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Reaching out

  • Mrs Kerry Parris
  • 06 May 2019

Reaching out to the next generation – promoting equality, diversity and collaboration in STEM

Heckmondwike Grammar School, a selective, mixed secondary school in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire invited me to deliver assemblies over a four-day period to around 200 students and 20 staff each day. The purpose of these presentations were to talk to students in years 7 to 10 about British Science Week (BSW) and International Women’s Day (IWD), both of which happened in early March. This proved to be a great opportunity to highlight the amazing achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers and of course women working in the PRIME Global Health group!

I prepared four separate presentations, each of which had the themes of BSW and IWD running through them. This year, BSW focused on journeys - professional, personal, current, past and future endeavours – and IWD highlighted how a more balanced workplace leads to better output, relationships and wellbeing (#BalanceforBetter). Students were introduced to the journey of a historical female in STEM, their notable work and how these triumphs were overlooked in favour of credit being awarded to male colleagues. Following this, I spoke of the journeys of women in STEM today, specifically describing the paths and successes of women working within the PRIME Global Health research group, as well as emphasising how perceptions of women in STEM have changed over the years but that there is still some way to go before full equality is achieved.

Students, and staff, were surprised by how often women’s achievements are overlooked, or more worryingly, their accomplishments are passed off as someone else’s, as well as the number of times women have missed out on awards and recognition such as Nobel prizes or senior positions purely because they are female. Most astonishing to year 9 students was the fact that as recently as 100 years ago, by their age, girls would no longer be allowed to attend school in the UK and that this is still a problem for some children in countries all around the world. They were also shocked by the idea that certain subjects were only accessible to boys, including science and maths, whilst girls were taught cooking, sewing and household management. Thankfully, in more modern times, this is no longer the case and STEM education is much more accessible.

These outreach-type activities are vital for research groups and universities to demonstrate to all students the types of opportunities available in STEM and the amazing work that can be done when people of all genders, backgrounds and disciplines work together.

Written by

Mrs Kerry Parris BSc (Hons), PGCE, MSc

PhD Student - PRIME Research Group, Sheffield