My life in Science for British Science Week with Project MC2
When I was 14 my Chemistry teacher told my parents that I ‘would never make a chemist’. I’m now in my final year of my Biochemistry PhD and looking forward to pursuing a career in science as Dr Powell. If I hadn’t been so stubborn as a teenager and had taken that comment to heart just imagine where I might have ended up, never knowing what I was capable of.
From a young age girls are discouraged from doing science and made to think that they should ‘leave it to the boys’ and the effort to encourage more girls to take up STEM subjects is ongoing. My self-confidence was such that I never really had an issue with getting into science; despite the above comments from teachers I chose biology and chemistry as A level subjects and got my first job in science at the age of 16. I did work experience in a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, loved every minute of it and was offered a Saturday job as a haematology technician. For the next few years I spent my Saturdays preparing and analysing haematology (blood) samples, gaining experience, independence and confidence in working in a lab that would go on to boost my CV and get me where I wanted to be. Never turn down an opportunity for work experience!
Having this first hand science experience on my personal statement meant that I got into my first choice University to study Biochemistry and got my first choice industry placement in my third year – my lab experience was the focus of my interviews and clearly the interviewers were impressed! I did my year in industry in AstraZeneca in Cheshire and it was honestly one of the best years of my life (I cannot recommend taking a year in industry in your degree enough, read my previous post here for more details). To be working at the forefront of drug discovery was an unbelievable experience which taught me what life is really like working at the cutting edge of science research but also the wide variety of roles that are out there.
On embarking on my PhD, a rollercoaster ride of 3.5 solid years in the lab, I still envisioned myself having a career in laboratory research. However soon after starting the journey with its trials and tribulations, down days and of course up days, I decided that laboratory life might not be for me forever. I have always loved communicating with people and had a flair for writing and creativity; when I chose to study biochemistry at university I thought I was leaving these talents behind me, never to be used again. However by being exposed to different areas of science I have come to realise that there are plenty of roles for scientists which need creativity, communication and even business skills which don’t require a white coat. I only wish I had known more about the world of science communication and science writing as well as all the wonderful creative roles available in the tech sector when I was much younger in school – what would be the point of making an exciting scientific breakthrough if nobody knows about it and can put it to good use? It took me until PhD level to find my place in science and realise that there was more to scientific careers than laboratory research and this is something that I think should be emphasised in schools.
Through my blogging I have become passionate about social media and web development and wish I knew more about technology and computer science because my knowledge is shamefully limited! When I was in school IT lessons consisted of learning how to touch type and skills such as coding were never even mentioned. If I could go back to school I would definitely pay more attention in IT class and would urge the younger generation to embrace what modern technology can do, because who knows where it will take us in the future! The capabilities of technology and science will only reach 50% of it’s potential if only 50% of the population take an interest at a young age and this is why it is so important to encourage young girls to pursue their interests in science.
There are so many initiatives out there for teens such as Stemettes which help young girls to realise their potential in STEM subjects however I think that the encouragement should start even younger than this with toys. One of my favourite initiatives is Project MC2, a collection of sassy, intelligent doll characters and a Netflix original series which sees the girls using their science and technology skills to solve top secret missions and kick ass! (For a full review of the ‘Adrienne Attoms’ doll, see my previous post here).
As a young girl I looked up to strong female characters and I know I would have loved my own collection of Project MC2 dolls, with their sassy outfits and each coming with their own science experiment to do at home based on the characters skills in either science, maths, engineering or technology; characters that I would have wanted to grow up to be. I feel that Project MC2 does an excellent job of showing girls that they CAN do science and that they don’t have to conform to the ‘geeky’ stereotype to be able to have a career in science. This season the dolls have had an update, each with new outfits (I’m loving Adrienne’s Chanel-style jacket, we would definitely be great friends!) and new science experiments to do and also a collection of individual experiments such as an electronic musical set and a carbon dioxide rocket which can be done again and again with friends!
The Camryn Coyle doll here (available at all good toy retailers, RRP £24.99) represents the engineering skills and as she loves building things and skateboarding I think we would get along great as I’m a keen snowboarder and I’m never without my toolkit at work for putting together my equipment; she really does prove that smart is the new cool! Camryn comes with blueprints so you can build her motorised skateboard yourself. I also had the chance to review Circuit Beats (RRP £29.99) which I had a lot of fun with as it allows you to wire up fruit and other household items to make a piano. This would be great for kids to learn about electrical conductivity and the brightly-coloured wires and customisable stickers would really put the fun into learning about STEM. I wish these were around when I was younger!
Hopefully in the future young girls will grow up to feel that science IS for them, that they CAN do it and that if they don’t fancy a career in a laboratory there are plenty of other exciting and creative roles that they can pursue which still play to their interests in STEM. From designing websites to building apps for helping healthcare professionals, from managing teams of scientists on exotic field projects to making big business decisions in the pharmaceutical sector, from designing and building hi-tech military equipment to writing and communicating the exciting scientific discoveries that are made every day; there really is the perfect career for every interest in STEM! Remember, smart is the new cool 😉
How has science played a part in your life? What do you think of the new Project MC2 collection of dolls and experiments? (You can follow Project MC2 on Twitter, Instagram, download the Case Files App in the app store and watch the original TV series on Netflix)