Meet Melissa Tan (22), a final year undergraduate in Materials Science and Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Melissa is an avid scientist, innovator and educator. Her passion lies in developing human-machine interfaces particularly for medical care and educational uses. She also enjoys teaching and mentoring students in research and in materials engineering.
Seven years ago, as a high school student, she embarked on her very first research project, mentored by her biology teacher. Leading up to now, she has co-authored two publications, patented an invention, shared her research in international conferences, and traveled across the globe to learn and conduct research in a top research lab.
“Research is not for the faint-hearted. Being at the very edge of the discovery of new knowledge or the creation of a new technology means that failure is bound to happen. It is important to develop the resilience to try and try again despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, because eventually, you will be the first human being to understand a new phenomenon or the first to develop a device that has the potential to help millions. That’s what keeps me going.” says Tan.
However, she describes the challenge that women scientists face even greater challenges than her male colleagues. She’s heard teachers commenting that it was not feminine for a girl to be involved in serious research in the physical sciences. “There was even fellow scholar who commented that it was more difficult for women to achieve tenured faculty positions in academia because the tenure grace period coincides with our reproductive window.”
She says she has met scientists, both men and women, who allayed her doubts about going into research and these are the mentors and role models who have guided her through this path over the years.
Her advice to aspirant scientists and engineers: “It is crucial for young girls in STEM to identify role models and mentors whom they can rely on to guide them during difficult times and to give career advice.”
She hopes that more senior female scientists will share their stories of how they’ve overcome gender equality challenges so that others know that they are not alone in the struggle, and so that their younger counterparts have role models to look up to.
It’s been said that the more diverse a team is (in terms of gender, race, culture, educational background, etc), the more innovative it(team) will be. The next time you see a young girl tinkering away with a machine or playing with a chemistry set – encourage her.
We need more women in STEM!