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  • Kristen Balisi

Women In STEM Interview Series

Throughout history, countless women have faced barriers to success because of theirgender, especially when it has come to pursuing careers in male-dominated fields. Unfortunately, despite efforts to bring awareness to gender inequality in the workplace, gender discrimination is still a real and growing issue today, specifically in the STEM industry. According to the American Association of University Women, “Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.”

As an aspiring STEM student, I believe that closing this gender gap and giving women equal opportunities to pursue and thrive in STEM careers is crucial to obtaining more diverse viewpoints in STEM fields and better representing the needs of our society. Therefore, out of a desire to bring awareness to STEM career paths and encourage females to get involved in STEM, I decided to speak with two high school students and learn more about their experiences as young women interested in STEM.

I hope their stories and insights inspire readers considering STEM careers to pursue their passions and never let go of their dreams, regardless of what society says.

Aisha Shehzad

Aisha Shehzad is a Grade 12 French Immersion student based in Toronto. She talks about her desire to pursue a career in endocrinology and the importance of allowing your curiosity in STEM to thrive and flourish.

How did you gain an interest in STEM, and what industry do you want to pursue post-graduation?

I'm not going to lie and say I wanted to go into science from the beginning, but I got into it because of high school. The courses change, and you go into so much depth. It just clicked, and I knew then that I had to do something with science in post-secondary.

After graduation, I want to become a physician who specializes in endocrinology. Basically, I want to become a doctor that works with patients who deal with Type 1 Diabetes. I personally have Type 1 myself, so I was really inspired by the people who helped me. I want to pay it back and pay it forward.

What are your future career goals?

I want to go into a life science or health science program, and I’m hoping to get into the University of Waterloo because of their co-op program. After that, it's medical school and residency. Then, that's when I can work towards becoming a doctor and specializing, which would take another couple of years.

Are there any projects or initiatives that you have worked on related to your interest in STEM?

Last semester, I took co-op and worked at a local pharmacy for about four months, which was amazing. At the pharmacy, I worked with various people who, despite having similar jobs and ending up at the same place, got there in different ways and had different healthcare backgrounds. I also learned more about the pharmaceutical industry itself, which was super, super cool.

Additionally, I’m a member of my school’s science club, where we discuss anything and everything under the umbrella of science, be it astronomy or health sciences. Currently, our club is planning an event where we talk about the science behind mental health and stress as part of my school's mental health week.

Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?

I am a part of the Girls-E Mentorship Program, and my mentor is someone that inspires me. Throughout the past several months, she has been a tremendous support. We’ve celebrated my getting into universities, she’s supported me through some of the rejections for scholarships, and she’s given me tons and tons of advice. Honestly, she inspires me because she was like me as a teenager, and she’s gone through the same things, so I can definitely relate to her. She shows me that resilience is key, and that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

In your opinion, do you believe it is important to get more students, including females, interested in STEM education? If so, why?

For sure! Honestly, if we look at our society today, it’s continuing to advance and grow in all areas of STEM, and we see it especially in the science and technology space. So, it’s super crucial for students of all genders to get involved in STEM, particularly females, because we need to achieve equality and equity and remove systemic barriers.

What inspirational message or advice would you give to young girls interested in a career in STEM?

Always stay curious. I found my passion through asking questions and wanting to know more about science in general. For example, in Grade 11, the sciences stemmed out. I had a different classroom for biology, physics, and chemistry. I remember choosing my courses and thinking, “I don’t want to do biology.” Now, as a Grade 12 student, biology is my favorite class! So, you never know what you might learn or what you can discover about yourself and your passions until you try. Don’t be afraid to explore new things and nourish your thirst for knowledge. Keep learning and keep growing.

Parmiss Zare

Parmiss Zare is a Grade 12 student based in the GTA. They discuss how their goals of making a positive difference at a policy level tie in with their STEM interests and remind young women in STEM that they are not alone.

How did you gain an interest in STEM, and what industry do you want to pursue post-graduation?

