Date: 2012-03-29 Category: Interviews
Interview: Wendy Sadler of Science Made Simple
Wendy Sadler is the founding Director of science made simple - the award-winning* social enterprise that offers science shows to schools and families across the UK and overseas. Since the company began they have reached over a quarter of a million people with a unique brand of inspiring and entertaining science presentations. The company has a serious mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers and to place these subjects within the wider spectrum of popular culture.
Last month Wendy was a keynote speaker at ITWales' annual celebration of International Women's Day 'Women Shaping the Future of Wales.' We caught up with Wendy at the event to find out her views on Women in Technology.
Why do you think there is a shortage of women within the Technology sector?
I think a lot has to be said for the messages sent out to very young children about what roles women have in life. The kind of toys that are marketed as boys toys or girls toys begin to influence children from a very young age. There is nothing stopping parents buying toys of either type for both genders but as soon as a child is old enough to observe what is socially acceptable and what the marketing says they should play with they are influenced. For girls that is mostly about nurturing (dolls and pets), art and craft and looking pretty whereas for boys it is more often problem solving, building and construction. There may be a tendency for children of different genders to lean towards one of these sides but if parents don’t encourage play of all kinds I think girls can just start to see problem solving and technical work as not for them from very early on and then most images in the media support the misconception.
What do you think would influence girls to take up computing (STEM subjects) in school?
Inspirational teachers with a passion for computing or STEM and visits from external successful people who have used computing in interesting ways to build a career for themselves that they love. You can’t substitute for the impact a passionate person can have on shifting a bad stereotype or role model. This can be the spark that starts things off but then you need continued effort to build confidence and make computing something that is seen as acceptable by girls so those who do choose it are not singled out as unusual or weird. Perhaps promoting the good that can be done with careers in computing may appeal to girls – can it be used to save lives, alleviate poverty, solve problems for underprivileged children? All these things may help promote a more meaningful definition of why a career in this area could be rewarding.
What educational path did you take that has led you to your current role?
I always loved science from a young age and have just been curious about how things work. I have learnt later in life that this probably means I should have been an engineer. I discovered during my degree that the physics of BIG questions about the universe and strange particles didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted to understand why the sky was blue and how an airplane could fly but because I didn’t understand at school what an engineer was I didn’t really consider that as a choice.
I also loved music and art and didn’t want to leave those subjects behind so I looked for a joint degree in Physics and Music which I think has been really useful to me in my career as I learnt the analytical skills of being a scientist but had to improve my essay writing and communication skills for aspects of the music degree. I decided to pursue a career in science communication because I felt passionate about trying to change the negative stereotypes that surround physicists as boring old geeks. To me science is creative and exciting – it doesn’t have all the answers and there is still a lot to find out. I set up my own business, science made simple, which has grown over the last 10 years and we now reach over 70,000 people each year with STEM performances in schools that try to get these message out to students whilst they can still change there mind over what they might study. During my career I love the fact that I am constantly learning new things – not just scientific, but now I am a business owner, learning all about innovation and running your own business. It’s a very exciting place to be and no two days are the same. Sometimes I crave a standard 9-5 job, but then I know I might be very bored. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world with this job and meet some amazing people.
What or who would you say has been your biggest influence in life?
Hard to pick just one – there are a few who have influenced me for different reasons. My parents were both STEM people – my mum a maths teacher and my dad was a metallurgist. I am pretty sure they influenced me through growing up as they would have encouraged all my interests in terms of taking things apart to try and understand how things worked, and encouraged visits to science type attractions. They also encouraged me to study subjects I was interested in rather than thinking too much in terms of what career they would lead you to. Later in life in my first job – the Education Director of Techniquest, Brian Delf, influenced me by helping me see how to be a better presenter of science in a theatre setting and holding my hand (almost literally) through my first presentations to a real audience. Finally my husband has been a massive influence, mainly because he has such excellent people skills that I am always in awe of how well he deals with people of all walks of life which is such an important skill. We call him a social chameleon and I hope I have picked up some tips from him since we have been together. At the end of the day it is often relationships with people; your customers, sponsors or staff; that can make or break a business.