University of Edinburgh Women in STEM society

What’s the purpose of your society?
Edinburgh University Women in STEM’s main aims are to support, promote and connect women in STEM. We do this through a variety of events including academic talks, trips to conferences, socials and this year we even had our first hackathon. We also help our members find job and internship opportunities through careers workshops, networking events and sharing job opportunities with our members. We hope our society can help break down the stereotypes of STEM and make female STEM students feel less isolated in male-dominated degrees.


That’s’ loads! So who are your members?
Most of our members are female students at the University of Edinburgh studying a STEM degree but we do have a few members from other degrees and some men have got involved as well. Our members have diverse backgrounds, goals and even degrees – there’s everything from geosciences and biology to artificial intelligence and physics! We try to provide a range of opportunities for our members to accommodate for everyone, whether it’s industry or research you’re interested in.
Currently, our committee and members are all over the world doing internships in a vast variety of exciting organisations.


What are the biggest challenges for your members?
There has been some really positive change happening in the recent years within STEM but there are still a lot of stereotypes and assumptions of STEM students which can be quite damaging. Most of our members have a story about something someone has done or said to them because of their gender. This sort of behaviour can be isolating and makes entering the industry after university even more daunting but the support provided by our society can be extremely helpful at making you feel less alone.
Committee members from another STEM society at Edinburgh University have questioned why we need to exist, and we’ve even seen some hostility towards events that promote women in STEM within one of the STEM subject group chats. Many people don’t understand the importance of a diverse workforce and the benefits it brings to business. Ultimately it’s about equity over equality, which is a message that not everyone has got yet.


Do you find your departments, EUSA and the university supportive of your society?
Last year, we had a lot of support from the School of Physics, Informatics and Chemistry, all of whom were incredibly helpful. Programming Society and Physics Society have collaborated with us which has led to some really great events. Without the support we’ve received, some our events wouldn’t be able to go ahead so we’re really grateful.


What are the ambitions of your members, generally?
Most of our members go on to have a career in industry but we also have many women who go into research or continue their studies with postgraduate degrees. It’s important to us that our members pursue a career in STEM as Equate Scotland figures show 73% of women who study a STEM subject do not have a career in STEM afterwards.


Why is it important for women to have representation and power in STEM work?
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ explains it so perfectly. Without representation in your chosen field – no matter what that field is – it is so much harder to start your career. If you’re feeling isolated it’s so important to hear from other people like you feeling the same way.
The leaky pipeline is one of the biggest issues when encouraging diversity into STEM. Having role models is so vital to inspire women to stay in STEM. Role models help to break down stereotypes for not only women, but everyone which is key. We cannot create an equal workforce without support of men, and by breaking down stereotypes we start to reduce unconscious bias, and conscious bias too for that matter.


What, if anything, would you recommend to women who’d like to study what you do?
Don’t be scared to challenge people’s stereotypes and views. Sometimes it is daunting, and you will have to be in situations where you are the only woman in the room but there are so many wonderful communities of women in industry and at universities across the country that will inspire and support you. Go to women only events – they are all so welcoming and you will meet so many amazing people. Ultimately, do what interests and excites you and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You will excel at what you’re passionate about so if you’re passionate about STEM, come and join our wonderful community.


Have you had any recent significant event or awards?
For our last event of the academic year we had our first ever hackathon! ‘Hello World Hack’ was a beginner friendly hackathon so we kept it fairly small and provided at least one mentor for every team for support. We had a great turn out and very positive feedback so we plan to make it an annual event!
We have a lot of STEM heroines, and we have even been lucky enough to host some of them at our events! We love to celebrate the more famous heroines (such as Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Jocelyn Bell-Burnell) but we also love to promote and support our more local heroes and heroines. Last year we held our first Big Questions series to celebrate excellent female physicists and managed to host Jess Wade (it’s fair to say we were all very excited at that event!) along with some wonderful STEM heroines within the University of Edinburgh.

Image of Rhona Kerinan, Bethan Froggat and Rebecca Collins of the University of Edinburgh STEM Society
L-R: Rhona Kerinan, Bethan Froggat and Rebecca Collins of the University of Edinburgh STEM Society. Picture by Lesley Martin, interview by Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

You will excel at what you’re passionate about so if you’re passionate about STEM – come and join our wonderful community!

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