GETTING MORE WOMEN INTO STEM HAS BEEN A TALKING POINT IN THE MEDIA RECENTLY, BUT WHAT'S IT REALLY LIKE TO WORK AND STUDY IN THE FIELD?
Gilda Sorella interviews mentorship team Suriya Shanmuga and Elline Camilet to find out.
SURIYA. Chemical Engineering Student, University of New South Wales.
Q: Suriya, you study chemical engineering at UNSW - what inspired you to choose this career path?
A: I have always have great interest in maths and science, and chemical engineering seemed to be a perfect choice! I have also been greatly interested in large production processes so I went with chemical engineering. UNSW has always been well known for its engineering faculty specifically for chemical engineering, so that was my first choice. Also because they offered the unique Co-Op program that was an opportunity for me to gain industrial training experience whilst completing my degree, I thought it would be a good way for me to actually understand what chemical engineers do on a day to day basis!
Q: The government has spoken a lot recently about encouraging more people (especially women) to get into STEM. What kind of impact do you think more women in STEM will have?
A: I definitely think it good that the government is encouraging more individuals to enter the STEM field- as we are moving fast into the future I believe we need new innovations that will allow us to further improve our lifestyles! Encouraging more women to take part in STEM will allow us to bring in a new perspective of thinking as we are very different to the men that greatly dominate the engineering field specifically!
Q: Women in STEM are often considered to be in a 'non-traditional' field, what do you think of that description?
A: I think the number of women in the STEM field has significantly increased over the past few years, however it is still considered to be a ‘non-traditional’ field for us. But I don’t think that it is a “bad” description for us, it is a different path that some women like to endeavour and I think they should be applauded for their courage to undertake their career in a male dominated field.
Q: What is your experience of being a woman in STEM? Do you think gender makes a difference in studying a chemical engineering degree?
A: I have definitely realised the significant difference in the ratio of boys to girls in the field. However, I think because we have all been brought up in a modern society and have learnt not to discriminate because of gender, being a women in STEM has not imposed any disadvantages on me. Sometimes I would say I get more attention that the boys, because the teachers tend to make sure that you are feeling comfortable in classes and understanding your work…so I would say if anything- its been good being a girl in the chemical engineering degree!
Q: What do you get up to in your free time?
A: I work as a part time dental assistant and I also tutor science and maths for students. Its been a great opportunity for me to spread the importance of learning these subjects and working in the chemical engineering field has allowed me to talk to students about the importance of it and how it is applied in real life situation! Besides work, I play netball over winter and play cricket for a women’s team!
Q: Is science/engineering something that you were interested in from a young age?
Science and maths has definitely been something that has always interested me from a young age. I have always been curious about how things work - that’s one of the reasons I picked engineering to study, because I could learn about the science behind the different machines, processes and even the surrounding nature!
Q: You decided to get a female mentor through a mentorship program, MentorMe Australia. Tell me a bit about how having a mentor has helped you during your studies.
A: Getting a female mentor through the mentorship program has been very beneficial for me, especially as I am just entering the engineering workforce. She [Elline] has given me really good advice on what I can expect from work and what to look out for. Because she has been through the same course as me as a female, I was more comfortable asking her questions about almost anything because she has become more of a friend to me! Throughout my first year, Elline has helped me out with my subject selection and what seemed most beneficial from her perspective. And because she has been in my shoes, she could relate very well to my situations and give me the best advice when it was needed! So I would say that it has been a very good relationship that has formed through the MentorMe Australia program.
Q: Did having a female mentor assist you with any particular issues that only women might experience in the STEM field?
A: I think having a female mentor allowed me to feel more comfortable asking any sorts of questions. But maybe because I am still relatively new to the STEM field, I have not been in any situations where I have been discriminated because I am a female- but if I am put in a situation of that sort Elline would be my first “go to” person only because I believe she would be able to guide me in the right direction on how to tackle the situation! So I really think our relationship has been very good.
Q: Where do you see STEM taking you in the future?
A: I can see myself into the research side of chemical engineering, it has always been my curiosity - the new technologies, new pharmaceutical drugs and much more! And in terms of my dream career, it would be working in research labs on new products! But because I am only in my first year of Chemical Engineering with only about 10 weeks into my first placement, I have still not decided on my dream career!
Q: Do you have any advice for other young women thinking of pursuing a career in STEM?
