Inspiring advice for female life sciences undergraduates
Support Women undergraduates looking for a career in life sciences need to be resilient, open-minded and vocal about their abilities. Read on to get 9 pearls of wisdom from two senior lecturers from the University of Suffolk.
Dr Federica Masieri,
Senior Lecturer and Course Leader MSc Regenerative Medicine
1. Don't underestimate yourself
"In the area of “wet sciences” there are statistics showing that women are higher achieving than men. I've seen this at first hand, particularly in practical work. Male students might be quicker when it comes to calculations — although not always; but when it comes to refined interpretation, problem-solving and trouble-shooting, women have a sixth sense. They are generally more accurate and careful about the detail."
2. Keep telling your story
"We want women in science to be accepted as 'the norm' — not the exception to the rule. For example, I recently established an Erasmus agreement (European student exchange programme) and sent a male and female student to the University of Palermo in Italy. I was delighted that a woman was involved and wrote a short piece for a local newspaper to make people aware of it. I thought it is important to send the message out without making a big deal that she's a woman — but, nevertheless, stating a fact. And the fact is that it's a great achievement. The same goes for grant winning, scientific publications and national or international recognitions: the fact is that women in STEM are doing great!"
3. Don't be put off by gender stereotypes
"Gender stereotyping starts early. Go to a toy shop and in the girls' aisle, you find that everything is pink and there are dolls, toy ironing boards and toy kitchens. A girl's role as a mother is established at a young age. Now, there's nothing wrong with a woman being a mother, obviously — but women have to understand that they can be both: a good mother and a good scientist. It's why the university has been active in reaching out to girls at schools with various events."
4. Demand to be judged on your merits
"You should be considered by any employer as a professional. So you should be judged only on your professional qualities — not on your gender. Don't be scared of answering back and standing up for yourself. Don't be scared to pack up and move to another country if an opportunity arises that you want to take advantage of. I've done that and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Keep dreaming big — and while there may be bumps in the road, you'll get there."
Dr Aida Rajic,
Senior Lecturer and Course Leader BSc (Hons Bioscience)
5. Get inspired
"As a degree student, you have to aim for the top right from the start, so be prepared to work and study hard, naturally. But it's also important to be inspired by your lecturers. Your lecturers will show passion for their subject and will do all it takes to enthuse you to do well in science and mature professionally, they make good role models. While you look up to them, have confidence that you will be as good as them or even better. That is what I want my students to do; to start from where I am now and achieve higher. There is much more that I want to achieve and I want the students to realist that and aim higher! This is a very dynamic carrier and one that keeps evolving.
"And that can make all the difference to students' achievements — maybe even taking a student from a third class degree to a first class degree."
6. Learn 'soft skills'
"Employers want graduates to display practical skills, naturally. That's what you need to get from a degree. But employers also want a well-rounded ‘person’, one with good 'soft skills': to be an excellent confident communicator, to be good at time management and to be a good team worker, for instance. These are very important attributes for anyone who wants a career in science."
7. Be prepared to rethink your approach
"As a scientist, you have to be completely open-minded. You have to be resilient. This is vital because of the nature of our work. Before an experiment in the lab, we might form a hypothesis (what we think is right) — but, invariably, when we carry out the work we find our predictions don't happen. Our students can get upset by this; but we teach them that this isn't a failure: they just didn't get the result they were expecting and now they have to interpret these new results and rethink their approach. So be open minded to learning and evolving your understanding!"
8. Don't be scared of mathematics
"If we tell students 'we're now going to do a little bit of maths' they get scared and don't perform well. But if we simply say to them, 'do some calculations as part of your practical report' then they can do it perfectly well. I think people have an early embedded fear of the word maths! So we need to re-educate the educators so that they make the subject less scary. So do not be scared maths, do not be scared of ANYTHING.
"Always remember, “if it can be done, then you can do it!”"
9. Don’t shy away from being a woman
"I think it is very important that women should not feel or let anyone make them feel like they are any lesser scientist, any less dedicated to their careers than anyone else only because they want to have children/family.
"I am an internationally recognized scientist, a respected high achieving professional and I am a wife, a mother and a daughter. I also enjoy all my arts, fashion and beauty.
"At the end of the day I am a WOMAN in Science!"
The University of Suffolk's main campus is located on Ipswich’s Waterfront.
- 14th in the UK for academic experience*
- Top 10 for student support, accommodation ad course and lecturers**
- 94% graduates are in employment or further study***
As one of the newest universities in the UK, the University of Suffolk doesn’t just rely on its heritage but it focuses on making history. Visit www.uos.ac.uk
*According to The Times Student Experience Survey 2017
** Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2016
***Destination of Leavers from Higher Education 2015