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Persevering as a woman of STEM can be difficult, but I enjoy what I do and that is what gets me through and what gives me drive to continue. If I tell myself it is hard, then it will be.

Mathematics is a subject where you can either do it or you struggle with it. It is also a subject that from a young age we are tested on our mathematical skills. But what does that really mean? Does it mean if you are put in a low set that you can’t work hard to understand it? Or just because you are in a high set that you don’t have to work? For me, if you enjoy the subject then you almost want to do the work because that is what you want to do. Not because you need to do it to get a grade or prove your worth.

I have always been lucky that I have understood the lessons that I had for maths and I always performed well in tests. Yet, saying that, I worked hard to get to where I was - it was not based on luck. So, I stuck with what I liked to do and I continued to study mathematics at A Level. We were told that you needed at least a B in GCSE in order to continue to A-Level, and there were some who just got that but decided to take the subject regardless because that is what they wanted to do. They didn’t let a test determine what they were worthy of.

I could say I was privileged in the sense I attended my local Sixth Form, where the intake of students was considerably small. How small you might ask? Well, in my first year there was only eleven of us studying the subject mathematics. In addition, I was in a class of two for Spanish (my friend and myself), to add perspective of how small the Sixth Form was. So, I practically had one-to-one with my teachers. But that did not hinder my work effort. I still worked hard and put all the effort in that I could. And that showed when I moved into Year 13.

One of the modules that we did in maths in Year 12 was Mechanics. For me, I was not, and still not, a big fan of physics. I find it difficult. But this is where things get interesting. In the class of eleven, I was one of two girls. The other girl sat next to me in the mechanics lessons and she always complained. Always said that she did not understand it and that she didn’t like maths. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t enjoy it at times and I struggled to understand some of the context. But I am also a big believer that if you tell yourself that you can’t do it then you will believe that you can’t do it. You will find other things to do in order to avoid doing it. Whereas, if you persevere and try to understand then it becomes easier than you think. As you can imagine, the rest of the class were lads and majority of them were studying physics. I felt at a disadvantage, and that maybe I shouldn’t be there. Regardless of what I thought, I still tried. Before the exams in the Easter holidays, I went camping with my sister and I took past papers with me. I wanted to get every bit of practise in that I could because even if you get something wrong, then you are only going to help yourself in your understanding. It goes without saying, that going into Year 13 I was the only student left of the eleven. Everyone else had either failed or decided that they did not want to continue.

That begs a strong question – how hard is maths for me to be the only one left standing? My answer to it, it is as hard as you want to make it. There are times that it does feel easy and other times when it is the hardest thing in the world. Even now, I have recently finished my undergraduate degree and started my Master’s. I am now a student of six doing a postgraduate degree, where there are only two girls on the course. Yet that does not discourage me or make me feel like I should not be there. At the end of the day, I love it and hopefully all those doing the degree are there for the same reason: the love of maths. Yet that doesn’t make the course any easier. I read a running magazine recently and one article was an interview with a motivational speaker, Adrienne Herbert. It was titled, “I don’t believe people succeed in life because it was easy. It was hard but they did it anyway” (Ifans, 2021). Whilst it is a running magazine, this quote could be applied to a lot in life. No one is going to say maths is easy but you do it because you love it, regardless of what other people think and do. So, if you enjoy it and you are a girl, then do it. If you enjoy it and you are a boy, then do it. There is nothing stopping you from enjoying what you love. 

So, you have to ask yourself, what is stopping you from doing what you love? Everyone has different backgrounds of life and of education but that should not hinder you in any way. You go to university with all different levels of education. I did the mechanics module in my A Levels, but the girl I was sat next to on the first day did decision mathematics. Did that make a difference to where I am now or where they are? I continued to further study and my friend now has a job as a forecasting analyst. We are women of STEM and we are proud to say that and let me tell you that not many can say that! Davies concludes in her study that whilst the overall percentage of female graduates with core STEM degrees is steadily growing, ‘the split is still just 26%’ (Davies, 2021). In short, don’t let being a female put you off, ever. There are plenty of courses that the University of Chester offer in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, so you are not limited to only maths. Your calling could be computer science or chemical engineering. The only limitation that you have is your mind!

 

Bibliography

Chester, U. o., 2021. Faculty of Science and Engineering. [Online]
Available at: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/departments/science-and-engineering

Davies, K., 2021. Women in Stem. [Online]
Available at: https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2021/01/women-in-stem-percentages-of-wo...
[Accessed 3 March 2021].

Ifans, R., 2021. “I don’t believe people succeed in life because it was easy. It was hard but they did it anyway”. Women's Running, March, pp. 22-27.

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