Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in STEM

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It’s International Day of Women and Girls in STEM today and in celebration of the day we asked three of our incredible Exsurgo wāhine to reflect on their careers in STEM and the challenges they overcame to get to the top of their field. 

Kaushalya Kumarasinghe, Exsurgo’s Data Scientist first entered STEM ten years ago, inspired by her brother who loved to build things.  

However, while completing her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Kumarasinghe found herself buying into the narrative that computer science was too challenging for women.  

“Most of my peers, both girls and boys, thought that software engineering, programming in particular, was too difficult for girls,” she says.  

“Many thought that only boys can be good at building software. So many of my peer female students were reluctant, afraid, and less motivated to start coding and were planning to pursue career paths that included less programming.” 

But by believing in herself and her abilities, along with a strong desire to prove her peers wrong, Kumarasinghe dedicated herself to learning the art of programming and computer science. 

She eventually graduated with a PhD, which she completed while being a full-time mum. 

The moment I held my three-year-old daughter on one hand and my doctoral degree on my other hand, was the proudest moment in my life,” she says.    

Many women in STEM have to overcome outdated, misogynistic ideas, but Kumarasinghe urges them to not be discouraged. 

“Instead, be prepared for such situations and bring your unique perspective and hard-earned capacities to the table so that people will start listening to you. 

“My advice for young women entering the STEM field would be to believe in your abilities and hard-earned talents. Being persistent, patient and working hard is the key to success in STEM.” 

At age 18, Riya Biswas told her family she wanted to be a scientist. 

“‘My dear daughter’, my baffled Mum replied, ‘Neither your Papa nor I know what you have to do to be a scientist… It would be easier for a woman to be a government employee and besides, you don’t wear glasses like other scientists.’” 

Despite their concern, Biswas says she had already made up her mind.  

After completing her undergraduate education, she travelled solo from her home country of India to pursue a master’s degree in the United Kingdom. Then in 2015, she moved to New Zealand to complete her PhD and is now a Postdoctoral Research Assistant here at Exsurgo. 

Her parents have finally been convinced of her career choice and she is the first woman in her family to travel the world and to get a PhD degree in Cancer Biology. 

“Never stop dreaming and always chase your dream,” she says to young women interested in pursuing STEM careers. 

“As Paulo Coelho said, ‘The world lies in the hands of those that have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams – each according to his or her own talent.’ Have the courage to follow your heart and your dreams.”  

In 2012, Exsurgo’s Chief Science Officer Christine Ozolins made the massive decision to follow her heart and completely change career, while in her forties. 

Since graduating from the University of London with a Master of Science in 2018, Ozolins has excelled in the neuroscience field to become Exsurgo’s Chief Science Officer. 

“Here I am able to combine my skills in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology with decades of experience working in diverse environments around the world, with the aim of helping those who are suffering,” Ozolins says.   

“Exsurgo’s achievement of taking lab technology and making it accessible and available to everyone who needs it, is in perfect alignment with my dream to use science to ease suffering and better the human condition.  We all work so hard every day to achieve this goal, and I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful team of talented and compassionate people. 

Ozolin’s advice for young women looking to enter STEM industries is to be prepared to work hard.  

“If you challenge yourself to win – where you are right now – then the door will open to your next opportunity, and you’ll find that you can take the lessons you’ve learned at each stop along your journey and use them to deepen your experience and broaden your perspective,” she says.   

“Be prepared to change direction and be flexible and open in your approach to your career.  Often unexpected changes take us in exactly the direction we need to go to fulfil our potential.  I believe that if you care about helping others and want to use your skills in that way, then you will never go wrong. 

One of the key outtakes from our Exsurgo female team members was the notion that they received encouragement from the women they saw working in STEM.  

We hope by spotlighting our team, we can encourage others to use their talents in STEM to change the world.  

Happy International Women and Girls in STEM Day to our contemporaries around the world!

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