A Killam Prize winner's top 5 ideas for getting more women in STEM
Engineer Molly Shoichet delivers a TEDx Talk on the future of personalized medicine, in Toronto, on Oct. 22, 2015. (TedxToronto / Facebook)
Published Wednesday, August 16, 2017 7:30AM EDT
Molly Shoichet knows a thing or two about overcoming gender barriers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The 2017 Killam Prize winner is an engineering superstar who oversees more than two dozen people at a University of Toronto lab that is working on everything from curing blindness to strokes.
Here’s her advice for boosting female enrollment in STEM.
1. Hire women in leadership roles
Shoichet says she believes that universities and workplaces need to show leadership by hiring more women in leadership positions. “Get more women in these roles and you’re going to get more women in the STEM fields,” she says.
Shoichet says she supports Science and Technology Minister Kirsty Duncan's plan to address equity in the awarding of Canada Research Chairs. “That’s throwing down the gauntlet,” she says.
2. Actively recruit female students
Shoichet says universities don’t need to change admission criteria in order to get more women into STEM, but do need to work hard to make sure that more women apply and that more of them accept their offers of admission.
A model that Shoichet believes has worked at U of T and MIT are weekend recruiting events where women visit en masse and have potential role models inspire them to consider STEM.
Molly Shoichet delivers a TEDx Talk on the future of personalized medicine, in Toronto, on Oct. 22, 2015.
3. Expose girls to science at home
Shoichet says parents need to expose their children to science and encourage them to keep asking questions, whether it’s through science-focused toys or visits to science centres and museums.
“We’re born with this ability to wonder,” Shoichet says. “If we can keep that alive in children, then we’ll be creating great scientists because that's what science is about: trying to answer questions that nobody has answered before.”
4. Counter the myth of the ‘lonely scientist’
Shoichet says women who value teamwork and collaboration may be avoiding STEM because they picture scientists working alone in labs.
In reality, she says science is increasingly interdisciplinary and that means teamwork is needed for success. Girls need to be shown how they can apply their teamwork skills in science.
5. Show girls what they can do with STEM
Shoichet says women tend toward careers where they can easily see themselves making a difference, so they often aspire toward “helping” careers such as nursing or medicine. In fact, she originally planned to be a doctor.
Therefore universities need to show women that engineering can also help people. An example is in her own lab, which invents new ways of delivering therapeutics to harness the power of stem cells in medicine.
Shoiceht says girls also need to be reminded that undergraduate degrees in STEM can be used not only for graduate programs in STEM and medicine, but also law and business. “It keeps all those doors open,” she says.