It’s time to shake off the misconceptions about careers in science, says Natalie Chapman, Managing Director at gemaker, an award-winning technology company fuelling innovation and solving real-world problems.
The life of a scientist is not exactly as people imagine. It is far removed from the scene in many people’s minds, of a person wearing a lab coat spending hours in a lab or sitting at a computer. I’m determined to continue letting young girls know that a science degree can be a lot of fun, and the truth is, we need more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to solve real-world problems.
It’s fantastic for understanding the world better and learning how to solve complex problems, analyse situations, think logically, and base your opinions and decisions on facts.
Only 14 per cent of Australia’s broader STEM workforce is female, but research shows diversity at executive and board level leads to better financial outcomes.
What do young girls need to know about science?
A science degree can take you anywhere. You might end up in research, or you might work in industry, create a start-up, or become head of product development or CEO in an established company, or you might seek to influence science policy and end up as Prime Minister…anything is possible.
As the Managing Director of gemaker, an award-winning technology commercialisation company, we work with researchers and inventors who are creating innovations with potential to solve real-world problems. And that’s the side of science I believe young people need to see, especially young women because there are just not enough women in science.
I want girls to know you can be in school and love your science; you don’t have to know exactly what you want to be when you grow up. I was in Year 12 and didn’t know what I wanted to be – I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing today! I went to uni and I chose subjects I enjoyed and, at the end of my science degree I realised I didn’t want to spend all my time in a lab.
There are a huge number of jobs where science training and evidence-based learning are very important. Whether you’re running a business or you’re a government minister, science is important in every day decision-making.
Changing perceptions about women in STEM
I think the way we teach STEM needs to change. Kids learn lots of “the basics” and that is something we need, but it is also quite boring. Much of the science taught at school is rather dull.
It doesn’t take much to make science fun and exciting. A science teacher can say, “We’re going to put a rocket up to Mars. What do we need? Different technologies and different materials. Where are we going to get those materials?”
Or if you’re a girl in year 10 and you’re interested in makeup and nail polish, you can design your own using different chemicals. You’d be looking at all the different kinds of reactions, what works and what isn’t working, until you come up with a formula that’s perfect. You can actually make science very interesting.
School kids can even study the chemistry of chocolate; why does some chocolate melt in your mouth while other types of chocolate feels gritty. This is all science and kids need to see that it can be fun. Yes, there’s also a curriculum of science that you must learn, but there is no reason why the fun side of science can’t be focused on too.
When it comes to science, for a change in mindset to occur, it needs to start in primary schools, and continue in universities through to researchers.
Science and business: the perfect pair
I also want to make sure students in science are learning about marketing and commercialisation early on and that scientists are talking to each other. I want to see more students at university actually taking up the combination of science marketing or science business subjects.
Science doesn’t just lead to an academic career; you can run your own company. There’s very little visibility in the media of people doing science except for academics and I’d like people to see that it is possible to move between academia and industry.
At gemaker, we want to inspire the next generation of students to take an interest in STEM and to understand that science degrees don’t just lead to research and academia. People studying these degrees are growing knowledge-based business in Australia. We have a rich history of inventors and we need to encourage future generations to continue that tradition.
At gemaker, we’re taking Aussie tech to the world, including satellite laser beams for super-fast data to digital tourniquets building bigger muscles, drones that protect wildlife from bushfires, bionic ears made by 3D printing, the Poop-it Kit to improve kids’ health, and high-tech shrink wrap for damaged roofs. Once young girls realise that, when it comes to science, the possibilities are endless, the world really will be a better place
Read more about Natalie’s work at www.gemaker.com.au
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