Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s a chance to reflect on how the situation has improved for women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and how much remains to be done. For instance, less than 30% of the world’s researchers in these fields are women.

Dr Ntombizikhona Beaulah Ndlovu, iThemba LABS Post-doctoral Researcher: Department of Subatomic Physics

There’s this idea that clever people, who get the highest grades in school, are those who will go into STEM fields. But cleverness alone isn’t enough to succeed in science. Perseverance, mental strength and toughness as well as being book smart also matter. It can be exhausting to constantly have to try and prove that you are good enough. That’s probably particularly true for black women in a country like South Africa, where many sciences are dominated by white men.

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Professor Amanda Weltman, theoretical physicist, University of Cape Town

My father’s words are helpful here: “Listen to everyone, believe no one.” Take the time to listen to the experience, wisdom and advice of others; read about how others approach science, healthy habits and life – but then work it out for yourself, taking only what you need.

Since I started with my father’s wisdom, I will end with my mother’s: always stick to your principles, trust your own gut and instincts. If you cannot see a path ahead that you want to follow, make your own.

Judith Koskey, PhD student in Environmental Studies at Egerton University and Mawazo Institute Fellow

Pursuing a STEM degree is an opportunity to do stimulating and meaningful work. To rise as a young woman in this space, it’s crucial to build up your confidence and stand up for yourself. Find a support system which could be made up of peers or other women in the STEM space. Also, networking is key if you’re to get past the walls that stand between you and hiring managers who aren’t used to seeing women in such spaces.

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Amélie Beaudet, research fellow in palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand

There is a long-standing tradition of maintaining a purely subjective classification between “male-like” and “female-like” jobs. Unfortunately, science is one of the most prejudiced disciplines in this binary world. Women need to know that science is for everyone, and that not being a man shouldn’t be considered an obstacle to their ambitions and aspirations.

This is a shortened version of an article from The Conversation. It is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the the full, original article.

Source: The Conversation Africa’s Natasha Joseph

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