Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A day of observance, sponsored by the UN, that aims to bring gender equality to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields as part of internationally agreed development goals.
The 2017/8 data for UK university admissions shows female student enrolment in STEM subjects hovered at around a third. For physical sciences it was slightly higher at 39%, while computer sciences and engineering registered 19%.
Across Europe, the data shows the same trends. 2019 intakes to European higher learning institutions featured more women than men, but graduation in STEM fields routinely saw two male graduates for every female graduate.
We spoke to several chemists at NCH about how they became interested in science, their experience as scientists and how science has benefitted their working lives.
Sarra Boyd BSc (Hons) CChem
Technical Support Chemist – Europe
My parents first got me interested in science, both are from a science background and they showed me how interesting and abundant science is in our everyday lives. There are many different areas of science to study in and different ways to use what you learn. With chemistry, there’s the advanced technical work that NCH do creating cleaners and lubricants that require specific scientific knowledge, but cooking food is also a form of chemistry.
There were several inspiring scientists, such as Marie Curie, who I looked up to when I was young. But the most significant was my mum, who’s a physicist. I was always better at physics, but my mum encouraged me to pursue something I enjoyed for a career, so I went with Chemistry.
Science is an interesting subject, with many different disciplines and types of career to consider. There are many women around the world today, in diverse scientific roles, making important contributions to the ways we all live our lives.
I’m a Technical Support Chemist at NCH, supporting the Country Chemists within Europe. This mostly revolves around work with Safety Data Sheets, Poison Centre Notifications and product labels. I also perform advisory work for our chemical products and how they are used. I wouldn’t be able to do any of it without my chemistry degree.
Marketing Manager – Hungary
Almost from birth I have been surrounded by scientists. In my immediate family my mother and brother are both scientists, within my extended family there are even more scientists. So, it was almost natural that I would engage with science as I was growing up. I particularly found the field of chemistry to be both interesting and beautiful. Luckily, I also had an affinity for it so was able to take it up for my studies.
That affinity and interest has been a crucial part of my career at NCH, which has been going for nearly 20 years now. My initial role saw me work in a more practical area of NCH’s chemistry work before including more marketing focussed tasks over recent years.
An entire generation has been born, educated and qualified in the time I have worked at NCH. For sure, the women in that generation have found getting into science much easier than those 100 years ago. But even today, if someone finds a branch of science masculine, they shouldn’t let that stop them from studying it.
Two of the scientists that inspired me when I was a student were Albert Szent-Györgyi (who first isolated vitamin C) and György Oláh (Nobel laureate for his contribution to carbocation chemistry.) Today there are so many scientists doing admirable work, but particularly I must mention the Hungarian scientist Katalin Karikó, whose scientific work has greatly contributed to the development of a vaccine against COVID-19, shortening the length of the pandemic.
I hope we can continue to use science to improve our world and treat our planet better.
Technical Marketing Co-ordinator for NCH UK & Ireland
I first became interested in science at high school as a way of learning about the world around me. I chose to study chemistry, human biology and maths at A-Level before going on to earn a degree in Applied Chemistry from Aston University.
I found chemistry fascinating because the study of chemistry is the study of everything around us and everything we do. In my role at NCH my studies have helped me better understand the composition of the chemical products we manufacture as well as their classification, labelling, etc.
Studying chemistry also teaches you a lot of functional skills that are useful beyond study and research. Problem solving skills, time management, organisation, collation and manipulation of large amounts of data are just a few of the skills that I’ve developed as I’ve studied.
Girls and young women that are interested in scientific fields of study should definitely consider it for a career. There are so many different disciplines to explore and the skills you will pick up are useful in every facet of your life.
The last year has shown us how important science can be for our societies. Virology and immunology have played a central role in deciding how we have lived during the pandemic and they will enable us to get back to a more normal existence. The dedication shown by scientists and medical staff across the last year has been truly inspirational.
The co-operation required to develop and deploy a vaccine in such a short time shows what science can do for our societies and the important role it plays in improving everyone’s lives.
Chem-Aqua Product Manager – Europe
When I was 11, I remember going to my first Chemistry lesson and thinking “this is what I want to do!” I had a good teacher who made chemistry interesting and who engaged my natural curiosity. Chemistry definitely had the WOAH! factor for me.
My curiosity for science was a big drive and I believe that anyone with an inquisitive mind can find a scientific subject to study. There is nothing more exciting than science! Scientific study requires us to assume many points of view, lines of thought, and this works best when women and men are both engaged in the process as they bring differences in observation with them and help “balance the equation”.
In my work at NCH, I have occupied many different roles. From starting in the lab at Ripley in the UK, doing bench tests, to taking on larger technical support roles and then working on the Water Treatment platform, all these roles have required scientific knowledge and knowing how to apply it in the field. NCH’s success is built on the quality of the collaboration between its many different science departments, and the quality of its research, supporting innovation and developing patented technologies.
Science can’t progress without different ideas. One of the most inspirational scientists for me is Antoine Béchamp, a French chemist. In contradiction with the more prevalent theory from Louis Pasteur that all germs are pathogens and should be eliminated (the Germ Theory) he posited that microorganisms were opportunistic and not all pathogens (the Terrain Theory). While pasteurisation is important, Béchamp was right. His theory, and his legacy, created an understanding of the need for more research into chronic diseases.
We also cannot ignore Marie Curie’s role in the recognition of women in science, as we, the women and girls in STEM owe her that.
At NCH, we believe that science is a foundation for success in our professional and personal lives. As such, it shouldn’t be the remit of one group or another. The most productive way forward is together. We are proud of the role our chemists play in the success of our company and we look forward to welcoming more female scientists into the industry over the coming years.