Paving the way for success in STEM education | The Financial Express

Paving the way for success in STEM education

According to a survey carried out by EdTech platform ‘Avishkaar,’ 30% of parents felt the work environment in STEM-related fields in India is more suitable for males relative to females.

Paving the way for success in STEM education
India’s economy has seen a steady rise in STEM jobs every year. (Image – Unsplash)

By Mary Rodgers,

While science has traditionally been a male-dominated field, recent years have been an exciting time for women, with many at the helm of path-breaking, life-changing discoveries. From developing a revolutionary vaccine to combat COVID-19 in record time or inventing a technique to edit genes, women have been at the forefront of some of the most impactful scientific research and discoveries in recent years.

Given the growth in roles of women scientists, researchers and engineers in high-profile positions worldwide – not to mention the expanding job opportunities — I was optimistic that careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) would have become highly sought-after choices for many young women.

And yet, women and girls continue to be significantly underrepresented in these fields. According to the UN, only about 30% of researchers worldwide are women, and less than a third of female students pursue STEM subjects in university. The US, where I live and work, faces this problem, along with India, which presents a particularly curious case of gender disparity in STEM. In India, while women form nearly 43% of their graduate cohorts in STEM subjects, only 14% of the scientists, engineers and technologists in research and development institutions are women, as per the United Nations. The gap begins to rise with fewer women pursuing doctoral degrees, which translates into fewer tenured positions in the field.

India’s economy has seen a steady rise in STEM jobs every year.i In fact, the demand-supply gap for skilled talent to fill these jobs is fast-growing, with India expected to have 12 million vacancies for engineering jobs alone in the next 5 years, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Not only do these jobs pay well, but they also offer opportunities to change the world.

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Yet this is not enough to change the fact that many women and girls exploring these fields believe that they are at a disadvantage. According to a survey carried out by EdTech platform ‘Avishkaar,’ 30% of parents felt the work environment in STEM-related fields in India is more suitable for males relative to females. This disconnect is also present amongst students themselves, with only 57% of girls, compared to 85% of boys, indicating interest in pursuing a career in STEM.

With parents and friends having significant influence on such decisions, we should encourage the young people we know to follow these dreams by sharing information about the many ways to succeed in STEM.

Why I Love Science

My career as a virus hunter with Abbott’s Pandemic Defense Coalition has taken me on an exciting journey through new scientific discoveries. Two years ago, I was part of a team of Abbott scientists that announced the identification of a new HIV strain, and last year we mapped coronavirus variants in Senegal. My work is constantly changing, and I get to do something every day that helps people.

Not all scientists wear lab coats. There are many pursuits in STEM which can get overlooked. If chasing viruses isn’t for you, perhaps building skyscrapers, designing video games or tagging sharks will be.

Role Models Are All Around

We can inspire girls to enter STEM fields by ensuring they have female role models and mentors – like teachers – to support them. Its also important to celebrate the many women making a difference in STEM so that girls can see themselves in these kinds of impactful roles.

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Such role models shine bright across the world. My scientific hero is biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize in 2020 with Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work with CRISPR gene-editing technology. In India, Sudha Murty was one of the first female engineers at TATA Engineering and Locomotive company. Since then, she has paved the way for young girls from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in science.

With STEM, we can help improve lives all over the planet, through our work and our health, science, and sustainability outreach. When we combine curiosity with confidence, we can inspire our sisters, daughters and friends to succeed.

(The author is Principal Scientist, Abbott. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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