Today we’re sharing STEM Insights from Eileen Patricia Denzler, Master, The Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh
Q1. Why do think getting more girls into STEM subjects is important?
The Stem subjects are the framework for all subjects as technology sweeps into every area of life and a sound understanding of how to use it is crucial. Good maths and science are fundamental to a healthy life, competent living and also hugely important in how the next generation is brought up in good health and technological understanding.
Q2. With a magic wand and no barriers, what initiative or step-change would you introduce to get more girls into STEM?
I believe meeting, or better – spending a day, with women who have senior positions based on their knowledge and use of STEM subjects would help. It would be particularly good if girls could meet women whose STEM subject qualifications have led to rewarding, enjoyable and flexible well paid positions while balancing being a mother.
Q3. When or what made you realise that STEM subjects weren’t just for boys?
I was brought up the only girl in a family of four children but my father always treated us equally and his expectation was that I would have a career. I was also determined from an early age not to stay at home and look after a family only like my mother. I spent most of my secondary years at a co-educational school and was always good at maths. I expected to take a full and equal place with the boys at school as did most of the girls in my year-group. It also helped that there were girls excelling in these subjects so peer group pressure helped as did the way the timetable operated. We all were expected to take maths, physics, chemistry, English and at least one language.
I also had an extra year at school spent in the USA in upstate New York where I stayed with an American family. My “Mom” worked full time and was fully equal to her husband in qualifications and indeed had worked to put him through to finish his degree course (interrupted by military service). Running the school canteen meant she had to work on tight costs and supply meals with choices but providing full nutritional diets for young people – a demanding job which used her full College qualifications.
At school in the U.S. boys and girls were treated equally and able pupils – male or female – were all expected to go to College.
Q4. Within the STEM field, who inspired you most to follow your career path?
I was most inspired by our Chemistry lecturer at College. She worked full time and had a family of four to bring up but did not in my memory, miss a class.
Q5. Writing back to your old self at the age of 14, picking your all-important exam subjects, what would you say to yourself with hindsight?
I would say keep your options open by picking a range of subjects with Maths, Science subjects, technology subjects and a foreign language (or two). Aim for the top and pursue the ones you like best after school with an eye always on the career opportunities. Try to spend time working, studying or volunteering in another country as it will give you a better insight into your own country.
I was lucky enough to have picked the right subjects and had additional luck in the U S taking typing and Business Law. It would probably have been a better career choice to study Maths or Accountancy at University rather than pursue my hobby subjects of Home Economics but that would probably not have led to the husband I have nor to such an interesting and varied life in Business which also proved most rewarding. My course work included a good deal of Chemistry particularly Organic Chemistry and Textile Science as well as Biology – for understanding food handling as well as a variety of other health issues.