Our generation is living in the most exciting time. We can communicate with anyone we want anywhere in the world (this is an ability your great-grandparents may not have even dreamed of at your age!). Technology is growing at a rapid pace, which means that so many jobs that will be an integral part of society in the future, don’t even exist now. Who knows where you might be working in 10 years? And now, more than ever, the need to come together to solve some of the biggest issues of our time is crucial – issues the world is facing such as poverty, inequality and climate change are at the forefront of our concerns.
The disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) are the ways that these problems will be solved in the future.
Every aspect of your day, from the minute you check your snap streaks in the morning, to the shampoo you wash your hair with, to how you get to school, to the Panadol you might take if your sick, even to the money you spend at the supermarket all utilises the cool stuff that STEMM has given us.
STEMM is cool. STEMM is attractive. STEMM is the forefront of work, and STEMM is paving the way forward for society.
Unfortunately, though, the popular images around STEMM are a little behind the clock. Popular media, and attitudes amongst friends and family don’t portray STEMM to be attractive. In fact they do the opposite. (pro tip: Amy Cooper is what we call an outdated stereotype)
This is highly detrimental, because work in STEMM requires communication, innovation and collaboration, and too many popular attitudes suggest that STEMM is overly intellectual and antisocial.
Imagine this: a group of 5 experts in different fields of STEMM are given a global challenge to come up with a solution to cure Ebola. Who can do the best job?
Easy – it should be the medical expert, since Ebola is a disease. Medicine revolves around treating the disease though. And, at the moment, we don’t actually know what causes this disease. That’s where the scientist can come in to help understand and diagnose the disease. So there we go, sure, the medical expert and scientist working together to come up with a drug that treats Ebola.
But how do we know how many people actually have Ebola? How far geographically are they spread across the country? Well, believe it or not, this is where my favourite, the mathematician, comes in. Let’s get the mathematician to measure this data to determine how much drug we need to produce. By tracking the number of people who have Ebola, it is the mathematician who will tell us when all of Ebola is eradicated.
But hang on a sec, these STEMM experts are working from Australia. And Ebola is actually in South Africa. This makes things a lot harder – if only we had a way of communicating with the other side of the world, and a device that could transport these drugs over there.
If you’re thinking what I’m thinking - it’s a good thing we have technology to allow us to communicate with whoever we want, however we want. The mathematician will measure and display the number of people who currently have Ebola, and the rate at which it is declining on computer programs created by computer scientists. Technology allows people on the other side of the world to communicate symptoms, issues and everything we need to know.
And last but not least, we have the engineer. It is up to them to look at how we will get the drugs there in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. They will also be a part of the design, construction, maintenance and operation of health facilities, as well as isolation units in areas where there is a lack of treatment centres. Civil engineers are vital for the transport of and access to clean water for people in affected areas. The use of protective gear to limit transmission between health workers and the infected population need to be disinfected and well-designed.
So there you have it, not one professional can get things done solely by themselves in STEMM. Current STEMM work involves collaborating with other experts who work in fields very different to your own.
Our generation is the one who will be able to make global change.
You, reading this article, have the potential to achieve anything you set your mind to.
If you want to be a part of the mission to settle life on mars, or to eradicate disease, or to edit the human genome (yes, scientists can now change anything they want to about the instruction manual that makes you an individual) – STEMM is the way to go.
No matter what your grades are currently, whether you are a girly girl or a tomboy, whether you enjoy sitting inside and reading or spending your afternoon playing sport, you can get involved in STEMM.
All it takes is stepping up and saying 'I am interested'. Ask your teacher how you can get more involved. Learning STEMM in school is one thing, practising STEMM beyond the classroom is another.
Where STEMM is going, and where you could be is beyond your wildest dreams. So don’t be afraid, you don’t need to be a typical ‘maths brain’ or to be one of those incredibly ‘gifted’ students.
With that passion that drives you, and some hard work, girl, you can do anything.
So, now what? I challenge you think outside the box, and think more broadly about all the places that STEMM can take you. I challenge you to harness creativity and hone good communication skills for the future of STEMM. Above all, I challenge you to be curious - whether that may be asking a question in your next science class, or following a hunch to turn it into a hypothesis.