International Day of Women and Girls in Science: contractor interviews
Today, Friday the 11th of February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The annual awareness day was created in 2015 by the United Nations, to highlight the critical role that women and girls play in science and technology. In celebration of this important day, we chatted with three of our female contractors that work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Read on to find out what they do in their careers and discuss the importance of women and girls working in science and technology.
What is your occupation?
Shahrzad: I am a biomedical engineer. I help improve current hip and knee implants and design new implants or surgical instruments for joint replacements. My utmost priority at my job is that patient safety always comes first. After that, I would also attempt to develop better-performing and more reliable implants.
Julie: I am a freelance consultant in medical affairs, within the pharmaceutical industry. This ranges from medical science liaison (MSL) work through to anything for medical affairs, medical communications and medical advice work. I’ve been doing this role for around 15 years. I am brought in to become an expert on the company’s drug and then I am a support to sales in terms of medical support.
Ingrid: I’m a specialist Reservoir Modeller – I build 3D computer models of the geology deep under the ground using data from boreholes and seismic (measurements from artificial vibrations, a bit like mini-earthquakes). The idea is to represent the shapes and size of reservoirs and the quality of the rock (porosity and permeability) to calculate how much oil and gas is down there, but more recently also to calculate how much Co2 we could store down there. I have almost 25 years of experience.
What drew you to this area of work?
Shahrzad: I knew from an early age that I liked STEM subjects. I believe that was why I decided to go towards the engineering field. I then learned about biomedical engineering and realised how this subject directly impacted the lives of all doctors, medical centres and patients or vulnerable individuals around the globe. I believe that helping one another is the most rewarding thing in the world. And this is why I decided to study biomedical engineering at university.
Julie: I was working for a charity years ago and it was all science-based, but it was becoming a lot more procedural and a lot more process-driven and I wasn’t doing as much science. An agency approached me about working in MSL, and at the time the thought of doing presentations terrified me. But once I got into it, I realised I really enjoyed it.
Ingrid: I studied geology because the subject interested me, not really knowing where it would lead as a career. Reservoir Modelling happened a little by accident and I was in the right place at the right time.
What is your favourite part of the job?
Shahrzad: The favourite part of my job is that it is fun and fulfilling, and no two days are the same. I enjoy the challenge and problem-solving side of my work. Also, being a biomedical engineer, I come across many different problems and questions to find a solution or an answer to. Lastly, being in contact with the medical professionals and getting feedback from surgeons about the devices we develop is very exciting.
Julie: I like taking science and disseminating it to people in various ways, whether it be speaking to a clinician or training sales teams. It’s taking it and pitching it to whatever the audience is, which is ironic as that’s what I used to be terrified of.
Ingrid: Solving problems and working in a team.
Do you find the industry you’re working in to be male-dominated?
Shahrzad: Yes. However, in the past few years, we have seen a steady increase of women entering male-dominated STEM fields. I read somewhere, I think it was the women’s engineering society, that currently in the UK, 14.5% of all Engineers are females, so that is not good. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in this area.
Julie: The industry as a whole is reasonably evenly split. At my level, it’s more female-heavy. I’m a single mom, so I have two children that I must do the school run for and then work. So, the flexibility of field-based roles always appealed to me and I think that’s the case for a lot of females. There is still that gap between the higher management roles tending towards the male-dominated environment, because they’ve got the opportunities to progress careers further.
Ingrid: I think at entry level there are plenty of women but as you progress a career (either technical or managerial) there are fewer women, although I must say it has never bothered me and I personally never felt I was at a disadvantage.
Did you make any mistakes that taught you lessons that you would like to pass on to the next generation of women?
Shahrzad: Yes, everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and move on. I would say always seek challenges and proactively try and meet challenges. Don’t just stay in your comfort zone. Because that’s where you grow when you’re meeting challenges and have the courage to make decisions. Also, remember all skills are important. Qualifications are great, but what is also important (but sometimes overlooked) are soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people and articulate yourself clearly. When I graduated with my master’s in engineering, I couldn’t find engineering work in the field of medical devices. So, I started working in customer service. This gave me very good exposure to human interactions and soft skills and eventually helped me, later on, in my engineering role. So do not overlook any skills.
Julie: Have the confidence to let your experience prove that you know what you’re doing. You don’t need to physically prove it because I’ve worked with people that have done that at a high level and it’s been to their detriment.
Ingrid: I think I probably should have asked more questions. Be curious and don’t pretend you understand something if you don’t.
Why should more women be getting into STEM?
Shahrzad: I believe in gender equality and it should be the same for engineering and STEM fields. Imagine we say that women or girls shouldn’t [be getting into STEM], then what potentials are we stopping there? What breakthroughs are we saying no to? Women bring different perspectives and should be in the field to bring new ideas.
Julie: My flippant answer would be so that I have better names for my dogs. I wanted to name my dogs after scientists. There wasn’t very many. But my more serious answer is I just think that we bring a different way of looking at things, left brain, right brain in psychology. However you want to look at it. The way we deal with project management, the way we deal with managing our time, for all the reasons I’ve just said, I must juggle my time constantly. I think that brings something new to those environments.
Ingrid: I would like to give a little plug for geoscience in particular. As we all work through the challenges of the Energy Transition we will need geoscientists more than ever. Anything that is not grown is mined so we will need help to manage and find resources for electric cars, mobile phones and to tackle climate change.
Shahrzad: We need girls to know that they don’t have to tick certain boxes to be able to enter these fields, it’s for absolutely anybody from any background. Diversity is required in STEM. My advice is if you have a dream to become an engineer or any other occupation in STEM, then go for it.
How can I find out more about the women in science campaign?
The United Nations have created a section on their website specifically for International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This site includes a series of resources for anyone wanting to find out more about the campaign, including statistics, videos and documents. Many thanks to Shahrzad, Julie and Ingrid for giving their time to share their experiences with Kingsbridge.