My experience of the Women in STEM Outreach Residential

Women in STEM Outreach Residential 2018 group photo

At the beginning of August, Trinity Hall jointly hosted its first Women in STEM Outreach Residential with Gonville & Caius College. The three-day event gave academically high-achieving Year 11 students from state schools in the Colleges’ ‘Area Links’ the exciting opportunity to explore their interests in STEM subjects and experience a slice of life as a Cambridge student. One of the participants, Zeinab, wrote a diary account of her time with us:

Day 1

Once I got through the Porters’ Lodge of Gonville & Caius College, I was met with the old famous architecture of Cambridge University. I was greeted warmly and swiftly proceeded to a fulfilling presentation that included varying types of advice from a wide range of STEM subjects. The organisers Helena and Rebecca (Trinity Hall and Gonville & Caius Schools Liaison Officers) pointed out important occasions and opportunities throughout the whole residential that would benefit us if we fully exploited them (through asking questions). They then allowed us to settle in and warm up to our peers who we were going to be around for the next three days. In addition to this, the social aspects of the University were brought to our attention like various clubs and societies. We were also introduced to the three student volunteers who would be with us – Kai, Jemma and Katie – who I’m thankful to.

Soon, we were given an informative tour of the nearby buildings including the Gonville & Caius Library. Throughout, the student volunteers provided interesting facts, like how a group of engineers had built a car on top of a building (the Senate House) opposite to the Library.

Day 2

We were all up early for breakfast at 8am and then split into groups for subject-taster sessions, which included Earth Sciences, Physics and Engineering. I chose physics as I will be shortly starting my A Level studies and needed further convincing on whether I should take it further. The talk I attended did just that. Lucy, a PhD student, led us through an explanation of her research work and the start of the Big Bang, which was all new to me and till this day I can still recall the complex explanations. She also described the various specialities in physics from cosmology (her expertise) to astrophysics. Another informative part was the ‘steps to take’ in which she explained if we wanted to pursue cosmology or physics in general we could start with coding, or even just buy a telescope and familiarise ourselves with physics. At the end we were able to ask questions on her course and daily student life.

Swiftly moving on, I attended another talk on Computer Science. Initially I thought this would entail a very detailed explanation of coding or something similar. However, I was naive to think so as I was surprisingly introduced to robotics and, specifically, how robots can be programmed to assess human emotions and reply suitably. I was also introduced to how they can mimic certain facial expressions and assess human emotion through body language and how this can be used in the future for jobs like therapists, teachers and so on. In all honesty, I never expected the field of computer science to be so vast and full of specialties.

After that, we all regrouped and headed off to a maths talk. Dr Ron Reid-Edwards (Trinity Hall Fellow in Mathematics) helped us to distinguish between theoretical maths and pure maths, drawing the line between them and informing us that physics (theoretical) was indeed theoretical maths. We took part in a few exercises and then asked questions. I gathered that if I was to pursue anything within the STEM realm, maths would help in any specialty, be it computer science or biochemistry. Knowing so has made me more confident in my choice of maths for A Levels.

Designing our Tomorrow workshop
Zeinab (right) and fellow attendees at the Designing our Tomorrow workshop

‘Designing Our Tomorrow’ was the last session on the agenda and I must say the most interactive and enjoyable of all. It helped to summarise all the things I had learnt so far: anything STEM-related can advance design and engineering. The session heavily emphasised knowing the goal beforehand and familiarising yourself with the problem at hand, hence why we all were instructed to wear a hand mechanism to simulate having hands like an arthritis sufferer and two pairs of glasses to simulate sight loss. We dealt with the dilemma of opening a bottle of tablets, as well as filling an empty salt shaker. This demonstrated the vastness of problems people face and how we can overcome them through designing things appropriately and accordingly to their needs. We then designed a salt shaker to enable easy usage for the target population. When we finished, we shared our designs and explained their different mechanisms.

Day 3

We set off early to the Cambridge Science Park and first went on a tour of the various buildings. The Science Park included bases for companies ranging from pharmaceutical to technological consultancy. Even whole scientific societies were based there. At the end of the Science Park visit, we met with four brilliant women all in STEM careers, who gave explanations of their fields of work and what they do. They never once failed to answer each of our questions thoroughly, providing all the necessary information needed for us to take the next step in pursuing STEM. One vital thing I gathered was that a person’s career is never-ending – you can always switch it up from engineering to computer science. Also, a career is not about an end goal – it’s a journey and you must enjoy every part of it from the academic aspects at the start to the research.

Thank you to Zeinab for giving us such a detailed insight into her experience of the residential. The aims of the event were to raise the participants’ confidence, help inform their decisions about the future and inspire them to pursue their interests – it was brilliant to see this happen for so many of the residential attendees.

Thank you to the University of Cambridge undergraduates, postgraduates and academics, staff from Designing Our Tomorrow, the Women in STEM careers panel speakers and the Cambridge Science Park Bradfield Centre (where the Careers Panel took place), for supporting the residential with their time and resources.

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