I would strongly suggest if anyone is considering taking part in the MentorMe program - you should give it a shot! It's a great opportunity to network. Any girls out there who are thinking about studying in STEM should definitely give it a shot! Women add a new perspective to the field which I believe it greatly lacking at the moment and being a part of the change where we encouraging more women to enter the field will empower us to push beyond out horizons!
ELLINE. Chemical Engineer, Sydney Water.
Q: Elline, as Suriya’s mentor, what advice did you first give her regarding being a woman in STEM?
A: The important piece of learning I wanted to share with Suriya was to make sure that she doesn’t box herself into any role. I told her that a good mantra for her at this stage was to keep her options open – which she has obviously done a great job so far, electing to enter the wonderful world engineering.
As a young woman in a male-dominated field such as STEM, there have been many instances where I have second-guessed myself and struggled to voice my professional opinions in a group. I found that it is essential to think about what you want, to begin with, and express this to people because making yourself heard is of the utmost importance for attracting the right opportunities. By doing this, you will gain sufficient experience in the workplace, which will help you feel more comfortable, confident and authorised in providing your professional opinion.
I also advised her to challenge herself and make sure she puts her hand up even if it pushes her outside of her comfort zone – because sometimes, in these situations, we learn the most.
Q: What inspired you to take up a career in STEM?
A: I really enjoyed learning Maths and Science (especially Chemistry) in high school so I knew I wanted to work in the STEM area. I clearly remember looking at the description of what chemical engineers did from the UAC book back in year 12 and it really attracted me how much helpful the profession is in shaping our society. Being responsible for securing food, water and energy for people appealed so much to me that I knew Chemical Engineering was the right path for me.
Q: Some people would describe you as working in a 'non traditional' field for a woman - does gender make a difference when you work in STEM?
A: From my experiences of working in a male-dominated industry, I’ve always felt that my main disadvantage wasn’t to do with gender very much, but more to do with my lack of experience relative to the rest of my team. This is, however, something that is to be expected when you’ve just launched your career as a young professional. The instances I did observe where gender seemed to make a difference, however, were in terms of career development and recognition of one’s potential as a leader in the workplace. The way our society seems to function (or at least this is the way I felt growing up) seems to favour the typical “good girl” who keeps her head low, speaks softly and tends to be very agreeable. In stark contrast, boys who are opinionated and are comfortable at directing other people, are considered to be leadership material.
For a woman aspiring to take on leadership roles, it’s not always easy to break down these pre-conceived stereotypes of a woman, and demonstrate your abilities as an equally competent leader. Being in a male-dominated workforce like STEM makes this harder because these pre-existing gender issues creates an atmosphere that causes women, like myself, to second-guess my ideas and opinions, particularly in minority positions. Women, like myself, feel like we need to go above and beyond in order to be heard above a sea of male experts in the field, which only adds to the stresses of it all.
Q: How have you found mentoring a university student? Do you think it would have been beneficial for you to have a mentor when you were at university?
I really enjoy mentoring Suriya and it is perhaps as much a learning opportunity for me as it is for her. Being in exactly the same shoes as she was 6 years ago, I think this has been an excellent opportunity for me not only to give back but also to reflect on my experiences in the past and learn from them so I can apply them in the future.
As a university student, I received some advice from people around – lecturers, tutors, placement supervisors, senior engineering students, but I was never in a formal mentoring relationship so it was really up to me to piece together which of these (sometimes conflicting) bits of advice would help me get to where I wanted to be. I think MentorMe is such a great initiative. Having a mentor who was in exactly the same position as you makes their advice more relevant. I definitely could have used a mentor when I was in university.
Q: 'Women in STEM' has been a hot topic in the media lately. Do you think we need to encourage more women to get involved in STEM? How do you think we could do this?
Absolutely! Workplaces focusing on STEM are still currently male-dominated and I don’t think this is because men are naturally better at Maths and Sciences than women. I know some young women who are more than capable of pursuing a career in STEM but elected not to, due to gender connotations associated with the profession. In saying that, an important start for me is to expose school-aged women (Year 10-12) to career possibilities from working in STEM. Highlighting the altruistic nature of these roles and how they can potentially contribute to society is very important in gaining interest from young women. It would also help for practicing professionals in the STEM area to share what they do at work - there’s certainly more to us than wearing lab coats and hi-vis uniforms! Stories are powerful and they tend to stick with people, so hearing it straight from women in STEM will create a lot more impact to young girls’ perception of working in STEM.
To find a career mentor, or offer to mentor a student - find out more at www.mentormeaustralia.com or search for Mentor Me Australia on Facebook.
