I Have Finished My Aerospace Engineering Degree!

It has been one rollercoaster of a year but I have finished my BEng in Aerospace Engineering! It still hasn’t really sunk in but I am so incredibly happy to have completed this little chapter of my life.

I am currently at a big turning point in my life and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me! It is a bit of a scary and uncertain time but I am so looking forward to get into the ‘real world’.

But for now I am still trying to process the fact I have finished my academic career! I have finished my aerospace engineering degree – the thing I wanted to do since I was about 12 years old!

I have been a little bit quiet on the blog recently, well really for most of this year! I had to get my head down and try to finish my degree. I would be lying if I said it has been easy but I am so happy to have come out the other side and to be well and truly done!

It was rather peculiar trying to settle back into university life after my year long internship in 2019-2020 but my fabulous flat mates made it much easier to adjust back. I really don’t know how I would have managed without them! I moved back to Sheffield last September and lived there for almost the whole academic year – apart from December as I came back home for Christmas. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place I was not able to go into university to labs or lectures, like so many others at university this year. This was a real shame as the University of Sheffield has so much to offer in their engineering facilities, but it couldn’t be helped! On the bright side I was very pleased my flat mates and I got such great accommodation this year as we basically spent every second in it!!

Most of this year has involved me just being sat at my desk all day because all lectures were online. My flat mate and I got in a good routine of going for a walk after finishing our day of work so there was a little bit of structure. However, when it came to the end of our final semester, where deadlines always seem to come one after the other in very quick succession, it was a lot more difficult to keep to a set schedule! Copious amounts of Yorkshire tea helped us make it through those tough weeks but it was well worth it! I actually think the increase in the amount of coursework in this final year may have helped me. I do not perform as well as I would like in exams so the chance to show my knowledge and understanding in an assignment makes me feel much better – even if the deadlines do pile up towards the end of the year!

You will probably be wondering when my graduation ceremony will be! Sadly at the University of Sheffield we only have a virtual online graduation this year so I am rather upset about this (no graduation gown photographs on the mantle piece this year!). But thankfully there are talks of the graduation ceremonies being rearranged and held in person next year in March or the summer. I really hope this goes ahead, I think mum, dad and Lily are even more keen for it to happen than me!

But in all seriousness I am actually so proud of myself for getting to where I am today. I had a really tough 2nd year and was worried it would ruin my chances at even getting a degree! After a year out doing my internship and then coming back to university during a global pandemic I have done my best and succeeded! There have been ups and downs, I have worked bloody hard and I am truly proud of what I have achieved!

This academic year has been incredible and also stressful but now it’s onto a new chapter! I start my Boeing engineering graduate scheme in October so I cannot wait to get started with that! But for now I am going to enjoy this summer – if you have any suggestions on where to visit in the UK or recommendations for days out please comment them below!

Maisie

2SistersInSTEM

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Working from home – 1 year on

Hi! It’s Lily here and I’m back again with a few thoughts on how I have found the past year working from home.

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I picked my monitor up off my desk and left the office for the last time! In some ways it feels like a long time ago, so much has changed workwise, I’ve changed job role twice completely remotely. But in another way it feels like it’s been 5 minutes with the repetitive nature of ground hog day very much in full swing especially at the moment with the current lockdown in the UK stretching on!

I am so lucky to have been able to continue working from home throughout lockdown – but there have been challenges and it’s been a bit of a journey at times, let’s get into it!

So how have I found the last year?

Looking back really gives me the space to see how much I have learnt over the past year. I recently moved into my third and final rotation of my technology graduate scheme, so this is now the third team I have worked with whilst working from home.

It has been really challenging moving into new teams completely virtually. Last July I moved into my second rotation, and I moved out of that team at the beginning of March this year so I never actually got to meet any of them face to face.

One thing I find very overwhelming is initial meetings and trying to make good first impressions. Having cameras on in calls definitely helps but it is still not the same as meeting someone for the first time in person! I can get so anxious about calls and meetings when working from home that just wouldn’t bother me face to face.

In general working virtually hasn’t been too different to working in the office for me. I have a good desk set up and am able to access all the systems, devices and software I need as I would do in the office.

However, I definitely tend to overthink things and I feel working from home can be dangerous for this. On anxious days I can overthink messages and emails I send to the point of insanity, again something that doesn’t happen in the office. And I definitely get into my own head more – spending long stretches of time on my own with just my computer for company!

