Home » Women in STEM » Why it’s time to shout louder about the opportunities of STEM careers

Three women from a leading biopharmaceutical company reveal what it’s really like to have a STEM career — and why it’s vital to persuade more girls to study STEM subjects.

To attract more young women into STEM careers, it’s imperative to bust some myths about the STEM sector, believes Caroline Rocks, Senior Programme Manager at the Dublin office of biopharmaceutical company, AbbVie which employs more than 2,500 people in Ireland.

For instance, Rocks is a chemical engineering graduate with a Master’s in biopharmaceutical engineering. “But if you asked many school children what an engineer is, they’d probably say ‘someone who builds roads and bridges’,” she says. “It’s far broader than that, of course; so we have to do more to connect STEM to the products that girls and young women use in their everyday lives. For example, the formulation of their make-up is created by scientists and made by engineers. I also think we have to do more to promote it as a good career that can offer young people a well-paid salary.”

It’s exciting, too. At AbbVie, Rocks supports the company’s multiple manufacturing sites around the world and enjoys the variety of her work. To date, her career has taken her to Singapore, India, the US and Malaysia, among other locations. “I came to engineering because I liked more logical subjects at school,” she remembers. “But early on I realised that to excel in this job you don’t need to know all the answers or be a straight A student. You just have to be interested in problem-solving and like collaborating with others.”

Making a real difference to people’s lives

Lingli Lu, originally from China, is a process scientist at AbbVie’s facility in Cork, monitoring pharmaceutical products for worldwide markets. She became interested in science at a young age and believes her career in STEM was inevitable. She also believes the pandemic has highlighted the importance of science and is hopeful that more young women will be attracted to it as a result. “One of the best things about working in our particular industry is that we bring hope to patients by making medicines,” says Lu. “By utilising our knowledge and love of what we do, we can really make a difference to people’s lives. I’m only one small part of a huge industry — but that’s why I find it such a meaningful and rewarding job.”

One of the best things about working in our particular industry is that we bring hope to patients by making medicines.

Lingli Lu

She admits that more women are needed in STEM roles, however. “So, we have to encourage parents to encourage their children. If parents say to their daughters: ‘You’re good at this!’ Then girls will be more confident about studying STEM subjects.” STEM companies can also play their part in promoting and supporting STEM-related projects and activities by interacting with schools, colleges and industry partners – something that AbbVie fully supports.

The myriad opportunities of a STEM career

Once women have a STEM career, it’s crucial they should be empowered to reach their full potential, says Joan Morris, Quality Assurance Director and Qualified Person (QP), at AbbVie in Westport, County Mayo. Morris notes that the company runs various initiatives and groups that support female members of staff. “There’s an ethos here of cultural diversity and encouraging women to work in STEM,” she reveals. “That’s good for teamwork, innovative thinking and problem-solving.”

She also agrees with Rocks and Lu that the opportunities STEM provides need to be shouted about louder and more often. “There are multiple career options and sideways moves you can make in STEM,” she says. “We have to show young people that it’s a cool career. Like Caroline, I’ve travelled around the world with my job, which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. But also, you don’t have to live in a city to be involved in STEM because it can happen anywhere. I moved to the west coast of Ireland to have an exciting career, but also a better quality of life. That’s possible with STEM, because it caters for everybody.”

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