Mentoring. It’s the game changing word which is rippling through institutions, universities, and local communities. It’s also a notion which is gaining traction at a pace faster than ever before.
As a concept, mentoring has always existed. The practice of forming a trusting relationship between two parties to share advice, information, knowledge and skills is one which occurs informally and spontaneously around the world. However, the dynamics of a mentoring relationship are continuing to develop.
Three key factors are currently disrupting the time-old notion of mentoring and ushering in a new age of connected, technology dependent, time-efficient and interdisciplinary mentoring.
The rise of video conferencing technology such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime are enabling mentoring to take place across previously unreachable geographical boundaries. Technology has helped to further the globalization of mentoring, and the breaking down of barriers in organisations that have employees situated throughout the world.
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is one organization taking advantage of the benefits of technology to open up doors globally. With the introduction of their remote mentoring program, experienced engineers are encouraged to spend time via Skype to assist young Timorese engineers. Ultimately, this global mentoring is enabling EWB to contribute to the development of critical engineering capacity within Timor Leste.
The practice of mentoring is also increasingly becoming formally recognized. For truly valuable and constructive change to take place, informal mentoring is being replaced by that of the support and structure provided by a mentoring program. Not only does this allow mentoring to take place over an extended timeframe, it provides the valuable insight of a third party facilitator whose role enables monitoring and feedback on the mentorship development. Mentoring programs allow individuals to achieve tangible results and be empowered to reach their goals in a sustainable way.
The role of cross-discipline engagement is growing in importance in academia and even the corporate environment and this trend is continuing to infuse into mentorships. As a tool, interdisciplinary mentorships of the future will help produce synergy in groups and assist individuals to generate multifocal ideas. Moreover, the input of an interdisciplinary mentorship will provide an individual with a broader and more holistic perspective on their career trajectory.
Despite these global trends, mentorships of the future will always remain centered on the interaction between individuals. At its core, this simple process has the power to transform individuals. But not only does this impact the mentee and the mentor – it strengthens ties between communities, institutions and organizations. This is the power of mentoring.
This year I finished a cooperative degree program and it has left me convinced that a 'combination education' (i.e. work-study-collaborate) is exactly the breath of fresh air needed to revitalise the student experience.
Boredom, anguish, and frustration are three emotions that are particularly common among mid-program students. But need they be so prevalent? My experience points to the challenge of change as a solution to the deceleration that besets us all in the journey of education. I’ve had changes of friends, colleagues, learning environments and residences, all of which have reinvigorated my learning experience. In fact, I found even little changes like the time that I head off to campus can materially change my productivity. The value of change is certainly not a new one, but perhaps one we overlook when it comes to our learning patterns.
Now before all responsibility is shifted to the educator, consider, when was the last time you researched an area of interest to you? When did you last seek out a professor to discuss an idea or topic? It is well known that the differences between active and passive learning do show up during university, but what is less commonly noted is the dip in motivation that tends to accompany it, and perhaps drive those declines in performance. This is where, for me, changes of scenery are most effective because they build your capacity to face those obstacles that wore you down. Now I understand not everyone can pause their studies to enter the workplace full-time as I did, but they may be able to take part-time role, they may be able to make friends with senior students or they may be able to find an interesting mentor. These measures may not seem directly meaningful to the initial challenge, but they do make an impact on the mindset with which that journey is faced.
Mentors, I feel, should be sought in all areas of life. I know that for certain, I’d not be where I am without spiritual, professional and personal relationships. The key, there if there ever was one, is learning where to go for counsel and being deliberate in broadening your horizon with an evolving learning pattern and a changing environment. I was reading recently about physical learning spaces and there was a note made by the author that actually it’s the lower performing students that tend to benefit most from new learning spaces! To me that came as no real surprise, because a new space can bring with it a new frame of mind, one that is timely for those previously in (mental) spaces that caused them frustration.
Embrace change and seek it out. It’s not about losing persistence or giving up, its about freshness and combination learning.
After an increasingly rigorous application process, the start date for a new job can almost seem like an anti-climax. But don’t be fooled, the first 90 days at your new job (also known as the probation period) are absolutely critical!
1. The first thing on your mind should be setting up your personal brand. By developing an understanding of the people you work with and the people you work for, you will be able to manage your place within the firm (I like to call it the ‘sweet-spot’ - a spot where you can thrive as an individual without stepping on people’s toes). These 90 days must be approached with a plan of attack. You must move cautiously but assertively as your perceived brand is what sets you up for the next few years.
