Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as STEM, related fields are still largely male-dominant worldwide, with only around 30 percent of women choosing to pursue studies in STEM-fields. Many national and international programs want to dismantle gender stereotypes and engage more women and girls in science. Online, women talk about their career stories using the hashtag #WomenInSTEM.
In the last decade, women have started to close the gender gap in science and engineering in Europe, but in some other parts of the world the gap still remains wide. As the need for specialists in STEM -related fields increases, it is important to keep encouraging and inspiring young people to become the scientists of the future. In 2015, the UN General Assembly established February 11th as the day we recognize the role of women and girls in science and technology. Here at Aqsens Health we also want to be a part of the mission to inspire young people, and especially women and girls, into science. So, here are Vilhelmiina’s thoughts on her studies in a STEM-field, working in biotechnology, and doing research for a better future.
What is your specific area of STEM?
I study Biotechnology at the University of Turku, with a minor in industrial and project management. At Aqsens Health, we are developing non-invasive screening and diagnostic tests for preventive healthcare, so therefore I would say that my area of STEM is a combination of science and healthtech.
How did you end up studying natural sciences?
I have been interested in wellbeing, health and health disorders since the biology lessons at elementary school. So, during my school years I considered studies in fields where I could utilize natural sciences like medicine, pharmacology and nutrition. I was a bit hesitant about which field I should choose, and I was also thinking about nursing and engineering. When I noticed that the University of Turku has a biotechnology study programme, I chose to apply because it sounded like a combination of the many different fields that I was interested in.
How would you explain what you do at work to someone who’s thinking about a career in biotechnology?
At Aqsens Health, we are developing screening tests for different high-impact diseases such as cancers, inflammatory bowel disease and infectious diseases, and studying how to apply the E-TRF method for their detection. We aim to improve detection at the early stages of a disease by discovering new ways to look for disease indicators in biological samples. Through our research it is also possible to learn more about the mechanisms of disease and follow the treatment response.
What are the things you enjoy most in your work?
My work is versatile and I like that every day is different. The work tasks are prioritized on a weekly basis, and sometimes things change even faster, which is refreshing. My days consist of research work, taking care of daily activities related to the laboratory, and communicating with the team. I have the best colleagues who I enjoy working together with. Our research topics are also very meaningful to me, which is another aspect that makes my work very enjoyable. I hope that in the future our non-invasive screening methods can really improve the prognosis and lives of people, not only in developed countries, but also in still developing economies. That is what inspires and motivates me the most.
How about the most challenging things?
One positive challenge for me is turning on my creativity and realizing that you really are allowed to try and explore while doing research. At Aqsens, we are encouraged to think outside the box.
Any messages to young people, and especially girls who are interested in biotechnology or engineering?
You can reach your professional dreams in many different ways, and with different types of experience and education. There is a variety of knowledge and skills that companies and institutes need in the area of STEM. I think the most important thing is to consider what is meaningful for you at work and what you are really interested in – I like to follow the saying “Find the work you love and you will never work a day”. Always do your best, be eager to learn and seize the opportunity. I think that’s how you can achieve a lot in the area of STEM, and also in life in general.
Aqsens Health Oy