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10th March 2023

International Women’s Day – Interview with Head of Chemistry


International Women's Day graphic Head of Chemistry

In honour of International Women’s Day, we conducted a series of interviews with our STEM teachers, one of whom was Head of Chemistry Joanne Griffiths. Joanne shares her thoughts on the issues of girls studying STEM subjects, women role models and career options.

What are we doing to get more girls studying STEM subjects and what are your thoughts on the wider problem of not enough girls studying the subject?

At Oakham School we are really lucky to have lots of specialist teachers in the Science faculty and in Chemistry more than half of them are women. In fact this is true across science here. It is always our hope that in seeing female role models teaching science that it could be the first steps in inspiring a future within STEM for our pupils. Last summer we had girls at the top of the year groups winning both our IB and GCSE Chemistry prizes and we celebrated their achievements as we do with all of our pupils.

Just this week we have had the Royal Society of Chemistry Olympiad results through and out of 12 pupils sitting the paper our top pupil this year was Yufei from Form 7 who gained a Gold Award. She gave an excellent performance showing skills far beyond that of the A Level course she is sitting. She can be tremendously proud of her achievement and we are pleased to have been able to encourage and support her.

This years International Women’s Day theme is embracing equity and part of embracing equity for me is challenging gender stereotypes. These can be underlying in the way that people perceive science and other STEM subjects.So for us as science teachers it is important to always be mindful of that.

What advice would you give to girls interested in a career in STEM?

I would say go for it and follow your passion.

What career options are available to students (in your subject area)?

Chemistry is a subject that opens many doors because of the range of skills that are developed through its study. Problem solving, observation and analytical talents are key and chemistry students are highly employable. From the pure sciences and clinical routes to engineering, environmental science, pharmacology or genetics. According to UCAS over 70% of Chemistry graduates enter a professional or managerial role. This can be in wide ranging areas such as business, law and technology.

Which female role models do you have in mind in your subject area?

Chemsoc recently ran an Unsung Heros session celebrating scientists who for various reasons are less well known. We used some of the excellent resources from Hertford College University of Oxford and explored scientists such as Dorothy Hodgkin, Lise Meitner and Alice Ball. This was alongside scientists including James West and Alan Turing.

In terms of scientists working today we encourage pupils to explore the Royal Society of Chemistry website ‘A future in Chemistry‘ where career profiles and videos are shared looking at how careers in STEM can help to shape the future.

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