2. If you’ve landed a grad role at a big firm I can almost guarantee that the first week will be jam packed with training. My tip here: don’t take anyone for granted. As you look around the room at your fellow graduates you will be amazed at just how many of them you may need assistance from in your working life. Whether it’s borrowing someone’s pass to get access to colour printing, utilising the ‘data analytics guy’ to help you take your report to ‘the next level’ or selling work to them in in the future when they are the CEO of a multinational and you’re a Partner at your firm. It’s the relationships you build with them from day one that will support you through the rest of your career. Note: they are also the people that will bring the most enjoyment to your job. Spend time getting to know them and make an effort to sustain these friendships.
3. With the first couple of months under your belt it’s time to start taking responsibility for your own professional development. Join a professional association, explore further education possibilities and seek out a mentor within the firm. Having a mentor can improve your job performance, grow your network and if nothing else have someone that you know has your back (and you can never have too many of those).
4. And most importantly…ask for feedback. No matter how little or big you perceive your interaction to be never underestimate the value of feedback. Even more importantly; be open to receiving constructive feedback. There is nothing to be gained from sugar coated feedback. Gathering honest feedback from those that have been in your shoes before is the most valuable way to improve as an employee and set yourself up for success. If you can do all of these things with a certain sense of confidence then you’ll be on your way to setting yourself up for a successful career in any job.
MentorMe Australia Blog #2 - Three Steps to Acing Applications
Gilda Sorella from the graduate resume writing service Ready Resumes AU, shares her tips for success:
1. Make it visually appealing
There's a reason that this comes in at number one, because it's the first thing that you can do to stand out from the crowd. Imagine being a judge for a scholarship application and having already read 100 three page applications in your morning. Your eyes are dry from reading page after page of black text on white paper. If you're lucky, someone has highlighted a heading in bold. Then suddenly, you come across an application with a thoughtfully designed cover page. You see imagery and colours, and you are excited to see what comes next.
Whether you add a cover page, a coloured title or subheadings, or put your application in an interesting layout (you don't have to be an expert in graphic design, there are plenty of free formats and fonts on the internet) - your application will stand out from the other 100 that came before it.
2. Answer the selection criteria
"But that's so obvious" you may say. Yes it's obvious, but it's by no means easy! Of course, this varies depending on the criteria that you are trying to respond to, but my top rule is:
Inject your application with emotion, and relate it back to your passions, goals, and achievements. Remember, your reader is not a robot, emotions stick.
Take an overseas exchange application for example. The reader doesn't want to know that you want to travel to Denmark because you love danish pastries (although they are rather delicious). They want to know how the exchange will allow you to broaden your studies, expand your world view, tick off your lifelong goal of living in another country, and challenge your mind by learning a second language. Use emotive words. Then go beyond, and be specific. For example:
"The University of Copenhagen has speciality courses in International Negotiation and Mediation, which is something not offered by my university. I am passionate about pursuing a career as a mediator, and feel that this opportunity will allow me to experience this subject from a totally new perspective, as well as give me a unique career advantage".
3. Use your own voice
Once again, it sounds simple doesn't it? However, after years of writing essays a lot of students have trouble writing in their own 'voice', and come off a little too academic. Your goal is to write in your own personal style, yet be professional. Here's how:
If you tick these boxes - I promise that you will have a great start to your application! Good Luck!
Need help with a resume or application? Check out the services at:
Each year, millions of dollars are provided to high school leavers making the transition to university study. Yet what makes a dream scholarship? In the first post of our MentorMe Australia Insights blog series, we investigate the top 5 university scholarships for high school leavers Nationwide and provide hints as to how you could take out the prize.
1st Place - UNSW Co-op Scholarship Program
Founded in 1987, the UNSW Co-op Scholarship Program is a prestigious career development scholarship offered across 24 Bachelor degrees in the fields of Business, Science, Engineering and Built Environment.
• Provides $18,200 per annum tax free financial support.
• Between 9 and 18 months of relevant industry training with up to four different companies during your degree.
• Professional development and leadership training.
• The largest and most prestigious co-operative scholarship program of its type in Australia.
In the current tumultuous economic period, industrial work placements are difficult to secure. Winning a Co-op Scholarship will guarantee you the opportunity to work for your sponsor company throughout your degree. Moreover, 80% of Co-op Scholars receive a job offer from one or more of their sponsor companies after they graduate.
