The UK’s percentage of female engineers in the UK is far lower than other developed countries, according to a recent report by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with women only making up on a small fraction of the nation’s engineering graduates (22%).
But an LJMU student who has won a prestigious award recognising her achievements in promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects is on a mission to encourage more women to pursue a career in male-dominated professions.
Undergraduate Laura Thurgood has said girls are “absolutely good enough” to have successful careers in fields long thought of as male-led. Now in her second year of studying biochemistry at LJMU, Laura was announced as the winner of the 2016 Ford Prize for Women in STEM Study which recognises that women are traditionally under-represented in STEM studies and the related professions.
Speaking of her experiences and the importance in more women getting involved in STEM, Laura commented: “Although it's a lot better now than it has been in the past, girls still aren't encouraged to enjoy STEM subjects in the same way as their male counterparts. Lots of girls are told that their interest in these fields is un-ladylike, or that they're playing with boys toys - in the same way that boys are often told to start thinking about their futures from an early age, whereas girls aren't necessarily influenced the same.
She added: “This encourages the thinking that girls aren't good enough to pursue such studies and careers, meaning that when it comes to these fields, under representation means that we're missing out on half the world’s population’s viewpoint. For example, drug testing used to be exclusively done on men, because male scientists didn't think that women would react differently to drugs, or that we'd display symptoms of heart attacks differently. But we’re absolutely good enough. Hiring women alongside men increases successful product development, alongside a heightened sense of creativity and innovation.”
Laura’s award recognises the achievements of women in STEM, encouraging other women to become involved in male-dominated subjects, and is awarded in association with the Ford Professional Women’s Network.
Her win came following an assessment day held at Dunton Technical Centre in Essex, consisting of a 45 minute interview with one of the Managing Engineers, and representatives from HR and YourLife asking questions about her choice to study Biochemistry, her passion for promoting STEM studies, and her future career aspirations.
Laura quickly established her love of advocacy work during the early days of her time at LJMU, remarking: “It's been incredible to work as a Student Advocate with the Outreach team and promote, not just the University, but higher education in general - particularly with regards to the Chemistry for All Programme and the Women In STEM initiative.
“I've really enjoyed working on such collaborative projects, having the opportunity to assist with lab activities and run my own taster sessions, and I'm excited to continue this work. I like to show people that science isn't all about being inside a lab all day, that there is so much more to it that no one really thinks about.”
She claims to be overwhelmed by the recognition she has received from Ford. “I’m completely stunned” she admitted. “I was convinced at one point that they invited every applicant to the assessment day but they were quick to assure me this definitely wasn't the case. The other girls there were incredible and did so much work it was an honour to even be considered alongside them, let alone to have been awarded the prize. It's an incredible achievement and something I am very proud of.”
Speaking at LJMU’s Women in STEM lecture series this summer, Chi Onwurah MP, herself a former engineer, told attendees how she refused to focus on discrimination and gender stereotypes in her career, and instead on what she could achieve.
She took inspiration from women such as Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, Florence Nightingale, the founder of the science of statistics and inventor of the pie chart, and Katherine Johnson who wrote the flight path whose calculations helped to put a man on the moon.
“Women’s stories haven’t been told or celebrated enough,” said Chi, “and they need to be because that is what tells others the boundaries of the possible.”
It isn’t impossible that with a new generation of women like Laura advocating for women to succeed in traditionally male industries, that those boundaries will soon be eradicated for good.