Inspiring women in STEM present awards for the 2023 #700STEMChallenge - Sydenham High School

Inspiring women in STEM present awards for the 2023 #700STEMChallenge


On Thursday 9 March, a select group of finalists gathered to discover their positions in the Under 14, Under 16 and Under 18 tranches of the three essay categories: Science, Technology & Engineering and Maths for this year’s STEM writing competition. The competition was masterminded by a Sydenham High School Year 12 student in 2018 and has seen hundreds of entries each year since then, from pupils across the UK. This year, the criteria was strictly applied, to whittle down the entries from each school into the finalist selection, and pupils from seven different schools made the cut, including six GDST schools and Dulwich College.

The competition is a fantastic opportunity for pupils from Years 7 to 13 to develop scientific writing skills in order to disseminate information about topics which fascinate them. If we learnt anything from the pandemic, it was how key the sharing of accurate knowledge and information with the public was and this competition allows our STEM leaders of the future to practise concise, effective – and even humorous – communication, as they were tasked with writing a mini-dissertation in around 700 words, with full referencing, on a topic of their choice. From immortal jellyfish to gene editing, fertility to carbon mineralisation, there were essays covering a huge range of STEM related subjects and the judges – and other adults in the audience – all learnt something new!

The day after International Women’s Day, it seemed only fitting to have three inspirational women in STEM fields to judge our finalists’ entries. Hollie Burrell-Saward, Doctor of Parasitology and Head of Biological Safety at King’s College London, preceded the presentation of the Science awards with a walk through her path from school to current career, explaining that her flexibility allowed her to make the most of the opportunities available to her and that, despite not necessarily knowing what you might choose to do as a career, finding something you love (being in the lab for her) and just getting started means that you can then work out where your path leads, even if it’s not exactly where you thought it would be, as she detailed her journey from science generally to biology,  microbiology, parasitology and back. The experiences you have will be priceless in helping shape your future.

Nina Pimblett, alumna of Sydenham High School and Sector Guidance Lead for the Transition Plan Taskforce joined the audience remotely and shared her passion for maths and explained its value, in many aspects of life, but specifically how it helped to shape her career working to tackle climate change.  Nina gave an overview of her work overseeing the development of sector-specific guidance to accompany the sector-neutral Disclosure Framework, working towards the UK’s net zero target and encouraged pupils to explore co-curricular opportunities to develop their understanding of STEM beyond the classroom.

Camilla Carson was the final speaker of the night and gave the Technology & Engineering finalists some valuable words of wisdom about her work at award-winning Black Swan Data, where AI is used to unlock the power of Social data and accurately predict the future needs and wants of consumers, as well as providing three key principles for the whole audience when considering their career paths. Her advice was to put yourself out there for future employers by selling the skills that you have, show your attitude, enthusiasm and determination and learn the specific skills for each role along the way, particularly noting that women tend to wait until their skills match 80% of a job description before applying, as opposed to only 30% for men. Her other key advice was to develop the skills to inspire others, to bring people with you on your journey, be proactive about your career and don’t wait for opportunities to come to you – be bolder in your approach.

The overwhelming message from all three speakers was career paths are not linear – more of a jungle gym than a ladder! This aligns well with our own school philosophy of ‘forge your own path’, and using failures as learnings. All three judges felt that there was so much potential in the room, with our finalists showcasing their ability to research, condense and communicate their ideas effectively and in an engaging way, and they are sure that interesting futures lie ahead for them all!

It was wonderful to see pupils networking with other STEM enthusiasts from different schools, and their families even got involved in a quiz organised by Year 12 Science Prefects – well done to team Boron and commiserations to our wooden spoon sharers, Helium and Lithium!

We are looking forward to reading more entries next year and celebrating the endeavours of pupils for many years to come.

Read all the finalists’ essays here.

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