International Women's Day 2019
March 8th marks International Women's Day 2019. Meet some of the everyday heroines here at UKSEDS.
It is well documented that women are underrepresented in STEM subjects. On average only 18% of people involved in Astronomy, Physics and Engineering fields identify as female. This includes A-Level students, undergraduate students and the workforce. Here at UKSEDS 30% of our members identify as female, a much larger percentage than the industry average, but we believe that more still needs to be done. Our women in space page aims to highlight all the outstanding achievements made by women in the space industry, but we thought it was time to hear from the unsung heroes. As Holly Hunter said “Even very ordinary people, upon closer examination, can look extraordinary.” Below are stories from six everyday women working and studying in the space sector.
As most Astrophysicists will say my interest in space manifested young, I love the stars, planets and the stories of astronauts. Throughout my education I have been fortunate to be taught by incredible teachers who have always inspired and encouraged me to pursue my interest in Astrophysics and a career in space. I studied a Masters degree in Astrophysics at the University of Glasgow and was able to work on a range of interesting research projects, seeing the breadth of options in Physics. My interests align strongly with the exploratory nature of surface missions and would like to work within a space agency on mission design and science in the future. In October I started my PhD in Martian Planetary science studying some of the ExoMars2020 instrument suite, between The Natural History Museum and Imperial College London. Already I have been able to take part in The ExoMars Rover trials (ExoFiT) and really see the challenges of mission operations and the process of mission planning.
For my entire education I had a deep interest in science, especially in physics, and as I got older I realised that it was my goal to become an astrophysicist. Despite having some amazing teachers who inspired me to try my hardest in my studies, during my A-Levels my grades dropped sharply. By the time I turned 18 my mental health was at the lowest it had been, and with my grades as low as they were I was convinced I would never be able to achieve my dream of studying physics at university. I was pointed to a woman a few years older than me who had been in a similar position to me and had studied a degree with an attached foundation year. Four years later and I am one year away from completing my degree in Physics with Planetary and Space Physics at Aberystwyth University, having passed my foundation year with flying colours. Hopefully I will be able to continue pursuing my passion of exoplanetary research over the next few years.
I’ve always had an interest in Space Science but at school it didn’t seem like a realistic option as a career. During my physics A-level we were offered a cosmology module, but when I asked to sign up my teacher told me it would be too much work for me and I wouldn’t be able to cope. Thankfully after a few years in the workplace (I’ve worked for a UK airline for the past nine years) I found a new enthusiasm for the subject and registered for an astronomy degree with The Open University. It was the best decision I ever made! Five years on from that point I’ve finished my BSc, have started an MSc in Space Science and Technology and have also been offered a graduate scheme in Systems Engineering starting in September. So, although at 31, it’s a few years later than planned, I’m now embarking on a new career in Space. The Open University has been truly life changing, allowing me to study whilst working and providing incredible networking and work experience opportunities. I decided to volunteer for UKSEDS on account of the great work they do inspiring young people to get into space and giving them the confidence to succeed.
I'm a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh studying Astrophysics. I got into this field (I was originally going to study medicine) because, during high school, one day, while at the library, I read an article in NatGeo about astrobiology and how some habitats on Earth were being studied in lieu of extreme environments in space. And I thought "hey, that sounds interesting!" As a high school student, I used to do policy work/research through a South African NGO/think-tank's (SAIIA) youth programmes, that was mainly concerned with sustainable development and climate change, and I recently learned that I could combine my interest in policy work and sustainable development. Now, at university, I'm involved in international and BME-student related projects and events, so me joining UKSEDS's Diversity and Inclusion Team is coming full circle: reconciling my reignited love for science and passion for diversity in science.
Throughout school I always had a great interest in science, particularly biology. During my A-Levels two things sparked my interest in space science; Chris Hadfield and Tardigrades. I went on to study Biological Sciences at Durham University where I was able to explore and combine my interests in both ageing and space biology, which are surprisingly similar in a lot of ways. In 2018 I started my PhD in Neuroscience at the Leibniz Institute on Aging in Germany, where I’m currently looking at how neural stem cells change with age. Recently, a lab from the University of California has sent these very cells to the International Space Station to see how they behave in microgravity!
Growing up, I had never met any female engineers and didn’t really understand what an engineer actually did - or that engineering could be so fascinating! Luckily, my A-level physics teacher encouraged me to look into courses and I am now a second-year engineering undergraduate at Durham University. After graduating, I plan to use my engineering skills within the space sector and hopefully fulfil my dreams of becoming a rocket scientist! I am proud to be challenging the stereotype of what an engineer ‘looks like’ and increasing awareness of STEM, especially for young girls. As well as introducing me to inspiring women working in the space sector, volunteering for the UKSEDS marketing team has provided me with the fantastic opportunity to share my love of engineering and the space industry with many future women in space.
Looking for more inspiration?
Check out the places below for some more inspiring stories of women in STEM and some ideas on how to help inspire the next generation of young women in STEM:
- WISE campaign – Aim to inspire and encourage more women to pursue careers in the STEM industry with a short term goal of 1 million women working in core STEM occupations by 2020, with a long term vision ‘for gender balance in STEM, from the classroom to the boardroom.’ – Check this campaign out for education resources, inspiring stories and much more.
- Rocket Women – find out more about some of the amazing things women in STEM are doing here.
- MentorSET – mentoring scheme providing support and advice for women working in STEM.
- Robogals – run engineering and technology workshops for free in their local communities to encourage girls from primary through to secondary to explore an interest in STEM
- ScienceGrrl – celebrating women in science and encouraging the next generation to get involved in STEM.
- STEMettes – ‘we’re showing the next generation that girls do science, technology, engineering and maths too’.
Be inspired by those in the industry
Check out some of the organisations below that are working to connect women in STEM:
- Women in Physics Group
- Women in Aerospace
- IET Women’s network
- Women’s Engineering Society
- Women in Science Student Network
Read about women in space
Come back down to Earth and see how science got women wrong:
- A Galaxy of her Own - Amazing stories of women in space - Libby Jackson
- Hidden Figures - The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly
- Women in Science - 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World - Rachel Ignotofsky
- Inferior - How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story - Angela Saini
- Almost Heaven - The stories of the remarkable women who have bravely met two challenges: the risk of space travel and the struggle to succeed in a man's world - Bettyann Kevles
Share your story
Having a diverse range of role models has been proven to encourage girls into STEM subjects. We're looking for early career women to become role models and share their journey in the space industry. Please get in touch if you would like to be a role model on SpaceCareers.uk!
Disclaimer: The Amazon links above allow UKSEDS to earn referral fees. All money earned is put directly towards improving opportunities for underrepresented groups in the space industry.