The representations of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) roles is improving, but there’s work to be done. As of 2018, WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) announced that the UK is on track to have one million women working in the field by 2020. These statistics are encouraging, and demonstrate an improvement in opportunities shown to young women who pursue the career path.
The work done by peers in STEM roles is vital to its success in representation, something which Abbie Romano, a current PhD student at LJMU in the School of Built Environment, is pro-actively achieving. Abbie’s work as a STEM ambassador ranges from volunteering in schools around Liverpool, to organisations such as All About STEM, Big Bang North West, Institute of Civil Engineers, Institute of Structural Engineers and Soroptimist Liverpool.
Abbie believes that going into schools and colleges and offering pupils an idea of what she does for a living helps make the field seem more accessible. She comments: "Every time I visit schools and colleges I am surprised how capable and fantastic these young women are. I get them involved in some problem-based learning of situational tasks, which develops the skills that are essential for an engineer but aren’t always factored in a school’s curriculum. I have also taken part in mock interviews in many different schools and sixth forms – this encourages young people to practise being in these situations.”
She adds: “Further to this I have also become a member of the GirlsNetwork which aims to inspire and empower girls from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them a professional female mentor to guide them both academically but through their chosen career path. This is extremely exciting for me and I cannot wait to start getting involved in a charity that I’m very passionate about.
“Getting girls more interested in STEM careers is no quick-fix but I think it starts a more societal method of improving the opportunity of all careers for everyone. I think especially within British culture there is an innate ‘uncool-ness’ about being good at maths. Breaking down this barrier can help contribute to more women in STEM industries. Key aspects of other degrees can be clear but for civil engineering, it can be unclear how it is utilised on a daily basis - for example, the roads we drive on, the reason clean water comes out of our taps, the buildings we live and work in. In my opinion, it’s impossible to engage women and girls in something they never knew existed. There is such a range of careers available within civil engineering and it’s no longer just about hard hats and working on site – there is so much more than that.”
LJMU offers over 65 courses in engineering, ranging from undergraduate to postgraduate. Describing her experience on the course as a 'very exciting journey', Abbie adds: “I chose engineering after deciding against a career in the medical field because I couldn’t stand chemistry. I’d studied maths, physics and product design at sixth form and decided that civil engineering would be a good fit for me. I’d consider myself a very practical person and I learn best by physically carrying out a task rather than anything else. The reason I chose to study at LJMU is because, being originally from Birmingham, I knew I wanted to move further enough away so that I was living my own independent life but in a big city that’s well connected and allowed me to get anywhere in the UK quickly to visit family or friends. LJMU seemed like a perfect fit as the course is so practical here and you really get to know your course mates, lectures and the technicians. I’d like to think that I’ve experienced a lot at LJMU, I’ve worked for the students' union and taken part in international scholarships.”
Speaking about her current research, Abbie comments: “My research is especially important in a city like Liverpool, where fuel poverty is rife, and I hope my research will help to contribute to a reduced global warming impact, in addition to improving the health and wellbeing of occupants. This research explores the use of recycled materials to create a smart insulation that would reduce the use of a thermostat. A lower fuel requirement would mean a lower price bill, and the reduction of a carbon footprint.”
Abbie is currently preparing to fly to Belfast to present the research at the ICBBBM (International Conference of Bio Based Building Materials) in June. In addition to this, Abbie is the only PhD student to be shortlisted for the UK Construction Week Role Model 2019 Panel .
Abbie’s successes are undoubtedly inspiring, and speaking on her future in the industry, she adds: “I still have one more year until the end of my PhD, I am very positive about the potential commercialisation of this project due to the multiple positive impacts it would have on the wider society.”