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Eight tips for women who want to study STEM at university

Bipasha Baruah, professor and research chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Canada, shares her top eight tips on why women should consider studying STEM subjects at university

    Bipasha Baruah


    Grace McCabe

    April 11 2024
    Students, research and girl question in laboratory, class and studying STEM


    While women still remain underrepresented in many STEM subjects, there are many reasons why women should choose to pursue STEM-related degrees and career paths. 

    Based on my experience of studying STEM, here are some things I’ve learnt about pursuing a STEM degree as a woman. 

    1. Explore interdisciplinary paths

    Consider combining STEM studies with social sciences, arts or humanities for a broader perspective and a holistic approach to solving complex issues. 

    Interdisciplinary scholarship isn’t about one field serving as a handmaiden to another; nor is it about running through different disciplines. What interdisciplinary education offers are broader avenues allowing students to question ideas, understand theories and concepts, and have an overview of a range of issues. 

    2. Challenge gender gaps

    Many young women who are high achievers in maths and sciences opt for biology or chemistry majors rather than physics and maths. This may, at least in part, explain why women are no longer a minority in fields like medicine and environmental science while remaining underrepresented in fields such as engineering.

    If you are more interested in pursuing a field that is more male-dominated, do not be discouraged by the lack of women you see in your lecture halls. Challenge those gender roles and don’t be afraid to pursue a path with less female representation. 

    3. Build your confidence

    There can be confidence differences between genders while studying STEM subjects. Work on building your confidence, ensuring you feel empowered to pursue STEM careers and close those gaps. 

    Students who have high confidence in maths and science are significantly more likely to want to work in these fields than those with low confidence in maths. However, boys often choose to pursue a job involving maths significantly more often than girls of the same achievement level. Factors other than interest, skills and knowledge are obviously at play in explaining the persistent underrepresentation of women in STEM.

    4. Network and seek mentors

    Establish personal networks and seek mentors in STEM fields. While teachers and counsellors are crucial, personal connections with parents, peers and mentors play a significant role, too. 

    Speaking to parents, parents of friends or other professionals around you about their jobs can help you to understand different industries that are open to STEM graduates. Joining young professional networks or finding mentors on LinkedIn are also good ways to find mentors. 

    5. Engage in outreach programmes and internships

    Participating in outreach events, internships and work placements can help you gain practical insights into STEM careers. These experiences can also create valuable personal connections. 

    Gaining work experience and building your CV can help you to define your interests more clearly and understand the career path you want to explore. 

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    6. Stay informed about STEM

    One of the best ways to understand the career paths and industries that STEM students can pursue is to stay up to date with current affairs and industry news. 

    Following social media accounts for companies you are interested in is a great way to find out about job opportunities, while joining professional networks and subscribing to industry newsletters and magazines are good ways to gain an overview of any developments within STEM industries. 

    Regularly checking science-news websites is also a good way to stay informed on how industries are developing and about any new jobs or roles that might become available in the near future. Lots of STEM-related jobs are still in their infancy or perhaps don’t even exist yet, so it’s always a good idea to stay on top of newer roles that you could pivot into throughout your career. 

    7. Consider STEM career benefits

    There are many advantages of STEM careers, such as higher wages, job security and potential permanent positions. 

    Students should research these things when deciding on a career and speak to their network about how these aspects have impacted their own career journeys. 

    8. Be yourself 

    Follow your own path to find the perfect career, and consider the main things you want from your future career. While advice from your network is valuable, the most enjoyable and rewarding career is the one that will fulfil you the most. 

    Remember, your journey is unique, and it’s important to pursue a path aligned with your interests, values and aspirations.

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