Meet the school girl championing female STEM engagement

by Brett Henebery18 Aug 2016

Amy Zhou is a Year 12 student, enrolled at the Queensland Academies Health Sciences Campus on the Gold Coast.

Like any other student, she gets up in the morning, goes to school and does her best in a competitive environment.

However, it’s by no means accurate to describe Zhou as an ‘average’ student.

Her passion for science has so far seen her take a molecular biology course at university, complete her Certificate III in laboratory skills and conduct research at the Griffith University.

Now – as an ambassador for the Australian Science Innovations (ASI) – Zhou wants to use her influence to reach a wider audience and help increase the number of female students in STEM education.

This is an issue she hopes to discuss at the tenth 2016 Asian Science Camp (ASC), which she will attend from 21-27 August, thanks to the academic excellence she has demonstrated.

“This camp focuses on international cooperation and friendship, especially in the scientific research field, so I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and discussing the STEM gender gap issue, not just in Australia but around the world,” Zhou said.

“Through having discussions with our counterparts overseas, perhaps we can explore how to resolve this issue as a global community, which I think is very important in the years to come.”

Zhou added that one of the factors behind the drought of women in STEM education is the fear of being portrayed as a “nerd” at an age when most teenage girls are striving for popularity at school.
 
“There are a lot of incorrect and biases and stereotypes against females who excel in STEM subjects,” she said, pointing out that this was something she has had personal experience with.
 
“In Year 6 and Year 7, I was always seen as a nerd at school, simply because I had excelled in maths and science. I knew that I was much more of a mathlete than an athlete, but being called a nerd affected my self-confidence because that word has a negative connotation.”

Zhou said that without nerds, the world could be a very dull place, as they are the ones who drive the advancement of science and technology.

“What people don’t realise is that nerds are ones who are going to change the world in the future. When I got out of that phase I realised that it was okay to be a nerd, and even today I am proud to be a nerd,” she said.

“That said, this is one of the factors holding young people – especially women – back. Many young women don’t want to be seen or labelled as a nerd because it might affect how other people see them.

“But I think this is kind of silly, because almost all jobs require STEM skills. Most people have a smart phone, so we use technology on a day-to-day basis, but the negative assumptions about being involved in STEM are holding women back.”

When asked what initially sparked her interest in the field of science, Zhou said she had her parents to thank.

“My interest in science took root from an early age, and was encouraged by my parents – in particular my father, who is a research professor of computational biology at the university of Griffith on the Gold Coast,” she said.

“I remember being bought a small telescope when I was a kid, and it was amazing being able to gaze into the distant constellations in the night sky. This gave me a unique kind of exposure to science which made me excited to explore it further.
 
“I’ve always been very fascinated by how beautiful and precise science can be, but – when you consider the study of biology – also how incredibly complex it can be at the same time.”