The lines between working and not working can definitely get blurred too! One of the reasons I haven’t been writing a lot on the blog lately is that I have really been trying to only work and look at my laptop during work hours and try, as much as possible, to have laptop free evenings!

As I’m doing the graduate scheme I am doing a lot of learning and personal development at the moment too. I love learning but it can be difficult to know when to stop as it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘working’ in the traditional sense. This means I tend to get carried away into the evening. I am trying to set these boundaries and be a bit stricter with myself otherwise I know I will burn myself out!

Another big change during the last year is that I bought and moved into a new house! This has been a bit of a life saver in terms of keeping me away from screens as I’ve been doing lots of DIY bits. I love having small painting and DIY projects around the house, it is definitely coming together now – and is feeling more and more like home. However it was incredibly stressful for a while and difficult to balance the house admin with my job and my learning! Thankfully I’m pretty much out the other side of all that now and I have my new working from home desk set up all sorted and have been really enjoying it!

How have I stayed motivated?

With working from home not looking like it’s going anywhere anytime soon here are few things I have been doing to stay motivated through this monotonous and tricky time:

  • lots of cups of tea (over lockdown I have collected an embarrassingly large selection to choose from).
  • mixing up where I work from – desk, dining table, comfy chair, spare room (sometimes I need a change of scene so all the days don’t blur together quite so much).
  • taking breaks away from the screen and getting outside – I now have my very own little garden and have been loving stepping away from the computer taking a drink out there and just having a few minutes in the sunshine.
  • using notion to make lists and keep myself accountable – I have been loving using the website notion to keep track of my training and learning, creating to-do lists and writing up my notes (it is great for making coding related notes especially!).

If you are currently working or studying from home, how do you stay motivated? What are your working from home hacks?

Thanks so much for reading!

Lily

2 Sisters in STEM

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STEM Scribbles – Why does Venus spin the ‘wrong’ way round?

Hi Lily again, and I am back with a STEM scribble!

Today we are looking out to the Solar System for some astrophysics facts!

Of the 8 planets that orbit the sun Venus is a bit of an anomaly, and today we will find out why! Keep reading to find out more…

Did you know that Venus spins the wrong way round?

Now firstly here are a few things to know about the planets:

Satellites in Orbit - worksheet from - Times Tutorials
times.tutorials.co.uk
  • There are 8 planets in our solar system
  • From the Sun going outward they are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
  • All the planets orbits around the Sun in the same direction and in a similar shaped path, a squashed circle called an ellipse
  • All the planets (apart from Venus and Uranus – we’ll come back to them later) spin in the same direction as the sun spins on their own axis
  • And we think at the beginning of the Solar System all the planets were spinning in this same direction, as they formed from a collapsing and spinning cloud of gas – and they kept spinning in that same direction

So why does Venus spin the other way and what are the consequences?

  • on Venus the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east
  • one theory is that Venus used to spin in the same direction as the other planets, but at some point it flipped it’s axis 180 degrees
  • so it actually still spins in the direction it always has just upside down!
  • it may have flipped due to very strong atmospheric tides caused by the planet’s very dense atmosphere
  • another theory is that in fact it didn’t flip and that at some point it stopped spinning and then when it started again in the other direction
  • this might explain why Venus has such a slow rotation speed, it spins once every 243 days compared to every 24 hours here on Earth!
  • unfortunately we don’t know for sure what happened there isn’t a solid answer! This is a mystery still waiting for astronomers to solve!
Why Does Venus Spin In The Wrong Direction? | Videos
http://www.labroots.com

As I mentioned earlier actually Uranus also spins differently to the other planets too! It is tilted just over 90 degrees so it kind of spins on it’s side. The theory behind this is that it was hit a number of times by large objects which knocked it over!

Cosmic Crash That Knocked Uranus Sideways Also Made Its ...
http://www.space.com

Stay tuned for more STEM Scribbles coming soon! And head over to Instagram to see the post and the reel in action!

Lily

2 Sisters in STEM

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Perception of Aerospace Engineering in Female Students – Research

As 2SistersinSTEM we are incredibly interested in the perception of STEM in young people. I specifically am intrigued by the current thoughts and perception of Aerospace Engineering in female identifying students.

