Women in STEM continue to be underrepresented in the industry with STEM fields dominated by men. The perceived masculinity of the subject among other barriers prevents many girls from signing up for STEM courses in school or at university. Gender diversity is crucial to science, we need more women in STEM to bring different perspectives to research and conversation, obtain more accurate research and fill the overall gap in STEM professionals among many other reasons.
With International women's day fast approaching we caught up with Amy to find out what the STEMgirls Club is doing to get more girls studying STEM subjects and her thoughts on the wider problem.
Amy Ryman is a passionate STEM teacher in the United Kingdom who has taken this issue into her own hands through the creation of STEMgirls Club. Through the club, Amy hosts after school sessions and events where she advocates for getting more girls involved with STEM subjects and helps them to get further along the educational path.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
After graduating university with a biology degree I still wasn’t sure what career I wanted to choose. I had always loved learning and talking about biology and a friend of mine was doing a PGCE course (Post Graduate Certificate in Education); so I thought I’d try it out as it seemed like a natural fit.
I didn't particularly enjoy school or love my teachers, so a lot of my teachers were shocked to find out I had become one!
Why do you love your job?
I live for the light bulb moments - when you see the flicker in their eyes, or a small smile and they say "ahhh.... I get it". I also love the freedom to be able to inspire them in as many different ways as possible. During lessons obviously, but also outside of the classroom through conversations in the corridors, during events and trips you take them on, which ultimately means when they apply for uni courses they make the choice that is right for them.
What are you most passionate about in education?
All students have the right to receive the whole education package; not just a good teacher, or the newest textbooks but that when they leave, they have gained the skills necessary to face the outside world.
Can you tell us about where the idea for STEM Girls Club came from?
As a head of department I was disappointed to see only a handful of girls considering physics at A level and as such we only had a few girls applying for STEM-related courses at University. When I researched the reasons behind this, I became aware that it was a national problem, and came across the "leaky pipeline" which is the dropping of girls’ interest in STEM over time. So I set up a STEM club in my mixed comprehensive to enthuse, motivate and educate all the students in the possibilities of STEM. I had a huge turn out at the first session, but it was overwhelming attended by the boys at 32 compared to only 2 girls.
So, I decided to set up an additional club, the STEMgirls Club - just for girls. We ran the same sessions in both, but this time 60 girls came to the club. It was then that I realised it wasn't that the girls weren't into STEM, it was the way that it was being advertised.
STEMgirls Club Infographic
What does STEMgirls Club do and how do you reach your audience?
STEMgirls Club provides an after school club, run by the school’s teachers, but prepared by the STEM girls club. Each session is STEM-related, and lasts for two weeks. The sessions follow the format of a research and planning session followed by a build and testing session.
Each session is based on the theme of a "real life" career option, and has photos and videos of women in that role; how they got there, what course they took and how much they love their job.
STEMgirls Club hosts 3 events a year; The first event is a Speed networking roadshow where girls meet between 25-30 women working in STEM positions and quiz them for 3-4 mins on their jobs and how they got into that career. This event helps girls visualise what working in a STEM field would really look like and inspire them to take this path. The second event is at a University and enables girls to meet students studying STEM subjects at University. The girls have the opportunity to discuss courses as well as see the facilities and lab spaces that they can expect at university.
What have you learnt from your time running the STEMgirls Club?
- Girls are not picking STEM subjects despite being as good as boys at them.
- Career advice in schools is very mixed and often out of date.
- Girls prefer a "nurturing group" to be able to explore STEM or other career opportunities out of the way of boys.
- The school curriculum suffocates staff and students and doesn't allow time to show students the possible courses, jobs etc out there.
What have you seen the most success in?
The change of opinion that girls and their parents have in what STEM is, and the job prospects that it holds.
What advice for other teachers interested in promoting STEM subjects do you have?
Link your activities to real-life scenarios, introduce students to "people like them" so they can see it is possible for them to achieve similar goals - whether that be directly in real life; or through social media, articles etc.
Having travelled with us to NASA in the past, how important do you think educational travel is for a student’s learning experience and encouraging their interests?
Most of the students that attended the trip were at either one of the STEM clubs we offered at school. The knowledge that the students absorbed from the activities they took part in, the information from the guides and the centres we visited, to bus conversations with like-minded students and their teachers. It was like their eyes and minds had been open tenfold more to the possibilities out there for them as individuals & STEM professionals. Careers they had never heard of, courses they didn't know existed and a sense of confidence to explore these new-found possibilities.
Finally, if you have some thoughts on what the future might be for STEM for global innovation and development, given the current and future global climate?
Despite my own political viewpoint on Brexit, I think the fact that Boris Johnson's new points scheme for immigration provides additional points if you are from the STEM field shows the importance of STEM for our country's success. I think that the possibilities for people with STEM degrees are endless in both this country and internationally and to be a female in such a male-dominated sector will mean that the females will change the attitudes of flexible working and opportunities for women in the sector.
Any further thoughts or comments?
I am obviously a huge advocate for STEM, and from researching STEM, meeting people who work in the industry etc, I can see that the shortage of people, in particular women in STEM is a huge issue with our country's future. I feel frustrated that it is the schools that have to foot the bill for clubs like mine despite already completely lacking in funding.
There are a small number of companies that run one-off events; which is amazing but I really feel that it is the businesses responsibility to invest in these young people and should/could do more with their Corporate responsibility budget.
For more info on Amy Rymans work head to the STEMgirls Club website.