Last weekend we visited Iki, a beautiful little island from the Nagasaki prefecture. It was great to see so many excited faces (a total of 68 students), eager to hear about STEM careers. There were some lectures about general trends in Japan, as well as about first-hand experience of working in lab research, engineering and corporate environments. After a short break for relocation, the students were divided into small discussion groups. It was their turn to tell us about their aspirations for the future and ask questions. They had so many questions and were very well prepared, I was impressed. Some had a very clear idea of what degree they would like to do and what university they would like to apply to. Most of the students on my table wanted to go to medical school or do a degree with an application in medicine (such as chemical biology). Apart from university life and the application process, they wanted to know about the latest technologies to detect cancer, how antibodies work, different careers related to cancer, such as clinical, research, diagnostics/detection/follow up, therapy, clinical trials, etc. They had done extracurricular reading and actually knew lots about the subject.
There was, however, a very striking difference in behaviour between boys and girls. Boys were confident, most had an idea of what they wanted to do in the future and had lots of questions. Girls, on the other hand, were very reluctant to speak and ask questions and didn’t seem as resolute regarding their future. This particular event aimed to promote STEM careers to all students, with a special emphasis on girls. Although they seemed to have enjoyed the day and made some notes, I think it is important to provide equal encouragement to both boys and girls from an early age, at home and in school.