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31st January 2024

Don’t make me be a woman in STEM

The allure of becoming a woman in STEM is really not doing it for me. I have chosen humanities for a reason, and the push for a career elsewhere is not appealing
Don’t make me be a woman in STEM
Credit: Flazingo Photos @ Flickr

Procrastination takes a new and horrifying form in your third year. The essay deadlines begin piling up and you allow yourself to take a mental break, only to find your mind drifting towards the ever-looming future in which you are a graduate. But scrolling through careers pages soon becomes its own purgatory, as titles such as ‘Graduate Data Analyst,’ ‘Product Safety Engineer,’ and ‘IT Analyst Graduate Scheme’ reel off the page. Yet I keep scrolling, only to be hit by terms like ‘Women in Business – Technology Programme’.

As I sit writing this, of the sixteen ‘Arts, Culture, and Heritage jobs’ available on the University’s Careers Connect, none are graduate jobs or schemes, four involve speaking another language for large IT and finance companies, and one offers the role of ‘Children’s Science Presenter’. I’m left feeling lost in a world which is determined to force me into becoming a woman in STEM. But every reminder that it’s not too late for me to join this group really just reminds me that I don’t want to be, and I shouldn’t have to be, a woman in STEM.

It’s hard to escape the constant conversation of graduate schemes and potential jobs. Exacerbated by SALC putting on careers fairs and job talks, it is easy as a humanities student to feel that the path dominated by technology and finance companies is the one we should all be going down. Spending days scrolling through this endless list of corporate graduate schemes can be pretty intense. Want a steady job after university, earning a respectable salary working in tech or business for the small price of selling your interests and your soul alongside? – Sign me up!

Hear me out. It’s great we get these opportunities, and that we can do a degree for enjoyment and interest without it completely limiting our career prospects. An email I got sent only a few weeks ago told me that “While it’s not necessarily the first thing you might think of in terms of history graduates, there are plenty of opportunities to use your skills in a tech setting.” But for all the people who want this option, there remain many who actively want the opposite.

I am perfectly happy as a humanities student. I love reading, engaging with sources, and analysing the thoughts and opinions of others. I am fascinated by my studies most of the time, and I’m grateful to be in a position where I can just appreciate my degree for its content. What I want are job prospects that keep me here. But where is this guidance? Or is it just the jobs that are lacking? Museum experience, heritage projects, film research maybe – doesn’t that sound good?

Lots of these opportunities in big businesses are geared towards women, encouraging them to get into an industry dominated by men. You only need to peer inside a physics lecture to see that this message still needs to be emphasised. I would love the security of well-paid jobs in large businesses, yet other options should be okay too. There definitely does need to be more representation in some of these industries, but the narrative pressed on humanities students or female students more generally telling them this is where they should want to end up can be deafening. Yet the alternative – working in the humanities sector – seems to be a tale of hardship.

We are firmly placed in a climate where politicians are constantly harping on about ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees. AI is always in the news, and banks are making more and more and more money; it seems overwhelming trying to find anything so niche as a job even vaguely placed within the heritage sector. Maybe law – that’s always an option for us humanities students, right? Even ‘Get Into Teaching’ is always emphasising a desire for Maths and Science teachers, offering more opportunities for placements in these subjects. This is hardly a surprise in the political climate; although somewhat ironic that this manages to be dominated by men with PPE or various humanities degrees.

There is hope, though, in the form of the singular heritage grad scheme on the University careers website, addressed with an email emphasising its uniqueness. Or maybe you could seek out the low-paying jobs in central London in media, fighting off the thousands of other candidates in the process. After all, who needs a high salary to live in London, right?

I guess it might be too much to ask, and maybe the reality is I want to live in my student bubble for as long as possible – blinkers up, working life doesn’t exist. But it also feels like keeping my place in the field I have already chosen to be in shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Maybe I will get there, or maybe I will stay at Sainsbury’s for a few more years, but I know for a fact that neither the lab nor corporate City life are my calling. Keep your suits, numbers, and cells. I’ll stick with words and artefacts for a while yet (if I can).

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