The University of Manchester launches Big Sisters in STEM podcast, spotlighting women and othered voices

The University of Manchester has launched a new podcast, which aims to amplify marginalised voices in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry.

The driving force behind the podcast, named Big Sisters in STEM, is a recognition of the need for a supportive and inclusive environment where women and non-binary individuals in STEM feel seen and heard.

It explores the challenges, triumphs and experiences of women and non-binary individuals navigating through a traditionally male-dominated field and delves into the complex realities behind living in a society where just being present in the room is often hailed as a milestone achievement.

From grappling with imposter syndrome to the societal pressure to overburden ourselves, the challenges of being the only woman in the classroom and navigating a career while balancing family responsibilities, the podcast unpacks the multifaceted issues that hinder the full participation of underrepresented groups in STEM.

Host and producer Jasmine Luby Barrow (she/her), a Marketing and Recruitment Co-ordinator at The University of Manchester, said: -The idea behind Big Sisters in STEM was really about creating a safe space for women and people who know what it feels like to be othered.

-The prospective and current students I talk to are so often surprised to hear that successful career people or award-winning researchers still struggle with relatable things like self-confidence or learning how to say -no-. While it might be scary to hear that things like imposter syndrome linger on longer than we-d like, I hope it’s also heartening for people to know they are not alone, and that together we might be able to better support each other.

-It’s somewhere to come together and share experiences and guidance in an open and genuine way - like sitting down for a -cuppa with your big sister.

-As in all’areas of education and industry, it’s so important that STEM becomes more intersectional - and we talk about that a lot on the podcast. The more perspectives which inform a situation the more well-rounded our solutions will be - be that in climate change, use of new technology, or medical equality.-

Each episode of the podcast hears from a combination of inspirational academics, industry professionals and students.

Episode one, which will air on Wednesday, 27 March 2024, features Dr Ciara McGrath (she/her), a Lecturer in Aerospace Systems at the University, who specialises in Astrodynamics and Space Mission Design and in 2021 won the Institute of Engineering and Technology Woman of the Year award.During the episode Ciara shares her own personal experiences, talking about the turning point in her career when someone told her, her work on space was -frivolous-. She gives her take on the topic, space as a that can help -change the world- and shares fascinating insight into how satellite technology has a tangible impact on everyday lives on earth.

She said: -People think that space is so far away, but it’s not. Most of the satellites that we have in space are actually closer to us here in Manchester than we are away from Paris.-

Ciara goes on to talk about the lack of understanding around the breadth of engineering and frustration of losing potentially great people from the field through lack of understanding.

-We talk about really wanting diversity in STEM and work hard to bring in a community of people from different backgrounds, but what I see when people move through the space they start to question -do I belong here?-"

She added: -There are so many skills that are equally as important in engineering, and we probably lose those along the way... One of the things I talk about with industry partners we work with is how important human factors are. You can engineer the perfect aircraft or spacecraft but accounting for how people are going to behave is really hard - that’s where accidents happen, and mistakes are made. We need good communicators, and psychologists, and I worry that we are losing those people along the way because people don’t feel like those are the skills we need in engineering.-

Ciara is joined by Earth and Environmental Sciences student Vannessa Thai (they/them), a first-year Earth and Environmental Sciences Student with a sought-after scholarship at the University.

They said: -It’s a lot of challenge to go through and fight for what you believe in and be heard, especially in spaces where people don’t look like you or from your background, especially climate engineering where it can feel like an exclusive space.

-STEM needs a diverse pool of scientists to innovate and to get to a point where we can live in a sustainable, green future. Without people who are coming from different places, how can you see something different that someone else can’t see.-

Other guests throughout the six-week series include Dr Zahra Montazeri (she/her) a Computer Science Lecturer, who is a Computer Graphics specialist and has previously worked with Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks - on everything from Star Wars to Frozen.

The season also brings conversations with Dr Charlene Gallery (she/her), who talks about her work in the fashion industry, working with new technologies to pioneer more sustainable practices, Alice Larkin (she/her), a Professor of Climate Science and Energy Policy at Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Ella Podmore MBE (she/her) IET Woman of the Year 2020 and Senior Materials Engineer, and Emma Crosbie (she/her) an inspiring Clinical Academic who focuses on the screening, prevention and early diagnosis of gynaecological cancers.

They are joined with students from a broad range of STEM areas, including civil engineering, computer science, materials science, chemical engineering, biotechnology and medicine.

The first episode of Big Sisters in STEM will launch on Wednesday , and will be available on all podcast platforms.

@bigsistersinSTEM Instagram, or visit the website: https://bigsisters.tran­