Morgan’s story

Morgan’s story

When deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I struggled to find something that would be able to marry the two most important things for me in a career: my curiosity about the human mind and my undying spirit of creativity. Needless to say, I never imagined that I would be working in a STEM field. From a young age, I always pictured myself barefoot in a field of some rural countryside writing novels or moving to a big city to pursue a career in the arts. However, that wasn’t necessarily where the universe was taking me.

To give you a bit of history, I grew up in a mid-sized western Kentucky town. I was always a curious child and an avid reader and writer; my creative soul stuck out like a sore thumb until I learned how to use it to my advantage. Also, growing up as a transracial adoptee provided me with a more introspective aura than most of my peers. I questioned anything and everything more than the average kid, which I now know is a very natural thing for a child in my situation to do. High school theatre opened the doors to freedom for me; I could get on stage and transform into a completely different person within a matter of minutes. Choir was also my haven. Here, I gained the courage to sing in front of strangers.

Bridging the gap between science and creativity

However, as my childhood waned and adulthood slowly approached, I knew I craved something more than my beloved, rural-minded town could give me. I then began searching for colleges my senior year of high school. I settled on Georgetown College, a small private school in Georgetown, KY and three hours away from my hometown. Throughout my freshman year in college, I joined various volunteer and social organizations, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Slowly, my perspective of barefoot, carefree writer evolved into a scientist. I yearned to contribute to the world that I thought writing could not help me achieve. After taking a few psychology courses, I finally found it: neuropsychology; a way to explore the human mind (my creative side) and find tangibility with it (science).

After graduation, I was offered a job at the Alzheimer’s disease research center I had interned with for the past two semesters. As part of a longitudinal research study, I administer cognitive testing (among other assessments) to older adults with varying levels of cognition. In other words, I see those who function as we all hope to when we get older, who hold onto their memories until the day they die; I also see those who have their memories stolen from them, their basic human abilities swept right out from under their feet. I also work on several different research projects including focusing on topics such as of cerebrospinal fluid levels and their effects on cognition, MRI data, neuropsychological assessments, and more. However, my main research focus is aging in minority adults, specifically how types of trauma (intergenerational, developmental, childhood, etc.) affects cognition and the overall psychological well-being of a person.

While I have the job of administering tests that place some in the most vulnerable of spaces, I also take the hour-or-so I spend with these older adults to learn about their history. I hear about their careers, their families, and sometimes their deepest darkest secrets – you’d be surprised to learn what people feel compelled to disclose while testing. A visit can unintentionally become very emotional, meaning that I must go into work each day prepared to be a listening ear. Although this role is found nowhere in my job description, I have found that people leave the clinic feeling much less defeated and frustrated with themselves if they trust the person they interact with, whether that be myself, a clinician, or any other staff member. Each time this happens, my faith in humanity is restored. While my role sometimes seems small, I’m learning that the effects of the assessments I give have a much larger impact than I realize that reach outside the realms of doctor’s office.

When career and passion come together

In conclusion, it is evident to me that I have found my niche, my haven. I am fortunate to work in a very diverse (academically, religiously, and ethnically) office – something that most early twenty-somethings in central Kentucky don’t get to experience. I am fortunate to have a job I am passionate about. I am excited each morning when I drive to work, rather than dreading another 8-5 day at the office. I am grateful that I have a passion and an environment that allows me to explore my ideas, no matter what they are. I am humbled by those I have met and am inspired by their lives.

To those who are questioning how to bridge this gap between science and creativity, know that it is entirely possible. To those women in STEM and in my field, I thank you. I strive to fill your shoes; I strive to show other young women the importance of following your passions, to bridge the gap between what society has deemed “a dream” – and merely such, a frivolous dream – and a career in STEM. It is possible to do both and so, so very worth it to try.

Written by: Morgan Bailee Boggess

Bruna’s story

Bruna’s story

There is something special about knowing your robots so well that you can tell what is wrong by the noise it makes. Initially it feels like learning another language and with time, it becomes second nature. It is not just the noise, but the movements, the delay in responding to a command from the RC/Computer. Quite magical experience when over time the robot changes from a cold piece of hardware into a machine capable of communicating what it is wrong.

Funny is, if you had told me when I was a little girl that one day I would be soldering, coding or giving a machine the ability to see and comprehend its surroundings, I would probably laugh. You see I was not passionate about maths at all. I always loved coding but maths was my terror.

Somehow I realised that I could not code a robot without putting the effort to learn maths. You see, it is perfectly possible to code loads of fascinating thing without doing or understanding the maths behind it. After all, in most cases someone already worked that out and turned into a library that the only thing you need to do is to include the library to your code and that will make it work. But when comes to make a machine moving from A to B and interacting with the environment. There is no escape, no easy solution… you just need to get down the bare bones of the equation and find out how its is going to connect with the rest of your code.

