Oxfest by Lauren!

Here’s another review of oxfest, this time done by one our members who went on the trip!

Arriving in Oxford last Saturday after a 9 hour bus journey I think it would be fair to say I was not feeling particularly enthralled by the prospect of a full day of lectures. I hadn’t really read the programme so the wonderful talks by such inspirational and, quite frankly, badass ladies was a pleasant surprise!

The event programme consisted of talks from several women who discussed their own specific career paths in STEM. From  Prof. Ulrike Tillmann FRS (a Mathematics academic and professor who has been a recipient of the prestigious Whitehead Prize) to Prof. Alison Noble (Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Oxford University) we were given a valuable insight in how it is possible to juggle family life with a fulfilling career, something we are often told is impossible.

Most of the speakers, as well as being incredibly determined, came across as self-assured. Many of the ladies acknowledged the importance of confidence as it’s one of the main issues holding women back from developing successful careers in both academia and industry. It’s hard to believe there is such a difference between men and women in terms of self-belief but OxFest speaker and confidence coach, Henrietta Nagy, brought up the statistic that men will apply to jobs where they meet 40% of the job criteria, whereas women tend not to apply unless they meet 100% of the criteria.  Glasgow University’s own Prof. Rhian Touyz (Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences) told us to ‘know when to take opportunities’, not to be afraid and that the more informed you are the better your decision making will ultimately be.

My only criticism of OxFest would have to be that it was perhaps too academia focused for people, like me, who are more likely to work in industry after graduating. I found the talks by Prof. Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Sue Kershaw, and Jessica Griggs the most interesting for this very reason. Jessica Griggs, Biomedical News Editor at the New Scientist spoke about combining her love for journalism and a degree in Physics to become a science journalist, comparing the unlikely profession to ‘Astronaut Gardening’, and showing us that our degrees can take us anywhere if we have the determination.

Perhaps most motivational of all was Prof. Rodriguez-Falcon with her mantra of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?!’ It was refreshing and relatable to hear that her main motivation for going into Mechanical Engineering was down to the amount of industry in Mexico coupled with her natural abilities in Maths and Physics, and not that she was always incredibly passionate about the subject. Despite this, she is undoubtedly very passionate about it now (she was the only Professor at OxFest without a PhD) and I walked away from her talk feeling like I could achieve anything. As an engineering student I got a real kick out of her story about applying to a job advertised to ‘male engineers’ and then succeeding to get the job! She also highlighted the importance of having men going to events like OxFest to further conversations about struggles women face in STEM at every level, since women are already aware.

Attending OxFest has made me aware of the importance of female role models and mentors in STEM fields. When I think back to myself around 10 years ago I had no idea what engineering was, never mind considering studying it! With events like OxFest, girls are made more aware of the opportunities open to them and that traditional gender roles are not the only option. Being able to listen to these successful ladies was so inspirational and has made me think of my own degree in a more creative way.

Not bad for a Saturday spent in lectures!

By Lauren Simpson


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