Q&A: Women in STEM Careers – My Experience
For this year’s UN’s International Day of Women and Girl’s in Science, we spoke to Kirsty, a Project Coordinator at NECCUS. (NECCUS is an alliance of industry, government and experts, aiming for ‘joined up thinking on climate change’, and particularly the reduction of carbon emissions.) Kirsty talks about her experiences working in a STEM career (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), including what it’s like being the first and only female to work for her company, and why she thinks more women should consider a career in the sciences.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
What did you study at university?
I studied a BSc in Geography at the University of Glasgow and graduated in 2020. I then went on to study a MSc in Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 2021.
My Masters was in Environmental Sustainability and it focussed on the principles of
sustainability and how we can embed them into social, environmental and economic structures. I studied modules such as ecosystems and global change, human dimensions of environmental change and EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), so there was a broad range of choice throughout the year.
Why did you decide to do a masters?
I decided to a masters for three reasons. The first was that my undergraduate degree, Geography, was a multi-disciplinary course that was very diverse. Whilst this had many benefits, doing a masters allowed me to specialise in my preferred subject – sustainability. Secondly, I knew a master’s degree would increase my employability and help me find a career in consulting. Finally, I wasn’t quite ready to give up being a student yet! I wanted to continue to learn, work on my own schedule and meet new, like-minded people.
How did you find the job search?
Job searching is exhausting and hard. I don’t think anyone really prepares you for what it’s like and the tenacity you need to constantly pick yourself back up. You can spend hours on an application, only to hear that you didn’t have enough experience (although non-one is willing to give you that initial experience) or to hear nothing at all! It’s especially difficult in those situations because, without constructive criticism, you don’t know how to improve your next application.
The job search was particularly tough during COVID-19, where there were very limited opportunities to network, and you had to rely solely on your CV to sell who you were. This could at times be difficult, because I feel that much of who I am cannot come across on a piece of paper, as I’m sure a lot of other people feel too.
What has been your career path to date?
My career path has been mixed. I have had some work experience across a range of jobs – many through my university – which helped me gain the relevant experience I needed for my job search. This included environmental consultancy, volunteer work and a host of hospitality and retail jobs. All these different roles provided me with certain skills employers want, and I’d encourage people to make the most of their time at university, to broaden their skillset and grab as much experience as they can.
What is your current role?
The company I work for is called NECCUS and it is a trade organisation who is responsible for conveying the benefits of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facilities to decarbonise Scotland’s industry. I have been working for NECCUS for 6 months as a project coordinator.
What is a typical day like?
My typical day can vary a lot. NECCUS is a small company, so you are responsible for a large variety of tasks. I could be doing anything from writing a member’s briefing on a new, emerging technology, writing social media posts or news articles for our social media outlets, or developing stakeholder engagement strategies for our projects.
What do you like most about your job?
I like doing something I’m passionate about and feeling like I’m making a real difference in the world, however small my part may be. Everyone’s small actions can come together to make big changes and make the world a better place. I also like doing a wide range of tasks within my job, because it never gets boring!
Are there any challenges within your role?
I have found the remote nature of the work tough, as I have only met my colleagues twice in six months. But the main challenges relate to being the only female in my company.
Tell us about your experience as the only female in your company
I’d definitely say that it is easy to feel outnumbered and out of place in a STEM career. Although this may have more to do with social constructs and old-fashioned mentalities, it is still present. So, it is easy to develop ‘imposter syndrome’ or feel inferior in workplaces that have been traditionally male dominated. It certainly makes you nervous and slightly doubtful of your own abilities, because you question why you are the only women in your workplace. I would also say that I was less forthcoming with my ideas at times. I wish someone had reminded me that I got to where I was because of my ability, and not to doubt myself suddenly because I was in a room surrounded by men.
Despite this, I have found it empowering because being the first, and only, female in a company has got to be a step in the right direction! And it was exciting that I got to be that person and pave the way for women in similar roles in the future.
Why do you think men still so outnumber women in STEM careers?
I think the gender-based stereotypes subconsciously put some women off entering those jobs. I really think we need to remove the stigma and discourage this mentality around STEM subjects, as hard as it is to overcome sometimes. Women have every right to be as prolific as they want within STEM careers, and should feel that they deserve to stand beside men as equals in their field.
How would you encourage more women to take up careers in STEM subjects?
I would encourage more women to take up careers in STEM because they can! Your gender doesn’t define your academic abilities or interests, so if you have a genuine interest in a STEM subject, I would urge you to continue to develop that passion and see where it can take you. I’d also encourage women to be part of the change they want to see in the world; and if that change is being part of a more diverse workforce, then go all out for it! That’s definitely what encouraged me!
Are there any specific qualifications or experience that are necessary for your project coordinator role?
I would say having experience in any role – not necessarily sustainability related – which shows how you have developed a certain skill or quality they deem desirable. I also think it is important to have relevant university qualifications.
What is the best advice you could give people who are interested in working in sustainability?
The sustainability sector is developing by the day and it’s never too late to get engaged and become part of positive change! I would spend time researching ways to build up a solid knowledge base, like courses/jobs/volunteering to pad out your CV. I’d also recommend speaking to someone in the sector, who can talk to you about the different career paths you could follow through sustainability. It’s a good idea to put yourself into spaces with like-minded people, so you can discover what type of community you would be immersing yourself into.
Do you work as part of a team?
I sometimes work independently and sometimes as part of a team. Team working has had its challenges during the pandemic. I’ve been using various video platforms to converse with my colleagues, but they don’t always lend themselves to a collaborative flow of conversation due to delays, network issues and only one person being able to speak at a time. Despite this, it has enhanced my skill-set as I, like many others, have had to find new ways of achieving positive results in different ways.
What would you now say to a new graduate?
Try not to be discouraged by the job hunt. As I mentioned, it is a very difficult time, and it’s common to feel dejected and worried that you won’t find the right job Know that very few people secure the first job they apply for – each application is a learning curve that will make you all the more prepared for the next application, and one step closer to your dream career.
What is your idea of success, and has this changed over time?
My idea of success is feeling happy and content in myself and what I do. I used to think that a certain job title, or how much money I made, would show me and others how successful I am. However, having only been in work for around 6-9 months, I can already see that no job is worth sacrificing your happiness for, and being successful can only come from feeling good about yourself and what you’re doing.
How do you find living and working in Edinburgh?
I love working and living in Edinburgh! I hadn’t visited much before I moved here, so I really enjoyed exploring a new city. There are so many different activities you can do and so many green spaces that allow you to escape from urban life! It is also such a beautiful city that I never get bored of walking around every weekend. I always seem to find something or somewhere new.
My name is Kirsty, I’m 24 and I come from the South-West of Scotland. I’ve recently graduated from university after studying Environmental Sustainability and Geography for 5 years. I love to be outdoors in nature and get my body moving, socialise with my friends and travel!
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