One fact about the science world is that women are not represented equally in occupations related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Although the number on women in STEM has increased over the past few years, most recent statistics from the WISE campaign (a campaign for gender balance within STEM) revealed that women only make up 14.4% of the UK STEM workforce.
- Only 33% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs progress into a STEM A-level (or equivalent qualification).
- Only 7% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs study a STEM qualification in Higher Education (or equivalent).
- 50% of STEM undergraduates are female.
- But only 17% of senior academics in the EU are female.
The gender gap in the STEM workforce could be due to many different reasons. Many women in academia have to consider when a good time to start a family is. Time out of academia immediately puts that career path of post-doc to professor on hold. There are now numerous organisations campaigning for a gender balance in the world of STEM.
Since I’ve started this blog I’ve come across some really supportive communities for female researchers, particularly through social media. There is a wealth of Instagram accounts specifically showcasing the research and lives of women in STEM all across the globe which have been fascinating to look at.
The STEM Squad
Throughout the month of March The STEM Squad launched a photo-a-day challenge for all women and girls in STEM on Instagram. This involved posting a photo related to a different topic each day and adding the hashtag #wearestemsquad. The STEM Squad is a supportive community for all women and girls working (or just enthusiasts!) in STEM. This challenge gave loads of women across the world an opportunity to share various aspects of their lives with others.
In case you don’t have Instagram, or haven’t seen already, here are my #wearestemsquad photo-a-day posts! Take a look to see what I get up to in and out of the PhD world…
Day 1: “Me”
This is me, Lisa, a final year PhD student at The University of Southampton UK. Over three years of lab work done and now time to write up all of those results into a beautifully large thesis! I’ve recently started science blogging so check out the link in my bio! Follow me to keep up to date with my journey through PhD and science, and for future blog posts.
Day 2: “History”
Here’s a throwback to my masters graduation and a little bit about how I got to where I am now.
My first memory of being interested in science was when my parents took me to @Bristol Science Centre. One of the exhibitions was having a go at being a weather girl and from that moment it was all I wanted to be! But it wasn’t until my A levels that I decided Biology was my thing. My science journey started off by doing a Physiology degree and then a Masters of Research in Maternal and Fetal Health at The University of Manchester. I loved the pregnancy and developmental research, and had this amazing group of people with me all the way through.
The advert for my PhD popped up and I immediately knew that was what I wanted to research, so here I am at The University of Southampton studying developmental physiology and in my final year. My PhD journey has been a tough one and I’ve decided that academia is not for me. I enjoy the writing side of the PhD so hello new science blog and although it’s early days, I absolutely love working on it! I’m now looking into jobs in scientific/medical writing and I am so happy to have found an area which allows me to combine by love for science, writing and creativity.
Day 3: “Field”
My PhD is all centred around the question “Are you what your mother ate?“. I’m investigating how various diets (high-fat and vitamins D deficient) during pregnancy affect the development, structure and function of the baby’s skeletal muscle function in later life.
Day 4: “Inspiration”
My PhD has not been the easiest journey. There was a time when I wanted to quit so badly but my friends encouraged me to stick with it through the tough times. They are the ones that gave me hope, told me not to give up and that good things will come from completing this PhD. I am so thankful they did. I will get this PhD and I already have exciting opportunities coming my way.
I learn a lot from my friends, both in work and life situations. It’s those friends who inspire me.
Day 5: “Reading”
I am currently reading “The 4-hour work week” which has already taught me some good tips on how to be productive, and how to see work/life balance in a different light.
Next on my list “The Telomere Effect”, the science behind telomere length (part of our chromosomes that determine how fast our cells age) and how we can look after them to slow down the ageing process. Excited to read this one!
Day 6: “Workspace”
Having the luxury of working from home this morning. Now I’m out of the lab it’s good to mix my workspace up from time to time. Little bit of the office, little bit of home comforts and the occasional coffee shop visit!
Day 7: “Equipment”
Throughout my PhD I’ve used a lot of different equipment from my electrophysiology muscle contraction setup to open field activity monitors to assess behaviour. But now it’s lab gloves off and time to blast through this image analysis and write my thesis! All I need is my laptop, earphones to listen to science and fitness podcasts (helps me with endless analysis!), and glasses so I can actually see what I’m doing!
Day 8: “Routine”
My normal week day involves eat, work, eat, little more work, bit of scicomm, exercise and socialise, eat, sleep!
I love CrossFit and Wednesdays are always for gymnastics class. Today’s session was progressions to get that strict muscle up. Muscle up, I will get you in 2017.
Day 9: “Home”
I grew up and spent my whole childhood in a town just outside Bristol. I love going back for the odd weekend to get away from the PhD bubble and spend quality time with my friends and family.
Things are now changing, my parents have just moved to Brussels for the next three years but Bristol will always be my home. I am so lucky to have a lot of close friends living back there after we all went separate ways for university. My home girls, I love you!
Day 10: “Details”
As a physiologist I love to learn about the finer details on how our amazing bodies work. I’m also mindful about my nutrition. Getting the right foods in my body sets me up for a productive day, I need that all important brain power at work (this thesis won’t write itself!) and I need the energy to be strong when I workout in the evenings. I do my best to stick to the right proportion of macros (carbs, protein, fat) each day. A typical breakfast for me looks like this:
– 40g porridge oats
– 1 scoop whey protein powder
– 160ml coconut milk
– cod liver oil
– big glass of water
Having awareness of the nutritional details is one factor that keeps me fit and healthy.
