Women in STEM: The All-Female Science Faculty

We are always happy to celebrate the careers of incredible women working in education here in the UAE, and for this special feature we will applaud not one, but five! On the International Day of Women and Girls In Science, we are delighted to introduce the all-female science faculty at GEMS International School in Dubai.
This article is part of an editorial series on Inspiring Women in Education
Inspiring Women in Education
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Inspiring Women in Education
This article is part of an editorial series on Inspiring Women in Education

We recently discovered that GEMS International School has an all-female science faculty, and the International Day of Women and Girls in Science being celebrated today, we decided to meet with the team to find out about their work, their advice for aspiring young female scientists and ask about who inspired them in to a career in science.

Tanja Kolarov, Head of Department, Science

Tanja, what makes the Science Faculty at GIS a great team?

We are a combination of women from different places around the world that have had great experience…not just in teaching science, but in studying and researching science. Together we have done the full spectrum of scientific work, right from practical work in scientific laboratories to the actual sharing of knowledge.

Our team is sometimes a little louder than then rest [Tanya laughs] but there’s never any feeling of ‘I can’t express myself fully’ that you might have in a mixed team. We are really passionate about what we do and we all put our feelings on the table when we need to. I think that is what can make female teams great, they talk it out and move forward.

Tanja and one key member of the science team!

Tell us about a female scientist who inspired you, and why?

I am inspired by many female scientists of the past. So many had to struggle for recognition. I will specifically reference Rosalind Franklin, who participated in the famous ‘photograph no 51’, that gave insight into the structure of the DNA for two other scientists, Watson and Creek. Watson and Crick later on received a Nobel Prize for their discovery. However, at no point in time did they mention who actually provided this incredible photograph that led to their discovery of it.

It was only much later on that many female scientists came forward and said that we need to acknowledge who gave these guys this vital information. It wasn’t fair for just them to get the Nobel Prize, it should have been a collective prize for everyone that participated in the work.

Hiba El Majzoub, DP and MYP Chemistry Teacher

Hiba, many people feel that women are under-represented in STEM related careers. What do you think it means to the young people in your school (girls and boys) to see an all-female science team?

The more that young people see examples of women who are participating in STEM related activities or careers, the more they see them as role models. As a school, we hold career talks about innovations that are happening in the industry, and we highlight those that are led by women. The more we do that, the more interest we instil in our students, especially the girls.

Hiba El Majzoub, Chemistry Teacher

When boys and girls alike are both exposed an all-female science team, the more they can see that it is possible for boys and girls both to work in STEM. We have seen an exponential increase in interest in girls wanting to take part in science competitions here in the UAE. We also see that girls are now more interested in pursuing STEM related fields in higher education.

Tell us about a female scientist who inspired you, and why?

For a long time, I have been particularly interested in chemical structure and related biological activity. I am amazed by scientists who have been created advancements in this area. One in particular is Dorothy Hodgkin, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964. Ms Hodgkin discovered the structure of insulin and several other structures such as Vitamin B12. She was only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize.

Sangita Thakrar, MYP Integrated Science Teacher

Sangita, what do you think are the obstacles that prevent more women going in to careers in science?

Honestly, I think much of it comes down to what we see in the media. If you look at the famous scientists who are on TV, we tend to see people like Dr Brian Cox. When I was growing up, it was David Bellamy, David Attenborough…all male, all scientists. Even now in the media, you don’t see many female scientists.

If you go to the places on social media that our students love, like Tik Tok for example, and type in ‘female scientists’, you might find some female high school teachers making videos but mostly it is still men who dominate. I think that is very important because that is what our students look towards, Tik Tok, Instagram…these are the places they look for inspiration.

Sangita Thakrar, Integrated Science Teacher

I’d love to see Professor Sarah Gilbert [of the UK’s Oxford Vaccine Task Force] be accessible on Tik Tok and Instagram, that would encourage our young girls. I think the older generation need to think of connecting with students in ways which are relevant to them. Science is still seen as a very male dominated career choice, but honestly, it’s not, there are lots of female scientists out there. We’re just not famous enough!

Tell us about a female scientist who inspired you, and why?

I could talk about people like Marie Curie etc, but I think it’s important that we recognise that there are young women out there now doing all the right things. Tiera Fletcher is only 24 years-old, she was a student at MIT and she is now working for NASA as a rocket structural analyst. She is from a similar background to me and she is an inspiration… She didn’t have much in life, but she got into MIT she is now doing amazing things with NASA. As I said before, I sometimes think instead of looking back, we need to look forwards at who is working now to inspire us today.

Priti Suresh, DP and MYP Physics Teacher

Priti, why did you choose a career in science? Did you have to overcome any obstacles or problems to progress in your career?

I have been teaching for 25 years. I can’t think of another career but science, I just can’t! I don’t think there was a really a choice there for me, it just seemed to be a natural progression from when I started as a student. I give the credit for that to all my teachers, a mixed cohort of male and female teachers. Science is something that always sparks my curiosity, it is ever evolving and exciting. So, I guess my question would be…why not science?

I did not feel I faced any obstacles to pursue a career in science. The choice was always mine. Nowadays, I feel that if a girl wants to pursue a career in science, then she can pursue a career in science. It is completely up to her.

Priti Suresh,  Physics Teacher

Tell us about a female scientist who inspired you, and why?

The one scientist I always remember is Lise Meitner from Austria. She contributed significantly to the growth of nuclear physics, in its very early stages in the 1940s. However, her male partner Otto Hahn, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944. That said, I like her was not because she was forgotten, I liked her because in spite of her exposure and expertise, she refused some opportunities to work on nuclear physics during the war years, as she would only work on that which she believed would be for the betterment of society. That is what science should always be for.

Hoda Al Awady, MYP Science Teacher

What do you think that school, parents and employers can do to get more young women in to science?

I think that exposing young girls to STEM and science careers allows them to follow their hearts and minds. Encouraging girls to take part in science fairs is also a good opportunity to show their ideas and to show to their parents and teachers what they can do. I find that relating what we are teaching to real life is also very important, because it gives real meaning to what they are learning about. So, when they know they are learning science because they themselves have been healthcare patients, for example, they come to value the importance of science. Parents too play a major role in guiding their children to pursue a career in science. Of course, I also hope that us being role models to all our students will also help and encourage them into science.

Hoda Al Awady , Science Teacher

Tell us about a female scientist who inspired you, and why?

The woman who inspires me right now is Mila Tandon. She is only 41 years old, but she is already the CEO of Epibone, a company which is involved in the reconstruction of bones, from a patient’s own STEM cells. This lady is not only the CEO, but also writes, teaches and gives lectures. She has all the right attributes! She is now working on the same technique for heart cells – just incredible.

With thanks to the all-female Science Faculty at GEMS International School.

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