11 February 2022
The latest report “Scientists in figures” (Ministry of Science and Innovation) highlights that, although women account for 56% of university women, in areas such as engineering or technology they only represent 25.4%. And the report “She Figures 2021” (European Union) points out that women do not reach a quarter of the doctorates in the area of ICT (22%).
Our colleague Mariella Mischinger is an example of a scientific vocation. She is a PhD student at IMDEA Networks (researching in the field of cybercrime), after her time at the Technical University of Munich (where she completed her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Computer Science). Mariella, who works in the Cybersecurity Group (focused on prevention and response to all types of cyber threats) led by Dr. Guillermo Suárez-Tangil, gives her opinion as a female researcher.
Why did you study engineering (what motivated you)?
When I finished high school, I immediately thought about studying computer science, because I like the logic behind it and I also found it fascinating how this field provides incredible solutions to problems in this abstract digital area. But I still wasn’t sure if the studies were the right fit for me. Some people to whom I told about the idea of studying this subject, asked me if I was sure about it because this field “is so difficult”… Also, I was comparing myself to other people who decided to study the same.
Did it condition you that there were few women in your field?
They were all men and many of them already had a lot of knowledge in the area, since they started programming in their teens, which I did not. Therefore, they seemed much better than me, which made me doubt whether I was even suitable for the subject. In the end, I decided to do it and it was right for me. I consider it’s important not to compare yourself or think about what others expect from you: your interest is much more important, and you will find your way.
Why do you think there aren’t more girls pursuing STEM careers?
When I was younger I had the feeling that technology and science were often presented in a boring way. But actually, it can be so creative, like for example when you need to figure out a solution to a problem or, even more obvious when technology is applied in visual arts. Also, sometimes there is still the impression that science and technology is a “boy thing”. This is slowly getting better as more and more women are taking this path, becoming role models for younger girls. But there is still a long way to go. In my opinion, this is also reinforced in the opposite direction, with fewer men than women pursuing social careers, since social professions are more of a “girl thing”. These social role assignments are still very much in place and need to be changed.
How would you increase girls’ interest in science and technology?
In my opinion, girls should be in continuous contact with technology and science from a very young age until adulthood. This is important for them to learn that this is not something just for boys. I still see many little girls playing with dolls, horses, and princess stuff. This is fine, but it is essential to gift them also technical “toys for boys”, such as a toolbox or cars.
Therefore, society has a lot to contribute in this regard…
Yes, of course. When you think about successful people in the field of science and technology, mostly men come to your mind. I think it is very important that schools and television also tell stories about successful women who made a difference in the scientific world. This is key for young girls to be inspired and gain the self-confidence to think that they can do it too.