The official Swansea ScienceGrrl launch was a fantastically well-attended event held in the SURF Room in Swansea University on 28 November 2013. We ushered more and more people into the room – until there was only standing room available! The atmosphere began to buzz with anticipation, excitement and a good deal of curiosity as to the question, “What is ScienceGrrl actually about?!”
This curiosity was quickly rewarded with an enthusiastic opening presentation delivered by Dr Monika Seisenberger, a lecturer in Computer Science at Swansea University. Monika discussed the aims and values of ScienceGrrl as a national movement, and posed the question “What can we do here in Swansea to promote and support women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)?”
This was immediately backed up by an inspiring speech from Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, Pro-Vice Chancellor at Swansea University (the only woman on the board!), with a background in Microbiology. In addition to conveying her passion for equal opportunities for everyone wishing to pursue a STEM career, Hilary also spoke about some of the work already being done in Swansea to encourage this. One such activity is the push to achieve Athena SWAN accreditation by each of the relevant colleges at Swansea University.
Over an enjoyable lunch provided by the University catering department, the meeting really began to embody the essence of ScienceGrrl. A lively “breakout” session allowed animated conversation to flow within smaller groups, encouraging discussion of the following key topics.
Supporting interest in STEM from an early age
Many groups felt the importance of promoting science in primary and secondary schools and addressing the stereotypical image of scientists and engineers. Outreach activities should demonstrate how exciting a career in STEM can be for everyone, ideally before the idea that it is “uncool” or “geeky” to be interested in science develops.
Homework clubs, “Mad Science,” open days, field trips, experiments, science awards and exhibitions were all suggested as outreach ideas, and supported by links made with Reaching Wider Swansea, as well as Girl Guide and Scout leaders in the area.
Providing access to STEM careers information and work experience opportunities
There was a general feeling that there is not enough information out there about all the possible careers that studying STEM can lead to. This was seen as a problem in schools, but also in universities, where a “leaky pipe” effect sees women studying Science to a high level but not continuing into a career in that field.
Suggested activities included: creating work experience links with companies and organisations, providing career talks from professionals in schools and universities, and producing videos to demonstrate the options available for those wishing to turn their love of STEM into a vocation. Possible links with other groups such as EcoLab, Tata Steel, EWB, IPEM and WISE were also discussed.
As well as encouraging children and young people themselves, groups were also aware that it is important to reach parents, relatives, friends and teachers in order to provide support for a decision to pursue a career in STEM. Outreach activities in community centres, open lectures, magazine articles and a planned SoapBox Science event in Summer 2014 were all suggested as ways to engage the public and promote the idea that science is for everyone.
In keeping with the national ScienceGrrl initiative, Swansea ScienceGrrl also recognised the necessity of communication between members. This is important both in terms of the organisation of proposed events, and in order to support one another in issues faced by those choosing to pursue a career in STEM.
Discussions resulted in the creation of a facebook group, Swansea ScienceGrrl, where events such as coffee meetings, pub quizzes, sports activities can be arranged, as well as posting links and information about work experience opportunities and upcoming careers events.
In addition to the focus on women in STEM, the importance of including men in discussions was also a key issue. It was great to see the support of men from every STEM area and we hope to encourage more to join them. One of the key values of ScienceGrrl is promoting STEM for everyone, so effort needs to be made to ensure that men feel welcomed and involved in the activities we have planned.
All in all, the fantastic atmosphere of the lunchtime meeting set the tone perfectly for the productive and intelligent discussions that took place. I personally took away a feeling of great excitement from the Swansea ScienceGrrl launch for what is to come, and this has been echoed by everyone I have spoken to since the day.
We now have a Swansea chapter page on ScienceGrrl. You will be able to see our blog posts (this is the first!) and details of events there. And there is a contact form to get in touch with us!
All that remains to be said is…LET’S GET GOING!!!
Cate Gascoigne, ScienceGrrl’s Swansea chapter co-ordinator.