She Speaks Science aims to promote women in STEM and a positive STEM identity among the youth through storytelling and mentorship. The stories are published on an online platform showcasing women scientists and highlighting female role models in science to inspire more young people to engage in STEM disciplines. The stories have reached 35,000 people so far (topics include biology, astronomy, engineering, chemistry, conservation, neuroscience).
The initial plan to deliver in-person workshops and talks had to be cancelled due to the global pandemic. The project instead took advantage of the transition to online settings by launching a mentorship programme in 2021. The PENTA mentorship programme brought together 33 women and girls from 24 different countries who engaged in an impactful mentorship experience for 5 months. Each member of this programme mentors as well as gets mentored, sharing experiences, and participating in monthly events on leadership, imposter syndrome, career pathways etc.
“[On PENTA, I learned] .. many things like networking is very important, failures are a part of life, self-love is important, perseverance is important for doing science, how to overcome imposter syndrome and learn to believe in yourself” – mentorship programme participant
By partnering with Cambridge Science Centre, an educational charity, She Speaks Science also delivered two magazines, one on space and one on marine biology, which was delivered to 1500 underprivileged families during the lockdown. Other partners, Arab Science Week & SpaceEU, helped reach Arab refugee communities in Europe through space-themed online events. The project leader, Dr Ghina Halabi, is also a UNOOSA Space4Women mentor, which provided additional publicity to the programme.
The workshops led to overall increased understanding of astronomy and astrophysics, evident from students’ responses to questionnaires before and after the event. Students reported a greater understanding of what astronomy is, what an astronomer does (and does not), daily life applications of astronomy etc. They also reported increased levels of engagement and interest in STEM generally. This is also evident in the growing number of our website visitors. The project also aims to change the stereotype among the general public that a scientist is an isolated and white middle-aged man. This change was visible from the responses to a question which asked students to “Circle pictures of scientists” (pictures included Eisntein, Eddington, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and Martha Irene Saladnio, a young Latin astrophysicist on the She Speaks Science team). Students choosing only men dropped from 67% before the session to 7% after!