Day 11: “Unwind”
Yoga is a new thing for me and I couldn’t recommend it enough for relaxing and unwinding after a day of work. Absolutely love my one-to-one sessions with my lovely friend Fran.
Day 12: “Creativity”
My main creative outlet is for my science blog. I love doodling on a piece of paper and turning my drawings into illustrations to make my blog more personal and unique.
Day 13: “Goals”
I can’t recommend setting yourself goals for the year enough! The feeling of ticking each one off throughout the year is just great. They give you focus and makes you realise how much you can accomplish. Read my blog post on how to go about setting yourself goals.
Day 14: “Materials”
What would I have done without my trusty pipettes?! They were there throughout the long animal studies, many PCRs and those months of immunohistochemistry work. Time for a new owner now because lab work, I am done with you!
Day 15: “Methods”
A little bit of training with a side order of caffeine. These are two ways which help me stay focussed during my PhD.
Exercise: it’s a great stress reliever, it gives those hard working brain cells a break and keeps you healthy. Don’t let PhD become your life. Go for some runs, join a team sport, throw heavy weights around. I love picking up those weights and practising my handstand holds at CrossFit Solent most evenings after a day of work!
Caffeine: a saviour during those sleepy moments at my desk. I’m pretty sure most PhD students have discovered the wonders of caffeine!
Day 16: “Memory”
It’s good to reflect on things from time to time. I have so many amazing memories with all my amazing friends and family. Lots of exciting plans this year, and many more memories to be made.
Day 17: “Food”
I’m all about the meal prep. It means I stay healthy (most of the time!), eat the right foods for me and spend as little time as possible cooking in the week when I’m PhDing. Less time cooking also means more time to do those extra things in life I love. As I’m posting this I’m having all the cookie cravings!
Day 18: “Colour”
It’s all about having a colourful fitness wardrobe!
Day 19: “Break”
Everyone needs a break from work, especially from all the stresses and pressures of doing a PhD. I’m not one to work on my thesis every weekend, and today was a day of friends, food and the coast.
Day 20: “Now”
I’m in work and planning what I want to achieve this week as we speak. Setting yourself daily and weekly goals helps to keep you focused. Stay tuned for my blog post on keeping focussed and motivated during a PhD.
Day 21: “Writing”
This week I’m planning and writing a new blog post for my “PhDLife” feature. This one is all about keeping that focus and motivation we all struggle with from time to time. It’s going to be published this Thursday and will be packed full of advice so keep your eyes peeled!
Day 22: “Organisation”
Being organised is all about having a good filing system, neat lab books and planning out your days and weeks in a diary. My cute fluffy fat cell is always there watching over me and keeping everything in check!
Day 23: “Fact”
It’s been 3 years since I graduated from my Masters of Research in Maternal and Fetal Health at The University of Manchester, and today I found out our paper has been accepted for publication! So happy right now!
Day 24: “Fiction”
Definition: “describes imaginary events”. It’s great to have aspirations and dreams in life, but we have to put in the hard work to take them from our imagination to our reality. Imagine it, then create it.
Day 25: “Fun”
Had all the fun soaking up the sunshine rays today… summer is slowly on its way.
Day 26: “Numbers”
So Friday marked the end of the CrossFit Open 2017, and here are some numbers to throw at you!
3 = third time I’ve done the Open
1 = first time doing all workouts Rx
17.1 = 219 reps
17.2 = 78 reps
17.3 = 38 reps
17.4 = 151 reps
17.5 = 19 mins 23 sec
This weekend has been all about active recovery, enjoying the sunshine and drinking tea.
Day 27: “Communication”
One important aspect of science is being able to communicate research findings effectively. Travelling and presenting my PhD work at various conferences has been so rewarding. They have without a doubt developed me as a science communicator. Now my attention turns to scientific writing, so let’s see where this journey takes me.
Day 28: “Diversity”
One of the things my transfer thesis examiners were happy about was the wide range of techniques I had used in the lab. I’ve done a lot in my PhD life… from animal dissection, to radioactive experiments, to molecular biology, to electrophysiology, to immunohistochemistry, to behavioural studies, to microscopy.
Day 29: “Love”
What do I love?…. CHOCOLATE. Chocolate cake, chocolate brownies, chocolate cookies, all the chocolate. Oh and of course my friends, family, CrossFit, cycling and working on my scicomm projects!
Day 30: “Reflect”
I think it’s great to self reflect. Life is full of fun but everyone has stresses at some point. Reflect on the things that have been tough, don’t shy away from them. Process what’s happened and think about how you can change that situation for the better. Understand you, and learn from you.
If you’re going through a tough time with your PhD then look back and reflect on all the amazing work you’ve achieved so far. You’ll surprise yourself. Check out my blog post for tips on focus and motivation. Get your sparkle back.
Day 31: “March on”
It was all black for me last night as I marched my way towards birthday cocktails. I had the best day and I’m now a wonderfully young 26 year old!
So there’s a little insight into my personal/scientific life for you! I had a lot of fun with the #wearestemsquad Instagram challenge! It definitely got my creative brain switched on in order to reflect the 31 different topics through photography. Such a great science communication project. Even better is that it provided me with an opportunity to read about other scientist’s lives and experiences in STEM!
Are you interested in the lives of other women in STEM? Check out The STEM Squad’s Instagram page or scroll through the Instagram hashtag #wearestemsquad.
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