The UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science is 11th February this year. The day draws attention to the significant gender gap which persists at all levels of STEM disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in high education, they are still underrepresented in these fields.  

All this week, from Monday through to Sunday, Fawcett will be showcasing women who are #SmashingStereotypes through their work in our #ShakeUpSTEM guest series. 

Together we can #ShakeUpSTEM!

Our #ShakeUpSTEM advocate today is Vinita Marwaha Madill, Space Operations Engineer at the European Space Agency and founder of Rocket Women.

Space has always intrigued me. I remember being an enthralled six-year-old when I learned that the first British astronaut, chemist Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station in the early 90s. She was, although I didn’t know it yet, a role model to me and showed me at a young age that my dreams were possible. I’m lucky to have had adults, both parents and great teachers, around me at that age who cultivated that interest and encouraged me to study space. My parents helped me greatly, taking me to the National Space Centre and the Science Museum on the weekends to experience rockets and spacesuits firsthand - thankfully letting me spend hours reading about space.

I’m also fortunate to have realized my passion at a young age and told my physics teacher in Year 7 that I wanted to work in NASA’s Mission Control. Throughout my education this drive was supported and 12 years later led me to fulfilling my dream, working on International Space Station (ISS) operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Germany’s answer to NASA’s Mission Control, before moving to my current role at the European Space Agency. My advice to those considering their career path is that it’s possible to achieve your goal, whether it’s to work in the space industry or otherwise. It takes hard work and dedication, but it’s absolutely worth it. Moreover, it’s also important to enjoy the subjects that you study and the work that you’re doing. So I’d recommend that graduates really pay attention to what their passion is for.

During my career I’ve met some amazing people, especially other positive female role models. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, like Helen Sharman for me, to be able to inspire the next generation of girls. I started Rocket Women (www.Rocket-Women.com) to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice. I’m interviewing women around the world in STEM, particularly in space, and posting the interviews on Rocket Women, along with advice to encourage girls to be involved in STEM.

Rocket Women’s new apparel collection was born from a desire to make a difference. Humanity will only reach 50% of its potential, if we have 50% of the population working on the world's hardest problems. Proceeds from Rocket Women clothing will go towards a scholarship for young women that choose to study engineering & science. Representation matters and scholarships play a pivotal role in encouraging diverse talented individuals to pursue opportunities in STEM that may have not have had that chance otherwise.

Without the fortuity of scholarships myself, I would have never had been able to complete my studies internationally and to reach my goals in the space industry. With the Rocket Women apparel line we want to empower women with our messaging to become Rocket Women, whilst also creating opportunities for future young women through proceeds supporting a scholarship.

Additionally, through featuring advice and stories of women in STEM at Rocket Women, we want to give young women and girls the realization that they can be astronauts or whatever they want to be. Our aim is to empower young women to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and achieve their dreams, so that we can improve the current 9% of female engineering talent (UK). Maybe someday that 9% can be 50%. We’re driven at Rocket Women by this powerful thought - Imagine what the world would look like if it reached 100% of its technological potential?

Allowing girls access to women in STEM is key to this shift. With movies and media portraying mainly male scientists, meeting one female scientist can change the life of a young girl as many don’t realize that a career in STEM is an option. Their future options can be influenced by a decision they make at a young age. Positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their educations or career.

Watching Helen Sharman’s Soyuz launch on BBC News at a young age, and knowing that there had been a British female astronaut, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger. I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human spaceflight. And eventually I did, currently working at the European Space Agency (ESA). But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut and maybe there could be again. It was possible. Through featuring advice and stories of women in STEM, I want Rocket Women to give other girls and women that same realization. That they can have a career in STEM and achieve their dreams.

As Sally Ride, the first American woman in space said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”


By Vinita Marwaha Madill

Follow the rest our #ShakeUpSTEM guest series on the Fawcett blog


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