Often when I visit schools to present a demo or aid STEM activities there are always students that feel demotivated by the bumps they had on their grades. I usually take a copy of my grades with me, and play a little game… guess how bad I was at your age in maths? Quite often they laugh and guess a grade way better than my grades. So, I pull a copy of my report from a pocket and surprise them. The thing is, it does not matter how many bumps you need to overcome to get where you want to be, what matters is to keep pushing. Because, at the end of the day, you learned something important and over time, that knowledge accumulates and before you even notice, you are an expert in all the wrong approach to solve a problem, leaving you not only with more experience than those who got wright the first place, but also with the correct answer.

Is then when I remind each one who I met… if I managed to overcome my lack of maths and learnt it to the point where my maths skills brings me to where I am now, you are going to do so much better than me. All you need to do is keep pushing the barriers as far as you can.

Today I am finishing a PhD in Computer Vision and Robotics were I work developing algorithms that allows a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to autonomously navigate in challenging environments such a forest. These AI algorithms are currently learning to understand their surroundings. My hope is that in the future they can be deployed in search and rescue operations where drones play a vital role in assisting search teams in areas of difficult access.

So, that is how I become a scientist. Not because it was written on the stars or because it was a childhood dream, but because I could not accept defeat by the challenges life brought on my way. After all science and more specifically robotics are fascinating, how could anyone ever give up or even worse not even try it?

Regardless of where you are in the world of how old you are, if you want know more about robotics and computing, get in touch. You can find me at:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/brunapearson

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brunapearson/

Chloe’s story

Chloe’s story

“Wait, you’re how old?” This is a question I’m pretty used to getting, especially after telling someone my plans to graduate. Let’s back up a few steps first. I grew up on a farm in a small town in Kansas, population: 600. There were more cows than people, no really, I’m serious. Education was always something that was very important to me as (at the time) a straight A student involved in numerous clubs in activities. Around the age of twelve I joined Mensa International which only increased my drive for the pursuit of knowledge more.

Passion for the road

At age fifteen I was able to enroll in my first college class and I was ecstatic. High school was typically pretty boring for me as I never thought it provided enough of a challenge. While I was taking more advanced science classes my passion for botany continued to grow. As a kid I would go out with my dad to do soil samples in fields and he would tell me about the important nutrients that each crop needed for a good yield. During those times I probably wasn’t paying as much attention to what he was saying as I should have, I was just have too much fun digging up samples. I think it was a combination of those hot summer farm days and my new access to harder science classes that peaked my interest in STEM.

At age seventeen I was the first female to graduate with my Associates degree before my high school diploma for that area (only two had done it before me, both boys). That was probably my biggest accomplishment at the time, I was immensely proud of myself and all that hard work paid off by getting me into a Biology program at a private university in Kansas City.

Nowadays

Now we should be pretty much caught back up in the timeline. I’ll be graduating in May with my Bachelors at age nineteen, another early milestone since most people don’t graduate until they are twenty-one. While this is a huge accomplishment, I won’t say it was easy. Lots of long nights and early mornings, dealing with the prejudice associated with working in the STEM field as a young woman, and still keeping your head up through it all. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also an honor to be a woman in STEM, working towards a better future that was laid out for us by previous groundbreaking female scientists.

If it weren’t for STEM I wouldn’t have learned what I am capable of under stressful conditions, I wouldn’t have been able to live on the East Coast for a summer doing internship research, I wouldn’t have met some amazing people or be able to tell you random facts and processes off of the top of my head. So keep your chin up ladies, because there are plenty of little girls watching that want to be scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians, just like us.

Yasmine’s story

Yasmine’s story

If someone would have told me I will end up crawling, literally crawling on my hands and knees through mud just to get to my goal during fieldwork I would have laughed at their faces. Yet I did it. Let me go back a few months.

I’m currently a Master student studying an MSc in Marine Biology from the University of Groningen. I moved her last August to begin my adventure, but originally I am from Malta which is a tiny island in the Mediterranean with divine seas and mouthwatering food. I never actually thought I would reach this point in my life. It had seemed so far away.

Living in a different country is always hard. Luckily for me I made good friends and adapted quickly to the sunless environment (oh sun how I miss thee).  My advice if your moving somewhere new, introduce yourself to your neighbours, roommates and classmates. Chances are they are all in the same boat as you are and are feeling lost. These people will form the support group you will need to get through university.

So how did I end up crawling again you might ask? Well, my main aim out of this Masters is to discover which field I want to specialise in. Before coming here, I was inclined towards both Botany and Marine biology and my tutor back home suggested I could combine the two in the form of sea grass! So when it came to pick a topic I looked for one with sea grass and lo and behold there was one going on about sea grass restoration in the Wadden Sea! I jumped at the opportunity to be on the project and haven’t looked back since.

Since starting the fieldwork aspect of my thesis I have encountered a lot of new and unfamiliar environments such as mudflats. Not just any mudflats but one where if you stand still for a few seconds you find yourself knee deep and stuck in the mud (yes, I am in fact speaking from experience). It took me 25 minutes to get to my goal what took every one 5 minutes to do. Luckily I had help and was never alone. My friends kept pulling me out of the mud, but obviously I kept on getting stuck.