I am studying Aerospace Engineering at university and an one of very few females on my course. I am currently looking into how to encourage more females into Aerospace and would really appreciate it if you could help me out!

Currently I am conducting research into the perception of Aerospace Engineering in female students aged 11-18. Below I have added the Google Form so if you are within the target group I would love it if you could answer the following questions.

I would be incredibly thankful if anyone could share the link to the form so that it reaches more people! I have linked the questionnaire here and would greatly appreciate it if you could share it with teachers, parents and people of the target group!

Thank you so much for completing the form or sharing!

Maisie

2SistersinSTEM

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Why Is Science Communication Important?

Hi! It’s Lily again – and today I am going to be talking all about Science Communication or Sci Comm for short.

What is Science Communication? Who are Science Communicators? And crucially why is Science Communication important?

Keep reading to find out more …

What is Science Communication?

Science Communication is the practice of communicating science-related topics to non-experts. This often encompasses the communication of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) topics which we have discussed before.

The communication of science can take many forms, from written articles in newspapers, magazines and blogs to standing in front of a non-expert audience to give a lecture or leading an interactive science workshop for children. 

Sometimes science communication is known by other terms such as:

Public Engagement – this usually aims to engage the general public in two-way scientific conversations, about shared issues and problems, to hopefully benefit society as a whole.

Outreach – these activities are usually seen as public lectures, activities and workshops to encourage the public understanding of science and scientific research and are also often used to encourage school children to take up STEM study in higher education.

Science communication is so varied and vast in what it encapsulates …

Reference: https://www.big.uk.com/scicomm

What is the history of Science Communication in the UK?

In the UK Science Communication came to prominence in the 1980s. The scientific community was concerned that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government had adopted a policy for scientific research that prioritised projects with quick-rewards over those of a more fundamental, ‘pure science’ nature.

It was felt this short-term approach was due to a failure of politicians and the wider public to understand STEM. More ‘public understanding of science’ was needed. So in 1985 the Royal Society published a report on ‘The Public Understanding of Science’, referred to as the Bodmer Report.

This report was pivotal, firstly it stated that scientists should consider it their duty to communicate to others about their work and its importance. Bodmer led to the creation of the Committee on Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), which organised funding schemes for Science Communication activities. Handing out prizes for new initiatives including ‘popular science’ books—of which there followed quite a boom, led by Stephen Hawking’s 1988 Brief History of Time.

In 1989, John Durant (the first UK Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Imperial College), Geoffrey Evans and Geoffrey Thomas published the first major survey of public understanding of science in the UK. They found high levels of interest, but that only 14% of British citizens could be called ‘scientifically literate’ according to tests of knowledge of scientific terms and processes.

Secondly Bodmer called for more science in the media, enthusiastically taken up by the BBC, which already had several TV and radio programs. Other broadcasters also increased their science offerings. Newspapers responded by appointing science journalists, correspondents and editors, and some introduced special science sections into their regular pages.

So who are Science Communicators?

There are many ways that you can be a Science Communicator:

  • Write as a science journalist at a national newspaper or magazine.
  • Work in a university press office to help promote the breakthrough stories from scientific research carried out by the academics.
  • Deliver science shows or organise events at science festivals, schools or science centres.
  • Design and make interactive exhibits for science centres.
  • Volunteer as a STEM Ambassador sharing your knowledge in schools and in the community.

I have been lucky enough to do lots of Science Communication from tours and workshops at science centres to volunteering at schools, to running coding clubs in youth centres and being a part of an incredible science festival! I love it, I find it so rewarding and could not recommend it enough!

I am particular passionate about inspiring more young women to pursue careers in STEM and getting young people excited and interested in STEM is a brilliant way to start!

So why is Science Communication important?

Some Science Communication can have a really powerful effect – take the success story that is Blue Planet II!

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet revolutionised the mindset of an entire nation. Millions of people in the UK were inspired and encouraged to change their habits. It managed to create real change in the way a nation thinks about single use plastics. It was reported that 88% of people who watched Blue Planet II changed their lifestyle in some way. Attitudes towards single-use bags, disposable plastic straws, and packaging will never be the same. According to research (by Waitrose), more than 60% of people use reusable water bottles more now than they did in 2017.