When I was seven or eight, I had these giant world record books specifically for scientific facts. I remember reading and rereading them and trying to memorize them, which helped me fall in love with science. I would also go to physics/astronomy classes with my mom. Although I didn't completely understand a lot of the topics covered, it was super fun learning about the sun, space, and more.

What are your future career goals?

I want to use a mixture of law/justice and psychology to take action with advocacy and make a difference through policy change. I’m considering doing either justice studies or early childhood studies, but both include a bit of psychology and sociology. After graduating, I hope to do a master’s degree or go into law school.

Specifically, I want to advocate for access to education. I feel that a lot of people do not have equal opportunities, whether that's because of their race, socioeconomic status, or gender. I don’t like to see that because it's not like that in different cities or countries. I want to provide more support, whether that's through mental health support or increasing access to tutors, because many students, Grade 12’s especially, are struggling with subjects like math and science, and there isn’t a lot of support. If extra academic support was available, I feel that people would feel more confident tackling their courses, pursuing their dreams, and studying STEM in post-secondary.

Are there any projects or initiatives that you have worked on related to your interest in STEM?

When I was in Grade 10, my school held a Girls STEM Club, which was put together by three science teachers. It was really nice to see teachers supporting students, and we got to go on local field trips. For example, we visited Ryerson University to learn more about the opportunities they offered and had guest speakers from the University of Toronto talk about a STEM program. During club meetings, we shared and discussed science-related topics, which was something I really enjoyed.

My school also had a HOSA Chapter. Basically, it’s for students, either in high school or university, interested in healthcare, and there are chapters all around Canada and in the US. At the end of the year, there’s a competition that members can compete in. The year my friend and I led the club, I drew on the information I had gained from taking lifesaving courses, like First Aid and the Bronze Cross, and my friend, who is super interested in STEM, drew on her passion for researching cancer. Together, we brought lessons for other students, and there was a lot of diversity in that club within our school, which was nice to see. We all got to interact, share our goals, and support one another in learning more. One of the teachers set up a lot of events for us too. We went to the University of Toronto Mindfest event, saw how they did brain scans at UofT, and interacted with scientists and individuals in STEM. People being open to having conversations and telling high school students what opportunities they could have really helped me see that I could be a part of the STEM community.

Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?

There was a Persian mathematician named Maryam Mirzakhani. She’s passed away, unfortunately, but she’s done a lot of amazing things and is very well-known globally. I find her super amazing because it’s not just people who are Persian who know her, it’s people across the world, and she’s discovered a lot of mind-blowing math stuff that I can’t even comprehend myself! Also, she has spoken out on several issues and was a role model to many women, both in Iran and globally. I know that in specific countries, it’s hard for women to receive recognition for their accomplishments, particularly in STEM, so it is very empowering to see her success.

In your opinion, do you believe it is important to get more students, including females, interested in STEM education? If so, why?

Getting students interested is one thing, but giving them the tools they need to be successful is another. Personally, there has been a Girls STEM Club at my school, STEM courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and different opportunities that have interested me. But, if you are in those classrooms or joining STEM clubs, and there is not a lot of support, you can feel left out a lot of the time, especially as a woman-identifying person.

For example, many of my friends and I have been interested in coding and computer science. But, once we were actually in those classrooms, we noticed there were only a handful of girls. Specifically, in my Grade 10 Computer Science class, there were ten girls in the beginning, and then slowly, it shrunk down to three of us. It was really sad to see the numbers of girls go down when all the guys in the classroom were thriving and helping one another. So, although having role models or seeing people doing what you love can get students interested in STEM, I feel like having support is the key to ensuring that people find success.

What inspirational message or advice would you give to young girls interested in a career in STEM?

Don't feel discouraged by other people's words. There is always going to be someone who will tell you that you can't do it or that there is not a space for you. But, I feel like everybody should find a good reason for why they want to be in STEM and not let go of that reason until they can find and surround themselves with supportive people. So, although there might be people out there who will try to intimidate you or tell you that your dreams aren't attainable, as long as you have your goal and keep it in mind, you will come across a community of similar-minded people willing to motivate you and provide you with the support you need to thrive.


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