So finally someone suggested crawling. Best idea ever! Yes, I did end up covered in mud. Yes, I was late. Yes, I was tired and scared. But I was tenacious and didn’t give up. Just like you shouldn’t dear reader give up on your goal, because you know what? The second time I went there it only took me 10 minutes to get to our location and I only fell once on the way there!

Chiara’s story

Chiara’s story

Women in STEM. Wow. Where to begin?

Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you for being featured amongst such inspiring and driven women. It is an honour to learn from and follow in these great footsteps.

We have a job of uttermost importance, together we must ‘normalise’ the interaction of both genders within the professional field. It can be easy to forget, how different the roles of participation would be, looking back only a few decades.

In retrospect, gender wasn’t a huge issue in my household – being raised by a single father allowed for an insight into the role our male counterparts adopt. Necessity taught us that, whether male or female, tasks must be completed regardless.

I believe the lack of gender-specific roles brought – as every situation does – positives and negatives. For example, I was somewhat unaware of the disparity between sexes and would not think twice about putting myself forward for a male-orientated position; revelling in the audaciousness of it at times. On the flipside, while travelling and studying in patriarchal societies, this ‘insolence’ – as it was viewed – could be extremely debilitating, resulting in overlooked opportunities.

Aside from equality and recognition, one aspect I feel extremely passionate about, is providing relevant and inspiring role-models for young females today. There is a resounding lack of intelligent, professional females from the scientific community, acknowledged in popular culture. We have a plethora of entertainers, models and fashionistas thrust into the limelight; why do we elevate others for good genes, alluring clothing choices or immaculately applied make-up? Why don’t we celebrate the efforts and achievements, many women have tirelessly worked and studied for?

My life’s goal

My journey, though always strongly nature or plant-based, has drawn from both male and female influences. I am as happy mixing up a blended plant oil for massage therapy, as I am breaking out the chainsaw to remove a diseased or non-native tree.  I have been lucky enough to participate in various nature-based teachings; western conservation, horticulture & aromatics; eastern holistic medical and lifestyle practices and am currently rounding all together by completing a BSc degree in Environmental Science. If I can open the mind of one, just one, individual to the wonder and importance of the plantae kingdom; or encourage one child to pursue a life in this field – I will have achieved my goal. We must all become or create the tendrils that reach out farther.

Personally, I feel studying and applying oneself is the most empowering decision a young adult can make. This path of knowledge and education should not be tainted by gender specific thoughts or fears. I look forward to a world where intelligence is as highly prized as youth or beauty.

Written by: Chiara Lucia

Tiffany’s story

Tiffany’s story

How did we end up here??…

Thinking about the decisions that had led me to this moment is a rather nostalgic affair. I wasn’t always destined to be academic, especially not in a STEM subject – during primary school I generally thrived in school, I became completely mystified when an experiment would provide accurate results, just like those that we read about in books. Secondary school was slightly different – becoming bored quickly the novelty wore off with the repetitive nature of copying off the board. I jumped straight into work at the first opportunity, working in customer service for some of the biggest names in the UK. A decade later, here we are, after realising my true passion is mathematics and solving problems – I chose to embark on the MEng degree with the Open University, choosing maths route (queue swooney music!!).

Hey, I love your transcript!

After starting with four generic Engineering modules with The Open University and gaining a CertHE, my confidence has rocketed, Elon Musk was calling me he was so jealous :-). Now midway through year two and the DipHE I’ve been able to choose my ‘route’, ahh beautiful mathematics – each week its becoming increasingly more challenging but the change can be seen in almost every aspect of life. For some odd reason, I am now much more orderly in everyday life, thinking methodically about almost everything from packing the fridge to cleaning my car. Postgraduate modules start next year, am I prepared NO not yet anyway!! But I’m excited at what they’ll bring.

Engineering for the win.

Everyone needs an engineer, every aspect of life requires engineering of some variety – its a real great problem solving qualification. There are no limits to what can be done with it, it gets my vote all day long. Having a general idea of the principles that govern how things interact (not humans, I’m pretty bad at that) and knowing what to expect when experiments are performed is really just inspiring in itself. I want to work hard over my career to break down some misconceptions around Engineering and what a day-to-day life is as an engineer, yes it’s quite complicated to learn but there is no time limit!

Challenges as a woman?

Only 11% of the current UK Engineering workforce is female, a truly staggering figure! It’s been an interesting transition from customer service positions into engineering positions. The most challenging mindset that I, as a woman in engineering encounters, is the assumption that I’m not capable simply because I’m female. It isn’t always obvious and crude, a draining aspect of it is to constantly have to convince someone that you are trustworthy and that your advice is correct. The  “ are you sure?” or “I don’t agree with you, let me talk to someone else” when I may have more relevant qualifications & this is my job to know – someone pays me to know this information. A message to other women in STEM – you’re not alone. A message to men in STEM – please only judge us on ability. 

Written by: Tiffany Roberts