After discovering her passion for STEM at Kilgraston School, Ruth Faherty headed to Oxford University to study engineering. She is about to go into her third year at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and plans to concentrate on civil engineering for the remainder of her degree. Ruth is keen to change the statistics of women in STEM and isn’t afraid to take on big projects in the future.
What were your highlights at Kilgraston?
My experience at Kilgraston was wholly positive, the students and teachers were so supportive, and it really did feel like a big family. I was involved in music, sport, drama, and pretty much anything else I could squeeze into my timetable. A highlight was definitely a trip to CERN; it was such a treat to have the opportunity to go somewhere so interesting and relevant to what we were studying and it felt like the perfect way to round off my time at Kilgraston.
How did your teachers at Kilgraston engage you in STEM?
There was a STEM club and there were trips like the one to CERN, but the teachers themselves were fantastic at getting people engaged in class. As we progressed through the school, we were treated more and more like adults and this was especially the case in practical work in science lessons. We had to figure out what was going on by ourselves in experiments and come to our own conclusions. This really sparked my interest and got me thinking in detail about why and how things happened.
Why did you decide to study engineering at Oxford?
When I was about 14, a teacher suggested that I might be suited to engineering. I didn’t really know what engineering was exactly but the more I looked into it, the more I liked it. I also had the opportunity to spend a week shadowing civil engineers at the Queensferry Crossing site and I was attracted not only to the physical size of the project, but also its social significance.
What is it like being a woman in STEM?
It feels like I’m part of a very supportive and empowering community, especially within my cohort. We all seem to get really excited when we meet other women in STEM – it’s that same sort of feeling you get when you’re on holiday and you meet someone who lives nearby. For me, it’s an almost entirely positive experience but I know I’m very lucky as a lot of the stereotypes and preconceptions have been put to rest.
Do you think that more needs to be done to encourage women to explore STEM careers?
Absolutely. So much progress has been made recently through fantastic projects but I don’t think the job is done until women in STEM stop getting, ‘oh wow, really?’ as a response when they tell someone what they do.
What advice would you give to young women interested in STEM?
Don’t be afraid to challenge stereotypes and pursue what you’re most interested in. Plus, don’t be put off by statistics because these can only change and improve if you ignore them.
“I first taught Ruth physics lower down the school and then I taught her biology. Ruth was very much one of those pupils who would never allow the teachers to just tell her the answer – she always had to know why. From day one, I knew that she was one of the most critical thinkers I had ever met in my life. She just wanted to know everything and absorbed things like a sponge. She would have done well in any school because she was so bright, but Kilgraston encourages the girls to try new things and take risks. In our science classes we create a safe environment where if you get something wrong it doesn’t matter. Science is for everyone and I am very passionate about girls having the curiosity to find things out.” Amanda O’Hear, Head of Biology at Kilgraston School