by Yasmin Ali
Aleesha Choudhry is an ambitious, determined woman. We spoke to her about her project ‘STEM Girls’ and found out why she is passionate about female representation in the STEM world…
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I study Chemical Engineering at the University of Hull, I am a Pakistani Muslim, and I love learning and teaching science subjects.
What is STEM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. People don’t realise that it covers a lot of diverse subjects. Most of the integral items of everyday life have something to do with STEM.
What made you start your STEM focused blog and YouTube channel?
I had a maths module, and usually I go on YouTube to look for maths revision videos. I found that it was usually old men that were teaching in the videos and they made it seem so boring and dry and there wasn’t any diversity between the videos at all. I saw a gap in the market and I took that opportunity. I did maths in A-Level and I have maths modules in university too so I thought that I could try it and be something that people don’t usually see. I also just love STEM based subjects anyway so it’s enjoyable as well as being a way of putting myself out there.
Why do you think female representation in these roles are important?
Women make up about 50% of the population. Women only make up about 17% in STEM fields. The number is so small, we just NEED to get it up. STEM subjects are so important for our economy and improving the world that we live in. The way a woman thinks is completely different to the way a man thinks. Neither one is necessarily better, they just bring different ideas to the table. It’s the same with people of colour or people from different social backgrounds. You need diversity in an office. I actually discovered a crazy thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Apple Fitness? Apple Fitness is on every iPhone. It measures your blood pressure, how many calories you burn, your steps etc. It goes into a lot of detail about your body and how it functions from day-to-day in order to make you healthier. But, one important thing that the creators didn’t take into consideration was the menstrual cycle- something that 50% of the population goes through! During your period, your blood pressure changes, you need to eat more, it’s completely different. During the press release, that particular issue did actually come up. Men often disregard the menstrual cycle or don’t think about it. If a woman was developing it, the project would have been a lot better. So STEM is incredibly important in our lives, we need women to stand up and share their ideas to make us more included.
Some young girls may see the lack of women in these roles as a barrier or deterrent. What would you say to change their minds or convince them to go into it?
Some times it can be scary. There are mostly male students on my course. Computer science, engineering and maths have a kind of ‘geeky’, ‘nerdy guy’ stigma attached to them. There are women based in prominent roles in the technology, science and maths fields that you can just search for online. If you’re still a bit weary I’d say do what I did and become your own role model. If you are passionate about it and enjoy it, you should do it! Do not let that be a deterrent for you.With STEM Girls, I made sure to have ‘girls’ in the name to put in people’s faces that it is a girl doing the subject. If men see more women in the roles they will eventually get used to it and won’t be so hostile about it. And if women see more women doing it, they’d be automatically encouraged to do it too. It’s not just a certain type of woman either- you don’t have to fit that ‘nerdy’ stereotype. I have had some comments on my YouTube videos like, “why are you wearing so much makeup and why are you so dressed up for a maths video? You should be doing beauty videos instead.” They confine you in that box where you have to be a dry, boring person with no personality to do computer science, maths or technology based subjects. I just want to put a bit of life into it. Yeah, I get dressed up but that doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of teaching maths or learning maths. I don’t feel the need to prove myself as a female in university. From what I’ve heard, but I’m yet to experience, is that it’s a lot harder in the workplace. But still, I definitely don’t think you should feel discouraged especially if you have a passion for it.
There is also a lack of black and ethnic minorities in these fields. Being a woman of colour, have you faced any discrimination in regards to your career aspirations?
Thankfully, no. But I am aware that discrimination is very prominent in the workplace and wider society. It’s not an issue that I take lightly. As I’m still just in university, I haven’t had much interaction with a wide range of generations and I went to a predominantly Asian high school. Actually, one time I was going to America and me and my sister were the only brown people and ‘coincidently’ we were the only ones that were specially selected. I did feel like an outcast. People were giving us looks because I was speaking in Urdu. It was ridiculous. I know stuff like this happens all of the time in the UK and America, and even on social media.
If someone walked up to you and asked for advice what would you say?
I would say that the most important thing a person can do is read. I think reading helps you grow the most as person. You become aware of things that you didn’t know existed. For instance, in primary school I didn’t think racism existed anymore- it was just a thing of the past, slavery was abolished, we were in the same classroom as white people, everyone was included now. The older I got and the more I read, the more aware I was about the fact that the school curriculum does not go into any depth on important issues. That’s why it’s crucial for individuals to educate themselves. Reading more in depth touches you and humbles you and makes you want to stand up and fight for injustices that still go on today. You should also read more about the topics you are interested in, don’t just stick to what school or university tells you. Books are so readily available, you can even download them for free, there are PDF versions, you can borrow them from the library. One of my biggest role models is Malcolm X, he was a person of great character. The time when he most evolved was when he was in prison because he was reading all the time. That’s when he became more conscious and aware and subsequently changed so many people’s lives. Young people especially have a great opportunity because they have more spare time than a working adult. We have more energy and more of a reason to change the world.
What are your ultimate goals?
To educate people and to bring more awareness to STEM based subjects. Things like coding aren’t taught in schools but you need coding to do almost everything in the digital age and most people don’t know how or why it works. I want to be a part of changing that.
We look forward to seeing you do that! Thank you Aleesha!
Thanks a lot! ♦