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What is an Engineer? | Why Aren’t There More Girls in STEM?

Girl standing in fron of Colosseum Rome Italy at sunrise. Blue sky.

Just me and some cool engineered thing I found the other day.  I joke.  Just needed a pretty picture so here’s a totally irrelevant one.  Rome spam will be coming your way soon.  But first, girls in STEM!

If you’ve been kicking around here for a while, you might remember that back in 2015 I was a Vlogger and Ambassador for Tomorrow’s Engineers Week with Engineering UK.  Just typing that sentence makes me feel like I’m about to slip into my little explanation speech that I said oh so many times lol.  But yes, I visited engineers up and down the country to interview them in a vloggy way for the #TEWeek15 campaign.  The whole aim was to promote STEM subjects to young people – particularly girls who often feel like engineering/maths is one for the boys.

During this time I had to work pretty damn hard to keep up A levels and blog alongside my role, but the opportunities and experiences I had were SO worth it.  I met so many interesting people with fascinating jobs and it made me 100% certain about my decision to pursue a science-y route with the intention of working in engineering later.

Since then I’ve finished my A levels and started a degree in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, but I haven’t really done much else tbh.  Had more than enough on my plate!  However last week was Science Week in schools across the UK, and I was asked to spend a day in a local junior school to chat to the kids about their ideas of STEM and whatnot.  Kept it very open and general, but focusing primarily on ‘what kind of person do you think an engineer is?’ as a starting point.

The correct answer being ‘ANY type of person’, obviously.  Anyone!

I’d handed out a little worksheet beforehand and asked the children to fill in what they thought an engineer was.  Some came back with drawings or descriptions of glam girls holding toolboxes, or women wearing lab coats.  Unsurprisingly (but unfortunately) the majority went for something along the lines of a bloke in a high vis jacket fixing a car though.  Such a shame that with the variety of careers out there all falling under the engineering umbrella (I met people with some seriously cool jobs!) the stereotypical mechanic image is what came to mind.  During my time with Tomorrow’s Engineers I met both men and women working in chemical… civil… automotive… gaming… transport… food and drink… defence… just a few industries!  Not forgetting my fave which was definitely visiting a spacecraft structures engineer, going on ‘fake Mars‘, and learning about the Mars Rover missions and satellite technologies at Airbus Defence and Space.  It’ll always be the space-y ones for me.

So yeah, I’ve seen first hand that it sure as hell isn’t just an industry for men who want to play with heavy machinery, and is in fact an industry I’d absolutely love to work in myself.  I don’t have a fixed goal in mind but am going to see what direction astronomy can take me.  Who knows.  The engineering industry needs more girls in it and I’m more than willing to be one of them in a few years.

My reason for sharing this on here (even though my school visit obviously had nothing to do with my blog) is that for as long as young children still believe science, technology, engineering and maths are ‘boy subjects’ or ‘boring topics’, I’ll continue to preach about why that isn’t the case.  I’ll champion the girls in STEM until the cows come home.  So I thought I’d pass the question on to you guys to compare your answers to the 200+ children I asked – what kind of person do you think an engineer is?  Why do you think there are fewer girls studying and working in STEM than there should be?  Why did/didn’t you consider a career in engineering?  Fire your general thoughts on the topic at me please!

lily kate x

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  • Reply
    23rd March 2017 at 9:52 pm

    So looking forward to Rome spam 🙂 ah the old girls and STEM issue.. the only thing keeping girls out of these jobs are attitudes and social barriers. I find it fascinating how in my field (Psychology), probably 99% of undergrads are girls yet the ratio of women to men diminishes rapidly as you go up the career ladder so that when you get to the lecturers and professors, most are men. I can kind of see why too, I’ve already experienced some “benevolent” sexism when interacting with other academics and the workaholic culture of academia is quite off-putting. I thoroughly recommend Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine for a discussion of why women don’t enter into certain jobs 🙂 xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

    • Reply
      lily kate
      2nd April 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Rome spam is up on ze blog now! I agree, attitude is the ONLY thing keeping girls from those jobs because there literally isn’t another reason! Your psychology example just shows the problem exactly – even in a field that loads more girls study (unlike physics) the higher paid roles are mainly occupied by men. I bet the people who were sexist towards you probably didn’t even realise they were doing so. I’ll have to check out Delusions of Gender, it sounds really interesting!

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