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Illuminate x Durham: The Future of Women in Leadership and STEM

Hello everyone! My name is Vedhika Seralathan and I am a Grade 11 student at J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate. On April 17, 2021, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate x Durham’s regional conference. Here are my thoughts highlighting what I learned about leadership and STEM at the conference.

STEM is an emerging field that many youths are trying to go into for their future career goals. One of the things that you have to do to get into those fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math is to show the amount of dedication to your work. Not just this, but you also need to strengthen your communication skills with others. I will go further in-depth with the latter point throughout the blog.

Ilona Daugherty, a Managing Director of the Youth and Innovation Project, taught us that mentorship is when the people around you understand your voice and appreciate you as a person for being in the same situation or area as them.

A mentor should be able to influence the personal and professional growth of their mentee. If these mentors do not listen to the feelings and ideas of their mentees, then they aren’t demonstrating proper mentorship towards them. This doesn’t just impact the mentee, but it decreases the mentor’s performance of mentoring to their students. If you aren’t fully being heard in a discussion, Ilona said that asking questions about the topic of discussion can help to respectfully interject into the discussion. I tend to back away from conversations because I'm unsure of how to interject into them without being disrespectful. I am now going to use this information for my personal development in becoming a stronger communicator with my peers.

Next, Dr. Cecile Fradin, an Undergraduate Chair at McMaster University, showed us her job as a researcher in Biology and Physics.

She mentioned that she studies the motion of cells, proteins, and nucleic acids while using advanced light microscopic techniques. She also introduced us to magnetotactic bacteria, which is a group of bacteria that orients themselves along the magnetic field lines of Earth’s magnetic field.

She later taught us 3 things about the importance of biases in women, which are:

1. An unconscious bias, which is a social stereotype about a group of people. She mentioned that it occurs often in today’s society and that we all have stereotypes based on different groups of people.

2. Stereotype threats, in which internalized biases can lead to lower school performances.

3. (Invisible) mental burdens, which are the non-tangible tasks involved in running a household or activity. Someone experiencing these mental burdens encounter exhausting work, even if others don't see the stress from outside.

Afterwards, Mackenzie Clark, a software engineer at Google LLC, did an amazing presentation on Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a feeling you have where you don’t meet up to your standards, or not being good enough for other people. Some symptoms of this syndrome are when you agonize over the smallest flaws in your work and use timing or luck as a result of your successes. If you feel you experience imposter syndrome, you’re not alone, because 70-80% of people experienced this syndrome at some point in their lives. Mackenzie mentioned some ways to combat imposter syndrome, and this is to stop talking down about yourself, comparing yourself to others, and focusing on your values instead of perfection.

These facts about imposter syndrome showed how much I thought about myself negatively, and that I needed to be more confident in my abilities. I believe that imposter syndrome is one of the reasons why I might be a quiet person to my peers, as it highlights the fact that I don’t believe in myself and am afraid that people will find out who I am. Using Mackenzie’s advice, I will use the methods above to combat my imposter syndrome, so I can be more confident in myself and be a stronger communicator to my peers.

Lastly, one of the things I most enjoyed about the conference was the Case Competition. In this competition, I was able to understand the solutions for Hamdur Health’s security given by the different teams in the Cyan Room. This event showed me that team effort was essential to make a concrete and concise solution to a problem. Furthermore, everyone’s ideas must be heard for them to feel comfortable in their teams, which can then strengthen the connection between team members.

Even though winning the Case Competition was amazing, I believe team effort is what wins above all, and this event showed me the importance of working with different people. To conclude, this conference of Women in STEM and Leadership gave me many ideas to improve my communications and relationships with students, and I’ve learned some ways to become more confident in my abilities. Thank you so much Illuminate x Durham for hosting this memorable event!


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