ScienceGrrl was formed out of a collective desire to showcase and celebrate women in Science and Engineering careers – and a collective frustration with the approaches some organisations were taking to advertise these careers to young women. We had a firmly held belief that appealing to girls was not about making science ‘pink’ but instead letting the science, and the scientists speak for themselves.

Since the launch of our calendar, ScienceGrrl has continued in its mission to showcase science and scientists, and we are delighted to partner with individuals and organisations with similar aims. As part of her MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism, Stephanie Smith has created a short film showcasing the real women behind science and engineering, talking about what its really like. We love the film, and Stephanie has kindly shared some of her experience behind making it below. Please share it with the young people you know!

Whenever I start a new photography project, I always think about the inside/outside debate; that is whether you’re photographing a group from the point of view of an insider who already has knowledge the general public don’t, or an outsider with no prior experience of the environment you’re in. I felt like I was on the edge with this project, my brother’s an astrophysicist, my dad’s an engineer, and my mum works in the business and development side of the manufacturing industry.

I started my research; looking at the ways other photographers had photographed people in STEM industries, reading statistics about the percentage of women in the field with a view that the project would be a portrait series celebrating the diverse careers of women in STEM.

However, when I started actually meeting these women and hearing what they had to say, it became so clear that although it focused solely on women, that shouldn’t be and wasn’t the focal point. Don’t get me wrong, the ratio of male and female scientists and engineers is nowhere near 50/50; it’s heavily male dominated. But when I was asking these incredible women about how they felt about being a ‘woman in a mans world’, the general consensus was, ‘I don’t think about it.’ Most said that in their daily working lives, they don’t feel like a woman surrounded by men, just a scientist surrounded by other scientists, and it’s only when they tell other people what they do or they’re at a conference that it gets pointed out.

This got me thinking that if gender bias isn’t an issue when you’re actually doing the job, why is it still so male dominated? My research took a new turn, and I started thinking about when I was at school. All these women were telling me all this really cool stuff they did, it was so interesting and not at all like the boring physics that I did at school. Talking to GCSE students, they agreed.

I started to see a trend. Most of the women featured in this project had some route into what they do, direct or indirect; a family member who worked in the field or a teacher who suggested looking into it. It’s hard enough to decide what you want from the rest of your life when you’re a teenager, but most kids don’t even know jobs like these exist. They think science is what the media says; it’s sitting in an office or a lab or doing geeky experiments a la Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory). And even worse, they think female scientists are his socially awkward girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler.

So it seems to me that the image of STEM in the general media has to change, which isn’t going to happen over night. So hopefully, if this project can get to just a few young people, especially girls, and show them that there is so much more to STEM careers than what they see on American TV shows, that’s a step in the right direction.

Stephanie Smith