The Houses of Parliament announced a ban on single-use plastics and 60% of us also now more regularly use a refillable cup for takeaway coffeeWith 66% of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they were more likely to choose a reusable cup when out. In supermarkets customers are also increasingly buying unpacked fruit and vegetables. Sales of loose pears, for example, are growing at 30 times the rate of bagged pears. 

There is so much more to do but Science Communication can have real sweeping positive consequences across governmental policy and across society as a whole. Bringing important scientific issues to the forefront of people’s minds and leading to larger changes in habits and the way we live.

I believe excellent Science Communication like this, is important now more than ever in an age where we have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips all of the time. Unfortunately not all of it is factually accurate. The spread of misleading (and in some cases completely false) information is extremely prevalent.

The oversimplifying of scientific information is a very popular practice, otherwise known as “infotainment”, it focuses on describing new scientific discoveries in an entertaining fashion. This means important science is often sensationalised to get more views or findings are skewed or generalised to the extreme to make a good headline. The same goes for misleading graphs, stats and infographics and unfortunately, it is these that lend themselves beautifully to being widely circulated in the media. For example a study in Science found that fake news was 70% more likely to be retweeted than true news.

So we must continue to fight the barrage of misinformation and confusion with excellent, factually accurate and engaging Science Communication.

You can find out more about Science Communication and how to become a STEM Ambassador here.

Lily

2SistersInSTEM

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STEM Scribbles – The Eiffel Tower Grows?

Hi there it’s Lily here! And today very excitingly we are starting a new series called STEM Scribbles!

We will be sharing incredible and intriguing STEM related facts and info accompanied by one of my little scribbles!

Both myself and Maisie are really passion about science, tech and engineering communication so we hope you enjoy this more SciCom related content!

So what interesting STEM related fact do we have for you today? – read on to find out!

Did you know that the Eiffel Tower grows a little in the summer – approximately 15cm?

  • When a substance is heated it expands due to a process called thermal expansion.
  • So in the hot sun materials can increase in size and then as the sun sets they can decrease in size.
  • When a material is heated, molecular activity increases and the energy stored in the bonds between atoms increases too. With the increase in stored energy, the length of molecular bonds also increases.
  • The ratio of expansion and change in temperature is known as the coefficient of thermal expansion of the material. More on exactly how to calculate it this can be found here and here.
  • Common engineering materials generally have a constant coefficient of thermal expansion so this expansion doesn’t need to be considered too much during construction.
  • However large structures are sometimes built with expansion joints to accommodate the expansion and reduction in size of materials due to change in temperature.

You can find out more information about the iconic and incredible feat of engineering that is the Eiffel Tower here.

Reference: http://www.webuildvalue.com/en/reportage/eiffel-tower-story-secrets.html

Stay tuned for more STEM Scribbles coming soon! And head over to Instagram to see the post and reel in action!

Lily

2 Sisters in STEM

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University During Covid-19

Maisie here! I have now come to the end of my first semester of my final year of university and I thought I would don my best Christmas jumper for the occasion!

I study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Sheffield and had a year out to do my internship in 2019-2020. It has been a busy, stressful and weird semester but surprisingly I have enjoyed it.

I thought I would reflect back on these last few months to give people a insight into my experience at university during a global pandemic.

This academic year has been a peculiar one so far! As I have said in previous posts I was on a year long internship in academic year 2019-2020 so I had no experience of university education during the pandemic. I arrived in Sheffield in September and did not really know what to expect course and contact wise!

University has been very different due to Covid-19 and it did take a while to readjust to a new way of working. From September to December I only went into university a handful of times, this was for in person tutorials and I was not a fan of the experience to be honest. There were about 15 people in a lecture theatre that usually seats 300, it felt quite isolating in that sense but I did enjoy seeing my lecturer and working through exam questions – all from a distance. On campus and in university buildings there are a lot of one way systems and safety measures implemented, this is really great to see but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like university. I do feel sorry for students who have just joined university because they are definitely not getting the full experience I got in my first year, real lectures, contact hours with tutors and labs!

I am definitely a bit of an introverted person in general, so having to socially distance and stay inside has not affected me in a huge way. I do love a night out or a good old catch up in a pub but as I am in my final year I knew I couldn’t be going to Roar (University of Sheffield’s best night out!) every Wednesday night even if everywhere was open! I had already brought down my expectations for socialising even before everything went into lockdown so it wasn’t such a shock to the system. My flat mates are an absolute saving grace to my sanity, we look out for each other and make sure we get outside and have some fresh air (this is a must!!).

