By Lucy Keeling, Head of Statistical Services at Exploristics
I can remember being sat in class at secondary school and a visitor came to talk to us. They told us this story:
A man takes his son out for a walk. A terrible accident occurs, and the son is hit by a car. The dad rushes the boy to hospital, and he has to go straight down to have surgery. After he is taken into the operating theatre the surgeon comes rushing out and says, ‘I cannot operate on this boy as he is my son’. Who is the surgeon?
The class sat in silence with confused looks on everyone faces. Who was the surgeon? Eventually there were some whispers about the surgeon being a stepdad. I recently told the same story to my secondary school age children. The looked equally confused but this time it was because it was so obvious the surgeon is the boy’s mother. This is how far we have come in a generation. How the perception of women in STEM careers has changed.
I grew up with a love of numbers and analytical problems and always wanted to learn more. When I was studying for my mathematics GCSE, I had the most wonderful female maths teacher. She would often chat to me and tell me I must go on to take A-level maths as there aren’t enough girls doing this. I took her advice and went to college to study A-level maths. Again, at college I had an incredible female maths teacher who pushed me to be the best and took me aside many times to tell me I must go and study mathematics at university as they weren’t enough girls studying maths. I took this advice and headed off to university. Here I would sit in huge lecture theatres with hundreds of students, yet you could count the girls in the room on one hand.
In my final year of university in a statistics lecture, an oncology clinical trial was used to demonstrate a particular statistical method. I was hooked! All the maths and statistics I had learnt could be applied to medical research, could help find new cancer treatments. I continued to study an MSc in medical statistics and joined the world of pharmaceuticals. I have never looked back. I’ve worked with fantastic companies ranging from large pharmaceuticals and CROs to small biotechs. I have supported many new medications to become available, improving peoples’ lives. I’ve lived and worked in Canada, America, Switzerland, France and the UK. I have had the pleasure to work with incredibly talented people. I’ve loved it all!
I now volunteer as a STEM ambassador for STEM Learning, as well as the WISE campaign, to promote STEM subjects in schools and colleges. I particularly enjoy participating in events to encourage more female students into STEM areas. Nowadays, the maths lecture theatres have a lot more women in them, but we still have not reached a point where there are equal numbers to the male students. There is more to do in promoting STEM subjects and creating workplaces that offer flexibility in ways to work that ensure we can keep women in STEM roles.
I will always be grateful to my maths teachers who encouraged my love of mathematics and persuaded me to take this path. Having had such powerful female role models that influenced me at key decision points on my STEM journey, I am now acting as a role model myself as a STEM ambassador. I would love to think that just maybe I could inspire someone else to take this mathematical path.