isn’t to say you have to be best friends with any female in your class, but it can help. Most universities will have a Women in Science and Engineering society or something similar and this is a great place to make friends with people in the exact same situation as yourself.
It’s often when you move into your professional life that these contacts really become useful (and don’t forget about professional networks when you graduate).
5. Love your subject
“Enjoy the experience. Studying engineering is definitely a gateway to many possibilities.” – Monica
Studying a STEM subject means you’ll be spending a lot of hours in classes and doing practicals – it’s hard work. On the days where nothing has quite gone right it’s helpful if you can remember that you do love your subject and there’s an amazing job out there for you where you can change the world and that’s why you’re working so hard right now!
Talent 2030 is an ambitious campaign to encourage more talented young people to pursue careers in manufacturing and engineering – including software development. We are particularly focused on inspiring more girls to consider careers in these sectors, working jointly with business and universities to undertake outreach into schools and colleges. For further Talent 2030 updates follow us on Twitter @Talent_2030.