Challenging the norm: How the 2015 all-girl winning team are bridging the gender gap in STEM

  • Hannah Picton

    Hannah Picton

    Assistant Programme Manager, International Development and Education & Skills team

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I caught up with previous Longitude Explorer Prize winners to discover what the experience meant to them and why they would encourage more young girls interested in STEM and entrepreneurship to celebrate International Women’s Day!

For International Women’s Day this year, we caught up with the 2015 winning team, made up of members Grace, and Emily. The team won with their app, Displaced, which was designed to help charities to coordinate the logistics of supporting vulnerable people around the world.

The team have since all moved on from the school where they worked on the prize together, Rendcomb college, onto the next exciting adventure. They’re now exploring topics ranging from neuroscience to politics, but have taken time out of their exciting schedules to share their thoughts on how the experience may have helped to shape their choices along the way!

Why do you think it’s so important for more women and girls to be involved in STEM industries? 

Grace: Women, in particular, younger girls, are the next generation of idea-makers and influencers within STEM industries and the need to know how important their contribution will be. Many girls are made to believe that they cannot or will not have as much of a contribution as their male counterparts, when in reality, the male perspective has dominated the world of STEM since as long as we can remember. There is still so much to be done in order to advance STEM technologies and clearly a new perspective is needed, hence the new focus on bringing in all genders, backgrounds and ethnicity. Girls must know that although there will most probably be more hurdles in their path, future generations need this fresh perspective to advance technologies that can only be brought on by major changes in the industry.

Emily: There is, unfortunately, a huge difference in the perceived ability of women and girls compared to men, which isn’t for any other reason than history. Although there has been a noticeable increase in the fields explored by women, there are still fields dominated by men which shouldn’t be. Due to this, I believe it’s a duty for young girls to believe in themselves to bridge this gap and prove the norm wrong.

Which women have inspired you most when making decisions around your education and careers? 

Grace: This would have to be Nancy Astor, who was one of the first elected female MP’s, taking her husband’s position in a male-dominated profession. She refused to talk only about female issues in the country, but wanted to contribute to every section of society, and stood up for everything she believed in, and changing the public opinion on women in politics. 

Emily: My great grandmother is the first person that comes to mind. She was a doctor who traveled around the globe. When I was a young girl, she was the first doctor I encountered, which meant I saw no difference in male/female doctors or the gap in profession of nurses being considered a female job and doctors being a males. She spurred my interest in medicine, and taught me to aim as high as possible no matter what was expected of me, which was a huge driving factor in developing the interest I have currently in the field of neuroscience.

Programmes such as the Longitude Explorer Prize push students to think beyond their curriculum and therefore increase their curiosity into different fields

Why do you think programmes like the Longitude Explorer Prize are important? And how did taking part impact you? 

Grace: This prize definitely influenced my chosen career path. The experience caused me to think about the world outside our small school, and the way we had to find something that would impact the community led me to where I am today. Having to learn how my own education can give back to society as a whole made me think about what I could use my skills for in the future, and how to influence and lead society on a much higher level. The programme was amazing, as it gave us all vital skills to learn how to commit to something at such a young age, and gave us all an insight into how the workplace and collaboration works. It also helped me truly realise that there was a world outside the bubble of school, and having to identify issues that were impacting others changed the way I thought about my role in the workforce. 

Emily: Completing a prize so early on in schooling life gives you so many valuable skills. I learnt how to commit to a large project for a long time, how to work in a team properly – in particular, how to work together when having different schedules  and managing extra curricular endeavours alongside academic studies – how to talk to prospective buyers/businesses, how to think in a worldwide sense, and how to enjoy working on something. Ultimately, the prize boosted my confidence so that I believed I was capable of doing what I currently am. Programmes such as the Longitude Explorer Prize push students to think beyond their curriculum and therefore increase their curiosity into different fields not touched upon in schools; which is exactly what is needed in the evolving fields currently appearing.

How has STEM changed your life? Both personally and in an educational/professional sense?

Grace: STEM is unimaginably involved in every aspect of my life, even when I cannot see it. Any advances made in these subjects, through research or practical application have the ability to advance every part of society, and even in my own individual life. Doing the Longitude Explorer Prize made me personally realise what I wanted to do with my life, university, career, and I couldn’t even imagine where my life would be if we had not gone through this experience.

Emily: STEM as a whole has impacted my life completely. It has shaped the degree I am studying: Medicinal Chemistry and Neuroscience, therefore my career and ultimately the person I will make of myself. I cannot imagine the path I would be on if I hadn’t completed the Longitude Explorer Prize and discovered the passion I have for each individual aspect.

I cannot imagine the path I would be on if I hadn’t completed the Longitude Explorer Prize

What would be your advice to any young girls interested in STEM or entrepreneurship? 

Grace: Go for it! We all need new opinions and ideas in STEM subjects, and so will the future generations. The decisions that you are making now have more of an impact than you could ever imagine on the future of the world. 

Emily: Anyone, no matter how young or old should jump into STEM. Your ideas are invaluable to developing technology further than it is currently.

 

Grace Balchin, has gone on to study Politics and International Relations specialising in Human Rights and Security Studies

Emily Sharmon has gone on to study Medicinal Chemistry and Neuroscience

 

A huge thank you to Grace and Emily for sharing their thoughts – we wish them all the best as they continue their journeys!