The academic requirement for entry to the Co-op program is a minimum ATAR of 96 (or equivalent). However, candidates for the Co-op Scholarship are selected not only on the basis of their academic ability, but also their communication skills, motivation and leadership potential. Applicants who score very high ATARs, but whose personal interests and achievements have otherwise been quite limited are less likely to be offered a UNSW Co-op Scholarship.
2nd Place - ANU Tuckwell Scholarship
The Tuckwell Scholarship program was founded in 2013 and selects up to 25 scholars each year for study at the Australian National University (ANU).
• $21,700 per annum, for up to five years.
• Priority access guaranteed to ANU-approved student accommodation.
• ANU Sports Centre Membership for the length of your degree.
• Membership of Scholars House.
Access to the Tuckwell Scholarship Community, mentorship opportunities with Tuckwell Fellows, and fully funded accommodation on campus at ANU makes the Tuckwell Scholarship stand out as one of the top 5 university scholarships in Australia for high school leavers.
Tuckwell Scholars, much like UNSW Co-op Scholars, are selected for their all-round ability. Further, the Tuckwell Scholarship program seeks scholars who “strive to make a difference in the world.”
Scholarships will be awarded based on four criteria:
a) Academic potential and achievements to date;
b) Other significant achievements to date, of any type;
c) Demonstration of Tuckwell Scholar attributes; and
d) A desire to eventually give back to Australia.
e) A minimum ATAR of 95.
3rd Place - University of Melbourne Chancellors Scholars Program
The Chancellor's Scholars Program provides a Melbourne National Scholarship and significant financial assistance to high-achieving students enrolled in the following undergraduate degrees:
• Bachelor of Arts
• Bachelor of Biomedicine
• Bachelor of Commerce
• Bachelor of Environments
• Bachelor of Music
• Bachelor of Science
The Melbourne National Scholarship program provides the following benefits:
• Tuition fee-exempt Commonwealth Supported Place, valued up to approximately $30,500;
• A living allowance for 3 years with a value of:
• $5,000 per year for Victorian students
• $10,000 per year for interstate students
• Melbourne Global Scholars Award of up to $2,500 for an approved period of overseas study as an Exchange or Study Abroad student
Whilst the scholarship does not offer professional development events or industrial training opportunities and the like, it does provide significant financial assistance for elite students.
Selection of the Melbourne National Scholarship requires selection onto the Chancellors Scholars Program via attaining:
a) ATAR of at least 99.90 for Bachelor of Arts, Biomedicine Commerce, Environment or Science applicants
b) ATAR of at least 99.85 and an audition score of A+ for Bachelor of Music applicants
c) ATAR of at least 90.00 for indigenous applicants
An application for this scholarship is not required.
4th Place - University of Western Australia Fogarty Foundation Scholarships
The UWA Fogarty Foundation Scholarships have been established in conjunction with the Fogarty Foundation to provide senior secondary students who show significant academic potential, together with a strong sense of community involvement and responsibility in year 11 and 12, with an opportunity to undertake an undergraduate degree of their choice at The University of Western Australia with significant financial assistance.
Financial assistance of $10,000 per annum.
To be considered eligible to apply, applicants-
a) From metropolitan schools must reasonably expect to achieve an ATAR of 99
b) From regional or remote schools must reasonably expect to achieve an ATAR of 97
c) Demonstrate a sense of community involvement.
5th Place - Macquarie University Merit Scholars Program
The Merit Scholars program at Macquarie University includes exclusive opportunities to take part in:
• Professional workshops
• Research programs
• Social and networking events
• Academic mentoring
• International development opportunities.
Free access to the full range of opportunities available to Merit Scholars such as mentoring opportunites and professional development programs.
The Merit Scholar program is open to students who either:
a) Start at Macquarie having achieved an ATAR of 98.5 or greater; or
b) Achieve a GPA of 4 after completing 24 Credit Points at Macquarie University (or equivalent at another Higher Education provider).
c) Or by special invitation
Students who are eligible for the Merit Scholars program will be contacted directly; there is no need to apply.
Typically, monetary backing is provided by universities, government, private companies and other sponsoring institutions to recognize academic achievement or athletic ability. However scholarships are not only for top scholars and athletes, with assistance provided in many scholarships to recognize and promote endeavors such as voluntary leadership and women in underrepresented fields like engineering. Scholarships are also provided to support students with disabilities or financial constraints.
It is important to start searching for scholarships during your final year of high school study with many scholarships closing around the time of university course application closing dates. Don’t rule yourself out - each year over $1 million dollars of financial assistance for university students goes un-awarded!