Get Together > Alumni Societies > Public Health Alumni Inspiring the next generation of women in science

Inspiring next generation of women in science 

Yitka Graham delivering a talk

The University is supporting a national campaign to foster female scientists of the future, early in life.

Dr Yitka Graham was invited to be part of a special Women in Science event at Usworth Colliery Primary School in Washington, as part of Inspiring the Future’s campaign with L’Oreal, which encourages more primary school children to get involved in science and break gender stereotypes among children. 

The UK-wide campaign brings together women who represent a wide range of careers in science, with primary-age school children. It is hoped that it will broaden their horizons and help them make links between what they are learning in school and a variety of different careers. 

The regional event saw Dr Graham, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health, spend the morning with the pupils - taking part in a special 'what’s my line' activity where the pupils asked questions before trying to guess the academic’s job. Dr Graham then spent time talking to small groups in break-out sessions about her role and answering their questions.

She commented: “It was great to have an opportunity to be part of the L’Oreal Women in Science initiative, to encourage and nurture young students to explore careers in the sciences. The students were curious about the panel’s careers, which spanned across a wide range of health sciences, and engaged with the presentations; it was great to see how confident the students were in speaking to us.” 

She added: “During the smaller group sessions there were more practical questions around my individual career path and my day-to-day work, which showed that even at a young age, the pupils were already thinking about what they were going to do. I was particularly impressed with the questions around studying at University, and how many of the students were already thinking about a University education.”

As well as her academic role at the University, Dr Graham holds an Honorary Speciality Lead, Health Services Research role and a research post in the bariatric surgical unit at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust. She has two external posts as Speciality Group Lead for Health Services Research and for Public Health in the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) North East and North Cumbria Clinical Research Network.

Usworth Colliery Primary Teacher Rebecca Bell added: “The Women in Science event is an excellent and worthwhile opportunity for primary school children to begin to understand the importance of the subject, as well provide aspiration and ambition for all children to follow their careers, particularly those that require a university degree. Dr Graham was very informative and all the children were thoroughly engaged by her inspiring talk. This is an event we will definitely do again in the future.” 

Professor Tony Alabaster, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing at the University of Sunderland, commented: “Our Faculty is committed to engaging with the wider community to encourage young people to think about the breadth of careers in health sciences available to them, many of which we offer programmes in. By having our academic staff working collaboratively with local schools and supporting national campaigns such as L’Oreal’s Women in Science initiatives, we are confident our University will inspire and help to develop the next generation of healthcare scientists.” 

Vismay Sharma Managing Director of L’Oréal UK & Ireland, said: “We know that unfortunately, for many, science can be seen as niche and having no connection with the real world, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the things around us, things that we use every day (and can’t live without) owe their very existence to this thing called ‘science’. It is important for us all to work together and find ways to spark the interest of the next generation of scientists. We’re therefore delighted about this important partnership with Inspiring the Future.” 

Nick Chambers, CEO of the charity Education and Employers, which runs Inspiring the Future said: “Spending time talking to people in a range of professions helps young people to be aware of the wide range of career paths open to them. Yet just 35% of 16-18 year olds surveyed by L’Oréal said that they know someone who works in a science field, and only 14% of parents surveyed work in a science related field. This means most children aren’t having the kinds of conversations that help them form new ideas about their own future.

“At the same time, children from a young age develop often stereotyped views of what kinds of jobs they might want to do – and even that jobs are gendered. But bringing children face-to-face with ‘real scientists’ means they really think about the fact they could one day be for example a meteorologist, a surgeon, or scene of crime officer. And the teaching community believes the same – we’ve found that almost three quarters of primary teachers believe girls are more likely to experience positive impacts from employers’ engagement activities on their academic achievement.”

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