Overcoming female in sciences 'mind block' leads to international science camp

Riccarton High School student Kate Stedman is off to Melbourne for the ANZAAS science camp next month.
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Riccarton High School student Kate Stedman is off to Melbourne for the ANZAAS science camp next month.

A Christchurch student says the key to succeeding in science is hard work.

This has clearly paid off for Kate Stedman, who is the only Christchurch student to be selected to attend an international science camp next month.

Stedman is one of seven Kiwi students to be selected by the Royal Society Te Aparangi to attend the Youth Australia New Zealand Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) in Melbourne next month.

The year 13 Riccarton High School prefect will join more than 40 year 12 and 13 science students on a five-day residential science camp, featuring lectures and hands-on learning in the engineering, medical research, astronomy, chemistry and physics fields.

Stedman said she was "overjoyed" to be selected for ANZAAS and the opportunity to meet international scientists and handle research.

Although she was not always interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, her course timetable is now filled with science and mathematics subjects.

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"As a kid these subjects seem kind of hard. I didn't even enjoy maths or science in primary school. But when you put the hard work in and sit down and try and work stuff out it comes together. It's cool.

"Talking to teachers has been a really good influence for me at Riccarton [High]. Hearing about how science is both a secure and exciting path to go down, that's what drew me in."

The student has her sights set on studying engineering or medical physics at the University of Canterbury next year.

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"There's such a demand for women in STEM fields and so many exciting developments in those fields, I really want to be a part of that and contribute," she said.

The Association of Women in Sciences' 2011 Snapshot said men dominate careers in physics and engineering in New Zealand. It said male year 12 and 13 students are over-represented in physics and calculus and female students are under-represented in IT and engineering subjects.

Stedman said she had to get over "that mind block" that young women do not tend to see themselves in research or science roles.

"It's the representation of what they see; what they imagine scientists and engineers to look like. What comes to mind is a man in a lab coat."

Stedman's mother Lerk Shih Poh said she was proud of her hard-working daughter.

"The teachers at Riccarton High are great at infecting the students with their enthusiasm and [they] teach well which enabled Kate to grasp concepts, ask questions, motivated her to work hard and be rewarded with good results... which has further spurred her to work hard. 

Poh said she hoped whichever career her daughter chose to follow, that it would make her happy and enrich the community.

 - Stuff

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