On a positive note I actually feel that during this semester I could structure my days better and make the most out of the time I had. For nearly all my modules lectures were pre-recorded and my lecturers would upload them at the beginning of the week, this meant I could choose when to focus on different modules and structure my week in a way that I knew I could complete all the work required. I love a good spreadsheet so I made a sheet with all the lectures and videos I had to watch and attend each week, the feeling of being able to tick off something when I have completed it is the best!

One of my modules was an aircraft design module and 50% of the mark was for a group design project. My team was made up of 5 people in the third year of my course, as I have been out of university for my year in industry I am now in the same year as people who were in the year below. Group projects can be difficult at the best of times and the fact I have never actually met any of the people I was in the team with is rather odd, but we worked to the best of our abilities and relied heavily on Google docs to get it all done! All our meetings were conducted over Google meet and worked okay, a few people missed a meeting or two but we also had a WhatsApp group to make sure everyone knew what they should be doing for the next meeting. We submitted the report just before Christmas so hopefully we have done well!

I returned home at the beginning of December in the ‘student mass exodus’ as lots of media sources called it! I have been finishing my semester here at home and it has been a bit of a readjustment again getting used to working at home. It has been lovely seeing Mum and Dad but can sometimes be distracting when I am trying to do a lecture! I do think I find it easier to structure my day when I’m in Sheffield. But I am so thankful and grateful I could be here over the Christmas period! Overall, this semester has been a tough one but I do think I have done my best in the circumstances!

I may have completed semester 1 but now it’s onto revision for my January exams – the work doesn’t stop!

I hope you all have a great holiday whatever you celebrate, have a good old rest and eat lots of food!

Maisie

2SistersInSTEM

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Inspirational Interviews – Natalie Cheung

For this instalment of our inspirational interview series we are talking to Natalie Cheung.

Natalie is an award-winning leader, volunteer and civil engineer who is passionate about promoting careers in STEM! She is currently working to deliver the STEM Ambassador programme in London, as STEM Ambassador Coordinator.

For her volunteer work and active citizenship, Natalie was awarded the YMCA England and Wales Young Leader of the Year 2018 and University of Manchester Medal of Social Responsibility in 2019. She is also a Council member for the Women’s Engineering Society and won their Amy Johnson award in 2019 for promoting diversity in engineering and applied sciences.

What/Who inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?

At school I was interested in Artificial Intelligence and Technology which led to me studying Computing at A-Level. I wanted to program robots! I considered a wide variety of engineering disciplines to pursue at university and ended up picking Civil Engineering which was quite different to my original plan. This was influenced by a work experience placement in construction where I realised how many roles there were behind civil engineering projects like buildings! I am so grateful for the mentors who opened my eyes to career options in construction when I was 16, I had never even heard of civil engineering before that.

What does your typical day look like?

As a STEM Ambassador co-coordinator I help to deliver the STEM Ambassador programme which gets volunteers from different STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields inspiring young people to consider pursuing STEM. In my day-to-day, I work with volunteers, employers, schools, councils, museums, libraries, youth groups and more! I love organising events and supporting STEM Ambassadors to create resources that can reach young people.

Have you had to overcome challenges? If so what we’re they and how did you do it?

Those who know me now would be very surprised to hear I was a very very quiet teenager! Like many others, I have overcome challenges of confidence and impostor syndrome. Last year, I set a goal to improve my public speaking skills as I recognised this is a skill that can support me in my career and personal life. I sought out opportunities to deliver presentations and talks, especially those which were out of my comfort zone. The highlights of my public speaking work last year include coaching from TED, speaking at an international conference in front of the President of the UN General Assembly, being part of an engineering panel live-streamed to ten of thousands of young people and my first paid motivational speaking events.

What do you think can be done to get more girls into STEM?

Girls are already interested in STEM fields but it would help to have further support, mentorship and inspiration for groups which are currently under-represented. We also need to normalise seeing women in all levels of all STEM careers so they are visible to young people of all genders, plus parents and teachers. If you are interested in pursuing a career in civil engineering or STEM education, I would advise using online networks to learn from other people in the field. I have met lots of people from LinkedIn and Twitter who I can learn a lot from, including those in other fields. If you approach people in a polite way, they are often willing to provide advice from their experience or direct you to resources. As a mentor, I have really enjoyed working with engineering students and those seeking to find a STEM education role.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of my day job and voluntary work in STEM, I have started a podcast “Yellow Bee Pod” which highlights the experience of East and Southeast Asians in UK, like myself. This is an underrepresented group in media and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide a platform for voices we don’t hear from enough.

