We always tell our children that they could be anything they want to be.
In today's digital era when STEM jobs are often referred to as jobs of the future, the need to get more girls in STEM is more urgent than ever. Companies of all types are rapidly growing their technical capabilities – demand for advanced IT and programming skills is said to grow by as much as 90 per cent over the next 15 years.
However, too many girls are held back by stereotypes and social norms which influences their choices in the subjects they choose to study and the careers they choose to pursue – especially in STEM disciplines.
Fortunately, there are girls who remained defiant – thanks to their own sheer will, their drive and perhaps an encouraging parent, teacher or role model – they are diving head-first into the world of STEM and not letting anyone tell them "no".
Following our Moms Who Tech and Men We Trust interview series, we're featuring our leaders of tomorrow – girls who have found their passion in STEM and are giving it all they've got. By sharing their struggles and experience leading to their choice of study, we hope our community would leave inspired and hopeful for a more equal and sustainable society for all women. We hope you'll stand with us and root for these future stars.
在人工智能领域找到自己的热情所在 Finding her passion in AI
“我对人工智能，尤其是机器学习越来越感兴趣。起初，我只是对机器学习的这股热潮有些好奇，想知道机器是如何从过去的数据经验中学习的。” Dilay 告诉 Ladies Who Tech。
his week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Dilay Ercelik, who moved from Paris to London after high school to pursue her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London.
Dilay initially chose psychology as her major as she found the subject fascinating and offers a wide range of subfields of studies. After completing her first year, she realised that her interest lies beyond the neuroscience and research aspect of the curriculum.
"I grew more and more interested in Artificial Intelligence, particularly machine learning. Initially I was just curious about the hype around machine learning and wanted to know how is it that machines can learn from past experiences with data," Dilay told Ladies Who Tech.
Thus, she began her journey in discovering her true passion: She joined the Artificial Intelligence Society and the MedTech Society at UCL and attended one of their Python sessions. As she started practising Python, she came across an article about Computational Neuroscience, the field of study that uses AI, mathematical and programming tools to develop theories of brain functions.
"I discovered a whole new world that blends neuroscience with machine learning and I decided this is the path I would like to take," Dilay said, adding that she immediately enrolled herself in multiple MOOCs (massive open online courses) to familiarize herself in computational neuroscience, philosophy and machine learning.
"When I think about what sparked my interest in AI and machine learning, this mental image of a brain with little chips connected to it immediately pops up. What appealed to me most was how the intersection of these fields could lead to incredible advances for humanity and mankind," she said.
"In the future, I want to study and work on the application of AI/machine learning on neuroscience and psychology," she added.
Right now, her goal is to get accepted in Master's and PhD programmes that blend neuroscience/psychology with AI. After that, instead of entering academia, she hopes to apply her knowledge in an industry environment where her research would have a direct application to the company and society.
“STEM不适合女孩”“STEM isn't for girls”
Dilay recalls witnessing this typical phenomenon in her Paris high school: Girls seemed more interested in pursuing non-STEM degrees than boys.
"I don't think it's a genuine appeal, at least in some cases," she said. "There's still this deep-rooted stereotype that boys should study subjects like engineering and girls should pick nursing or more liberal arts-oriented degrees that focus on their 'maternal instinct'.”
"It appears to me that most girls don't leave the so-called comfort zone of non-STEM degrees just because no one ever told them they are actually entirely capable of pursuing STEM degrees," she said.
And Dilay is right. According to a study of 10,000 students in England, 15 and 16-year-old girls actually score better than boys in STEM subject exams but, are less likely to think they will end up working in STEM fields when they leave school, implying a lack of confidence in their own ability.
Girls appear to lose interest in STEM subjects with age, and lower levels of participation are already seen in advanced studies at secondary level. By higher education, women represent only 35 per cent of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study, UNESCO reported.
Girls are often brought up to believe that STEM are "masculine" topics and that female ability in this field is innately inferior to that of males. This can undermine girls' confidence, interest and willingness to engage in STEM subjects, the report added.
Interestingly enough, the opposite happened to Dilay with she discussed university options with her teacher.
"I told her that I wanted to pursue a psychology degree, and she said to me, 'With the grades you have, why don't you aim for "harder" degrees?'" Dilay recalled.
"So it's not so much that girls are explicitly told not to pursue STEM degrees; it's more like when girls decide to pursue a degree in non-STEM fields, it most likely won't lead to any reaction from teachers; conversely, if boys decide to apply for STEM programmes, this most likely won't raise any questions from them either," she explained.
As is with most psychology programmes in universities around the world, there is a serious gender imbalance: there are way more girls than boys in the programme. Dilay believes that this stems from a misconception about the subject itself.
"There is still this assumption that if you do an undergraduate degree in psychology, you would be limited to pursuing a career in clinical psychology or counselling. But that's not true at all – with the wide range of analytical and qualitative skills, a psychology degree is extremely versatile, and you could end up anywhere after graduation," she said.
In fact, many psychology undergraduates go on to study a Master's in industrial/organizational psychology or participate in clinical trainings while others will proceed with biological and research programmes such as neuroscience.
"In the end, a degree is really nothing more than a degree: It's what you make of it, how you market yourself, the network you build during your university days, and the skills you develop on top of what you learn in class that really matter," Dilay said.
"All degrees stand at the same place when it comes to their 'significance' and their 'worth'; it really is up to the student to choose how to shape their education and how to get the most out of it," she said.
为自己选择，而不是为了别人 Choose for yourself and not for anyone else
Girls and women are key players in creating solutions to improve lives and generate inclusive growth; they are the greatest untapped population to become the next generations of STEM professionals.
To have more girls go into STEM, an education reform is in order. We need to stimulate interest from the earliest years, to combat stereotypes, to train teachers to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers, to develop curricula that are gender-sensitive, to mentor girls and young women and change mindsets, former UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova recommended.
"So, it goes in both ways: Girls have to be encouraged to choose STEM subjects while boys shouldn't be pressured to choose STEM subjects. Some students might pursue a degree in STEM just because their parents wanted them to. But the parents won't be the ones going to classes, taking exams and working in the industry. So, choose your passion," Dilay said.
She suggested that schools dedicate introductory sessions for students to explore STEM and non-STEM university programmes when it comes to making a choice in their undergraduate studies.
"I think it's critical to show students that not every programme (including STEM degrees) is created the same, and there can be huge differences between universities in terms of how they build their programmes, depending on the vision and focus of the university," she said.
This is also where role models come in. Supportive role models, mentors and communities can ignite a spark in girls' interest in STEM fields, help unlock their potential and influence their persistence in sticking with them. At the same time, raising the profiles of women already working in STEM fields and giving them an opportunity to interact with young girls can also have a powerful effect.
In order to have the full scope of human talent to create a thriving, sustainable and inclusive economy we need to take collective action and make fundamental changes – and that starts with education.
Ladies Who Tech相信教育是赋权女性的引擎，也是女性未来成功的基础。我们希望，通过研讨会、年度大会与各种活动将女性纳入STEM话题中，企业与组织将受到鼓舞进而制定更多包括女性在内的变革政策。让我们一起努力建设一个更美好的未来，在那里我们的女儿们可以毫无障碍地成为她们想成为的人！
At Ladies Who Tech, we believe education is an engine to women's empowerment and the foundation for a future of success. We hope that through connecting women in STEM through workshops, conventions and events, companies and organizations will leave inspired to enact changes that are more inclusive of women. Let's all work toward building a better future where our daughters can aspire to be whoever they want to be without barriers!