Attending a conference where the majority of guests are aspiring female scientists is not a common occurrence. The Interconnect Student Network Conference organised by EQUATE Scotland is not your usual conference. It’s a celebration of female students in STEM subjects, and an opportunity to network with female STEM professionals and employers and learn new things. This event also gives recognition, encouragement and joy to students by rewarding their engagement in supporting women in STEM with the Interconnect Student Award.
The second annual Interconnect Student Network Conference took place this year on the 12th April at the University of Edinburgh. The brief introduction by EQUATE Scotland’s director, Talat Yaqoob, was followed by a warm welcome by conference regular Professor Polly Arnold. After talking about the work undertaken in the School of Chemistry for equality and diversity and the Athena SWAN project, she pointed out a few key action points for females in STEM: build networks, retain human identity, not be ruled by gender role stereotypes, and know which rules you can break. And after joking that she still suffers from ‘Imposter Syndrome’, she encouraged women to be more confident and not to wait to feel completely ready to go further and make the next step in their career. She also talked about SciSisters, a network for senior female scientists in the UK.
Talat Yaqoob then took over to describe the current situation in STEM for female and EQUATE Scotland’s work. She informed the audience that by 2021, 40,000 engineers will be needed and about 70,000 jobs in technology will be available, but there will not be enough people to fill them. She discussed gender stereotypes and how important it is to make science gender equal. She closed by kindly asking the female students to stay in science and to see even more of them at the next year’s conference.
The next step was to learn more about the Interconnect project by the Project Officer, Cheryl McCreadie. She talked about the events and workshops that are supported by the Interconnect project, as well as the groups and communities founded by female students to support each other, especially in the very male-dominated environments. ‘I am a Steminist’ is the motto of the Interconnect Student Champions, who are the voice that gives feedback to the Interconnect Network and the link between the society and the network. Two of the Student Champions introduced themselves and invited the audience to take part in a speed networking activity, in which a couple of minutes were allowed to make connections and chat with those nearby – a fun way of breaking the ice!
But the real fun started with the workshops. There were two sessions, each of which included two options: A choice of learning how to make the most of your network; becoming more confident with public speaking; making the most of your internship; and using LinkedIn as a tool for professional networking. All the workshops offered useful tips and guidance from experienced professionals and were fun, interactive and informative for everybody. In between the two workshop sessions, Dr Susie Mitchell gave an inspiring talk as a keynote speaker, showing us how STEM can help you to be creative and open-minded, and demonstrating that a STEM background can support many job sectors, as long as you follow your passion, be prepared and grab opportunities. We were also introduced to the three finalists for the Interconnect Student Award – all with a list of phenomenal achievements – and we witnessed the winner receiving her award and some well-deserved recognition. There was then an hour of lunch and networking break, an opportunity to meet women from STEM sectors including SSE, FDM Group, Tesco Bank and Leonardo. The conference closed with some of the Student Champions discussing their role, and a summary of the event. It is important to have such initiatives to encourage and inspire female future scientists. We should all support and applaud these events until the day that we don’t need them.
This article was written by Athina Frantzana and edited by Bonnie Nicholson.