Thank you so much to Natalie for speaking to us about her journey and career, we hope these interviews inspire more women and girls to get into STEM!

2SistersInSTEM

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Pots, Pans and Panic – Heading Back to Uni!

Hi it’s Maisie here! We have had a bit of a break from the blog over the summer but we are now back and ready to go – I have even got a swanky fringe so it’s all new round here!

It is now nearing the time that I will be going back to university, so I thought I would have a little ramble about how I am feeling regarding heading back to uni after my internship year at Boeing Defence UK.

Excited but surrounded by pots, pans and panic I will venture back to Sheffield!

I had such an incredible year at Boeing Defence UK but now it’s onto my final year at the University of Sheffield. I’m heading back to university! I am ever so excited to get back to Sheffield, I adore the city and can’t wait to live there for another year. I do know that university will be different because of the current global situation but I hope that by being sensible and safe I will still enjoy my final year at Sheffield – time for me to get my degree!

How is university going to be different?

University life is going to be different in many ways, no late nights in the library, less societies and no dancing in clubs at 3am – the latter probably being for the best! But most importantly because of the current Covid climate I won’t be in any face to face lectures (most contact will be online apart from labs and some tutorials). This means I will be on my laptop for a large percentage of my day, I will need a good laptop stand and very comfy chair – and my glasses when my eyes are exhausted from reading about aerospace materials for hours!

What is my living situation going to be like?

I lived in a flat by myself in Southsea for a year so going back to Sheffield will be a readjustment in that sense. I will be living with two of my best friends so it definitely won’t be too difficult – we all get on super well, as long as everyone does their washing up! Also, as we have said before, Lily and I have been living together during lock down, in my opinion this has been good on a lot of levels – mostly me having to adjust to living with another human being again! I think Lily was more happy with the fact I love cooking which meant she got some tasty meals (if I do say so myself!).

So what have I learnt from my internship?

I learnt so much throughout my year at BDUK and I met some incredible people. It was not only aerospace industry knowledge I gained throughout my year, I have learnt so much about the world in general and about myself (cheesy I know but it’s true!!). I definitely think I am a lot more independent now after my year of work, not just in my actions but in my thoughts and opinions. University is the first taste of freedom for most people but you are still in that little educational bubble, I think taking a step away from that has really helped me to re-evaluate lots of aspects of my life. So using all this new found knowledge I really do hope to do my best and achieve as much as I can in my final year!

How will I manage my money?

With my year at BDUK I earned an income so I was pretty comfortable with my budget and spending. Now I need to snap back to student life, I will be keeping a strict budget and managing my spending. I have to say that my weakness is second hand book shopping, I just love a book bargain so I had better keep an eye on that! I keep tabs on my money by having a spreadsheet with all my outgoing payments, including rent, utility bills and also food shops – lily has told me about an app she uses called EMMA so I may have to have a look at that before I start my new year and new spreadsheet.

How will I be keeping to a routine?

Time management is a must and from my year of real-world work I had to have a structured work day. At BDUK I actually started work at 7am so it was a massive change from what I was used to, I would wake up at 5:40am to get into work on time. However I am concerned that I will fall back into my irregular sleep pattern that I definitely developed for my first and second year of university. No more 10am wake ups for me, I have got to keep to a proper morning routine and set a time when I will start working every day.

How am I feeling?

Because I have been away from university for a year I am slightly concerned that when I get back to I am going to feel old – I mean I know I’m only 21 but this years freshers were born in 2002?! I can’t quite get my head around that. Also a readjustment for me will be going back into an academic setting, I haven’t learnt in a structured way for over a year so I’m a little nervous about getting back into the swing of things. I am going to have to put a lot of time and effort into all my work and I know it will be different and strange in many ways but I am up for the challenge.

I had better get packing now, I’ll update you on how I’m getting on in the near future!

Maisie

2SistersInSTEM

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‘But you don’t look like a physicist!’

