By Mara, a sixth form student in the south of England


Mara is a Year 12 student at Rickmansworth School in Hertfordshire. In September 2022, she earned a Gold CREST Award for her research project, an essay entitled: Why are women still underrepresented in many STEM fields and what could be done to remedy this?

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Mara spoke to us about her experience of researching and writing her essay, how this topic touches her personally, and why earning a CREST Award is so valuable.

Mara receiving her Arkwright Engineering ScholarshipAfter I finished my GCSE exams in June 2022, I had a long summer stretching ahead of me before school started again. I wanted to use that time to work on extracurricular achievements that could help develop my communication skills and enhance my UCAS application – I’m planning to study computer engineering.

The Techfest STEM Next website caught my eye when I was researching essay competitions that I could enter. One of the suggested questions was: Why are women underrepresented in STEM? 

All the A-levels I’m studying for are STEM subjects – I’m taking maths, further maths, physics and computer science – and in every class boys outnumber girls, sometimes by as much as 6 to 1. So I know from experience that underrepresentation starts in the classroom – it adds an extra pressure to consistently prove that girls can excel in STEM. 

But I had never thought in depth about the underlying causes, which are reflected in the STEM workforce, where just 27% are women.

Researching this question for the Techfest STEM Next essay competition was my chance to find out why.

(Pictured right: Mara receiving her Arkwright Engineering Scholarship)

Researching underrepresentation

I wanted to write an essay to inform others like me who have often wondered why there are    so few girls in their computing class or why they only ever saw men doing their dream job.           

I set about researching the topic online, reading relevant online articles and papers, looking out for useful statistics. To add an original element to my essay, I interviewed Annie Lennox, an Open University PhD student currently mapping the surface of the planet Mercury, who told me:

The fact that we have examples of women-dominated subjects turning into men-dominated subjects, also likewise men-dominated subjects turning into women-dominated subjects, means it's not something to do with brain development, it's something to do with the environment and the evolution of that sector.

I came across some shocking statistics in the course of my research. For example, despite girls capturing more top grades than boys in GCSE maths in 2021, twice as many boys as girls went on to study further maths the following year. This proved to me that low confidence, rather than academic performance, is limiting the number of girls going on to have careers in STEM.

Building a better future

Introducing more female role models in STEM to kids in schools, TV shows and across all media would prevent stereotypes from ever forming – or at least combat the perception that girls cannot pursue a career in these fields by presenting cases of females who have succeeded. 

Promoting a growth mindset could also help girls and women to understand that intellectual skills can be acquired, reducing the impact of the stereotype that boys are naturally ‘better at maths’. 

By adulthood, these beliefs can be so deeply-rooted that many women who consciously disagree with the stereotypes still hold them at an unconscious level, resulting in feelings of imposter syndrome. To prevent the loss of these talented women, the workplace environment needs to be improved – including the introduction of senior female mentors and support groups. 

Earning a Gold CREST Award

I was excited to learn that I could also submit my essay for a Gold CREST Award.

Producing my project report for the Award gave me an opportunity to reflect on the skills I had developed, including researching, writing and referencing for my essay. I was able to improve my essay and identify strategies to implement in future academic writing. 

This Award is highly regarded by universities, so will form a valuable aspect of my UCAS personal statement, and has been important in building up my confidence and proving that I have just as much potential to work in STEM as my male counterparts.

The world needs girls in science

Many girls don’t think STEM is for them despite being perfectly capable. I would advise these girls to consider why they hold this belief and remind them that they have the potential to contribute to science and change the world. We don’t just want equality for equality’s sake, we can’t afford to waste any potential if we want to shape our best future.

Sign-up to our education newsletter

Find out more about CREST Awards

Listen to Mara talking about her project with Babs Michel on BBC Radio Three Counties. Click through to 47.05 for the interview.

Listen to Mara on the radio