Celebrating International Women’s Day 2024

The AgriFoRwArdS Students

So far this week, and in the lead up to today, International Women’s Day, we have heard from three fantastic women currently working in the sciences, who have given us an insight into their careers so far. Now, we want to turn the tables a little by speaking to three incredible women who are currently in the initial stages of their career in science, studying as part of the AgriFoRwArdS CDT.

Bethan Moncur (Cohort 3), Amie Owen (Cohort 2) and Haihui Yan (Cohort 2) reflect on their experiences of being women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) below:

How did you become interested in STEM subjects? Was there a particular moment or experience that sparked your curiosity?

When I was about 9 or 10 my Mum recorded all of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for me. The topic that year was astronomy and I remember the presenter talking about how black holes are formed. I was captivated! At science events organised by school, we were encouraged to think about ‘why’ things happened and it felt a little like being a detective. When I was a bit older, I enjoyed the challenge of solving a problem. I enjoyed the sense of focus and determination that was needed.  I studied Chemical Engineering at University and then went to work in the automotive industry. During my time in Industry, I saw how valuable coding skills were and how it was possible to automate tedious tasks. I was also fascinated by the software systems and control architecture of a vehicle. I decided that I wanted to be able to code properly and I became interested in studying computer science. 
I always liked the feeling of solving a maths problem – you could work through a problem logically and end up with an answer that was either right or wrong. The same for physics and chemistry – I liked that there were rules for explaining the world around us. When thinking about career choices at school, I thought that Engineering would be a great way to combine my enjoyment of logical problem solving with a desire to have a career centred on addressing climate change. ]

What advice would you give to other women who are considering or embarking on a journey in STEM? 

I would definitely encourage other women to pursue a STEM career path if they are thinking about it. There may be some challenges along the way, but I would emphasise it’s really important to not doubt yourself and have confidence in your abilities, as at the end of the day nothing should stop you from pursing something that you are really passionate about. I would also encourage people to connect with other women in STEM and share experiences. Also, don’t be afraid to explore new areas, and find your interests and pursue them.

Did you have any role models or mentors who are women in STEM who inspired or supported you along the way? 

I think I was incredibly lucky – many of my science teachers at school were women (shout out to Mrs Irwin!) so I think I was unaware of just how male-dominated STEM could be. I knew that certain gender norms existed, but I liked the thought of breaking the mould and challenging traditional views about women and girls. 
When I started at University, I was surrounded by amazing women studying Engineering at Newnham College. Dr Claire Barlow has always been a source of inspiration. She went above and beyond her role of Director of Studies to make me feel supported and (almost) confident in my abilities. 
I have had quite a lot of support from other women throughout my academic journey. These include many of my teachers during school and University, as well as colleagues I have met during internships. They have shared their experiences, offered valuable advice, and encouraged me greatly. They have inspired me greatly, and their support has been critical. I’m deeply grateful for their presence in my life, and I hope that all women embarking on similar paths can be as fortunate to have such strong supportive networks.

How do you balance your personal and professional life as a woman in STEM, particularly in demanding academic programs or careers?

I think it’s really important to balance work, studies and professional life with other hobbies, activities, and passions. Working in STEM, it can be easy to become completely absorbed with work, but it’s important to switch off too. I find it’s sometimes when you’re on the bus home, or in the swimming pool, that you suddenly realise how to solve a problem! 
I have a young child which can make life quite hectic, but it’s also great for learning how to be efficient with my time and how to be flexible. It has made me value my time more. I’ve found it helpful to have a place (office, library, room in the house) where I know I can concentrate on work and cut out distractions.

What are your hopes for the future of women in STEM, and what steps do you think need to be taken to achieve gender equality in these fields?

I hope that more women will become interested in pursuing careers within STEM. I hope that children’s TV shows will have more female characters in, especially when the characters are involved in problem solving or rescues or adventure. I also hope that Industry will adapt to a more diverse work-force – a lot of progress has been made, but within some sectors it can still be quite difficult for women to thrive. 

In your opinion, what can be done to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM? 

Whilst more and more women are choosing a STEM-based career path, I think there are several more things which can be done. For instance, we should provide an even more supportive learning environment, and promote more STEM concepts to girls from a young age through school or other additional activities. This will help normalise these subjects and break down any perceptions that STEM subjects are for certain genders, allowing them to know that there are many career options out there for them. It is also important to have a supportive network where girls can mutually support each other. Within this network young women can also find role models and mentors who can share their experiences, encourage other women throughout their career paths, and inspire them to achieve greater things. 
I think we can encourage more women and girls to pursue STEM by focusing on the impacts that can be achieved through a career in STEM. Climate change, food inequality, access to healthcare – all the biggest challenges facing society require people with STEM problem-solving skills. Studying STEM isn’t just about numbers and machines, it’s about how science, technology and innovation can help people and the planet. 


This concludes our week of celebrating the fantastic women within the AgriFoRwArdS community as part of International Women’s Day. Thank you to all our staff and students for taking the time to speak with us and share their experiences of studying and working in the sciences.