It is often challenging for women to compete with men for top positions, especially in a male-dominated industry such as science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). At the Women in STEM forum organised by the British Council on 18 March 2023 at DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, female role models in STEM including iconic personalities and former recipients of the British Council Women in STEM scholarship shared their unique journey in pursuing STEM education and careers.
With the theme “Embracing Equity for Gender Equality”, the forum was held in conjunction with the International Women’s Day and the British Council Women in STEM scholarship launch. The forum was co-organised with the Science Media Centre Malaysia and Petri Dish with the objectives to celebrate women’s achievements and reflect on the progress towards gender equality in STEM.
One of the Women in STEM forum panellists, Professor Datuk Dr Raha Abdul Rahim, CEO of the National Institute of Biotechnology Malaysia, shared her experience when she was interviewed for the position of Vice-Chancellor (VC) at one of the local technical universities in Malaysia with other six male candidates. She said: “I was asked how I would manage the male-dominated working environment as most of them are engineers, and I replied that I am an engineer too; a genetic engineer, which can change any living organism. If anything goes wrong with genetics, there will be no more mechanical or even electrical engineers”. Professor Datuk Dr Raha creatively and confidently navigated the situation to turn the tables and got the job to become the first female Vice Chancellor to be appointed at the Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM).
“I was asked how I would manage the male-dominated working environment as most of them are engineers, and I replied that I am an engineer too; a genetic engineer, which can change any living organism. If anything goes wrong with genetics, there will be no more mechanical or even electrical engineers.”Professor Datuk Dr Raha
Meanwhile, for women who made the choice to have children while pursuing their careers, the challenges are immense. Another panellist who is a medical doctor by training, Cell Biopeutics Resources CEO, Dr Jezamine Lim’s journey was no easy feat, as she gave birth to her three children while completing her Master’s degree and PhD. “I was so focused on my milestones and estimated delivery date that my whole Master’s degree and PhD were planned around my pregnancies,” Dr Jezamine shared. All her hard work paid off as she became the first woman to attain a PhD in stem cell and tissue engineering from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
“I was so focused on my milestones and estimated delivery date that my whole Master’s degree and PhD were planned around my pregnancies.”Dr Jezamine Lim
Panellist Ts. Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan who is the Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) stressed that gender equality begins at home. “My daughters said they were inspired when they saw me in suits going to meetings and speaking engagements,” she added. She also urged women to seize opportunities such as scholarship programmes for women in STEM offered by the British Council. The scholarship also offers additional assistance to women travelling with dependent children.
“My daughters said they were inspired when they saw me in suits going to meetings and speaking engagements.”Ts. Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan
The other two panellists who were benefactors of the British Council Women in STEM scholarship, Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin and Debbie Ann Loh agreed that the scholarship scheme plays an important role in promoting female students in higher education and research. More importantly, women in STEM need to find their voice and passion to excel. “Be bold to be different and give yourself time to discover your interest,” said Debbie. “Your passion will drive you to start learning new skills, to study abroad, or even to pursue your Master’s degree,” added Nurimanina.
This is the third year the British Council Women in STEM scholarships are being offered, with the last cohort of 120 Women in STEM scholars currently studying at a range of universities across the UK. Successful scholars will receive a full scholarship to study for a master’s degree, or an Early Academic Fellowship, in the field of STEM at a leading UK university.
For more information on the British Council Women in STEM scholarships programme, please visit: https://www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-abroad/in-uk/scholarship-women-stem