To celebrate Women in Science Day (this year held on 11th February), Unicorn was delighted to host a networking event on Saturday 9th February. The panel of speakers were all women working in STEM; highlighting the variety of jobs within these fields to a group of secondary school pupils. Learning and Engagement Officer Andrea Campomanes, who organised the event, said; ‘The history of HMS Unicorn as a training ship for young men and women has transcended to our times and inspired our mission towards equality within education. We are delighted to continue our efforts and to welcome such speakers to this event’. The panel was made up by Christina MacKaill, Junior Doctor and Medical Researcher for NASA and ESA, Michelle Rennie, Head of Major Transport Infrastructure Projects at Transport Scotland, Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at Marine Conservation Society, Chief Editor of Young Scientists Journal Mhairi McGann, and Catriona Patterson, Chair of 2050 Climate Change and Green Arts Manager for Creative Carbon Scotland.
The panel discussed their time at school, wondering what career path to take and how they indulged their interest in science out with the classroom. Miss Gemmell mentioned her time volunteering at Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay, where she began working in the gift shop. She said; ‘It was one of the best things I did. I wasn’t thinking, even at that stage, I might work (in conservation); it was really fun, Saturday afternoon I would go along (…) They then trained me to give talks about dolphins and then I got involved in their science programme Shorewatch, I was actually going out and standing and watching the sea for 10 minutes, and following a certain methodology so I could recognise what the sea state (the general condition of the free surface on a large body of water) was, identify whales and dolphins and wildlife as well, and that was just when I was your age, and I was already taking part in conservation and science just as a volunteer, and it was absolutely amazing’. She also pointed out voluntary experiences such as her own are worth mentioning on CVs as they highlight to potential employers that you are passionate.
Another topic that came under scrutiny was the idea that the arts and science are completely separate topics. Miss McGann pointed out that schools tend to unconsciously emphasis this idea, thus making students believe they must choose one or the other when that simply isn’t the case. Miss Patterson pointed to her own career as an example of combining arts and science. In her role as Green Arts Manager, Miss Patterson has worked with several Dundee arts organisations, such as DCA where they looked at eco-friendly ways of transporting and showing films, and Dundee Rep, who are hoping to keep bees on their roof. Students can combine their interest in science and arts if they wished.
The internet and social media were also mentioned as ways to get involved in science. Miss McGann said she would not be in her position today if she did not google opportunities and email employers. Miss Gemmell also encouraged pupils to use social media, saying; ‘Just start following people who are interesting. Follow hashtags. It’s amazing the new jobs you’ll discover (…) The more you can use social media to learn about these things, the more opportunities might come up and (you’ll) say, ‘Oh actually, I didn’t know that job existed, let’s have a look at it’’.
To sum up, Miss Rennie added four bullet points for those interested in a career in STEM; aim high, be bold, have a Plan B, and enjoy it. Miss Patterson added; ‘Don’t think you have to be an expert at everything to have a go at something. So much can be achieved by just the thought and the knowledge and the skills you already have, so just jump into something’. These words of encouragement from the speakers has greatly helped the pupils present, as seen from their feedback. One girl said, ‘The We Matter Networking Event was very interesting and has made me feel more confident going into a STEM career’. The number of women studying STEM subjects at university in Scotland has increased over the years, and hopefully events such as this will encourage more to pursue their interest in science.