Growing up with a passion for science, I never imagined I’d end up working for a chocolate company. Our typical notions of jobs in STEM often suggest careers in technology or medicine over those in the food and beverage industry. But as STEM fields are the building blocks of our world — including everything we eat, touch and buy — I learned that a background in STEM can open infinite career opportunities.
As a young girl, I was obsessed with science — putting things together, taking them apart. My dad, an engineer, was always bringing me to see the latest sci-fi movies. We’d watch Star Trek, and I’d think to myself, “Can we really do the stuff that was in the movie?” At school, chemistry was fun for me too — so it came as no surprise that I pursued a degree in science, and ultimately earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. But from there, my career path took a very interesting (and treat-filled) turn.
Consider every opportunity that crosses your desk
My 21-year career at Mars started as a happy accident. I was working at a chemical company — across the street from Mars Chocolate, in fact — but I wasn’t truly excited about it. I felt I wasn’t applying all I had learned. One afternoon, a friend dropped an application on my desk for a job as a research scientist at Mars. Despite having no experience in food science, I took a gamble on the application and was surprised but ecstatic to hear that Mars found my background in chemistry a perfect fit for the role.
Working for Mars Chocolate meant having fun again. A self-professed chocolate lover, I was passionate about applying science to create products our consumers enjoy. I couldn’t wait to get to work each day, where I studied the crystallization of chocolate and the physics of Maltesers, while solving problems such as how to shift our products from artificial to natural coloring.
For me, the best part about a career in science means there is always something new to learn. In my research and development roles across Mars Chocolate and Wrigley, I’ve worked in a range of countries from Europe to the Middle East and helped develop plants in emerging markets. But many women still don’t pursue the myriad of career opportunities available to them in STEM — they still make up only a quarter of the STEM workforce. STEM provides a variety of exciting career opportunities, and it’s up to us in the field to help young girls see the opportunities STEM has to offer.
Believe in yourself and push forward
When I hear from girls who are interested in pursuing STEM careers, the first thing I tell them is to believe in themselves and their capabilities. There are many young girls who, like me, grow up curious about how the world works — but later become put off by scientific terms. We need to help them see that STEM will help them to fulfill their curiosity. Often, women in science don’t put themselves forward. They’ve been told that going into science isn’t a good idea, or that a man might be a better fit for the role they want. But the secret to success in STEM isn’t about who you are and where you came from, but about your competencies and capabilities, and about how much you are willing to learn.
When you don’t know the answer, ask a question. When you see a colleague solve a difficult problem, ask them how they got it done. When senior management doesn’t have the answer, you very well might — so always raise your hand.
Lead by example
As I look ahead, I’m excited about my own job and industry — uncovering new ways to keep making fun products. And I am just as passionate about mentoring girls with ambitions in STEM. I believe that if we want to see more women in STEM, female leaders must encourage and mentor aspiring scientists, all the way through school and into senior leadership roles. Women in STEM must put in the time to show young girls that they, too, can do anything in life that they want to do.
Originally published at medium.com