Hi, Lily here! For this week’s post I am going to be talking about the reactions I have faced when talking to people about the fact I did a physics degree. My thoughts on the conversations I have had, how the responses have and continue to affect me and ultimately why I think working to tackle stereotypes is so important!

A few years ago whilst I was studying at university a question I was often asked (and often felt uncomfortable answering) was – what do you study? Early on in my degree I would reply almost shyly, bashfully …’umm I study physics’ and it usually shocked people to some extent. But why? This is what I want to explore in today’s blog post!

Over the past few years being on the receiving end of this exchange many times I can pretty much group people’s reactions into the following:

  1. ‘Woahhh you must be really clever … I dropped physics as soon as I could!’
  2. ‘Cool that must be really interesting!’
  3. And third and finally – ‘No way! But you don’t look like you would study physics!’

As I worked through my physics degree I became more and more confident in my ownership of the word physicist. I hadn’t studied physics for 3 years, put ALOT of hard work into it to not feel worthy enough to be a ‘physicist’. And I think in some way this made me analyse the reactions I got to telling people I was ‘a physicist’ even more closely!

So let’s break down these reactions! Firstly number one, something along the lines of ‘that must be soooo hard’, or ‘I never got on with physics at all’. This is probably the most common response I get – which is really sad! People that have had such a rubbish experience with science and physics in particular at a young age that they ‘dropped it as soon as they could’ or ‘always remember it never clicking’ or that ‘they just never got it’.

I think there is something pretty important to think about here! Are people scared off from subjects when they are younger because they are told by friends, family sometimes even teachers that they are ‘really hard’ or maybe that ‘they haven’t quite got what it takes’? Now I am not saying that physics isn’t difficult, but I believe passionately that the majority of people who study physics or perceived ‘hard’ subjects are not naturally good at them! They don’t ‘just get it’ – they work really bloody hard and they slowly improve their knowledge over time. It is not magic! I think it is really dangerous to perpetuate this idea that certain subjects are only for people who show extraordinary intelligence or brilliance – this is not the case, what you need is a passion for the subject, lots of determination and the willingness to put a lot of hard work in!

The second reaction is great – it is always brilliant when at the mention of physics people respond positively! Usually they might have an interested in something science-y themselves or they may have seen or read a physics or science related documentary/film or book. This is why science communication and science in the media is so important! People’s whole perception and view of what I do is usually based around what they see through the media – for instance people often talk about Brian Cox and what they think of his documentaries.

The third and final response I frequently got (and initially really feared) is ‘No way! But you don’t look like a physicist!’. This response is usually preceded by a look of shock/confusion and is by far and away the most difficult to reply to. This response is the reason for years I was shy and often nervous to have this conversation. What am I expected to reply to that? When someone looks at you in disbelief when you tell them what you do/ what you study – it really does make you question yourself! It shouldn’t, but it does – does this person think I’m lying? Do I look incapable? Do I look too young? Is there something wrong with what I’m wearing? Is it because I’m a woman?

I know I do not look like society’s stereotypical physicist or scientist e.g. a caricature of Albert Einstein – mad scientist vibe! But the shock, disbelief and judgement from others can make you feel really self conscious! And this is something I really don’t want other young women in STEM to have to deal with.

This is why female representation in STEM is so, so important! Anyone no matter what they look like can be a physicist or work in STEM! Diverse role models working in STEM are so important and this is where social media really comes into it’s own. You can find such a wide variety of people working in all sorts of STEM careers, and this is only going to keep improving. We need as many people as possible sharing their stories to keep pushing for wider representation. This will hopefully lead to more people realising that physicists and people working in STEM come in all shapes and sizes, from wide ranging backgrounds, career paths and life experiences. That we are not all – a certain age, a certain sex, dress a certain way, talk a certain way – but that we are varied and unique and that this diversity and continuing to work to improve representation is what will push Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths forwards.

Working to tackle stereotypes is extremely important and this is one of the reasons why I started this blog! The more people there are talking about their experiences the more role models there are for young people aspiring to work in STEM. If young people can align themselves to people already working in the field this will hopefully give them the belief that they can do it too!

Let me know if you have had a similar experience ( ‘But you don’t look like a …’ )? And what more do you think we can do to continue to smash stereotypes of what a physicist or someone who works in STEM looks like?

Thanks so much for reading!

Lily

2SistersinSTEM

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