STEM is everywhere and used by everyone

Eleonora Svanberg is the founder of the association Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which aims to break norms and make the industry accessible to everyone. She has received the Compass Rose King’s medal for her work, and hopes to be one of NASA’s next astronauts.

With a burning passion for STEM, and having faced prejudice in the industry herself, Eleonora Svanberg has been involved in lowering thresholds, breaking norms and inspiring girls and women to pursue a career in STEM. She believes that society needs more women who are interested in and dare to pursue a career in the fields of physics, engineering, innovation and mathematics in order for society to develop and adapt for everyone. Brave New Business had a chat with Eleonora about STEM and the future.

Hello! Can you tell us a little about yourself.
“I’m 22 and will soon graduate in physics from Stockholm University. After that I’m going to start a Master’s in applied mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And in parallel with my studies, I’m researching waves in space, mainly around newborn stars.”

During your time as a student you founded the association Girls in STEM. How did that happen?
“When I spent a summer at Oxford studying mathematics and physics, I was the only girl. Someone commented on it and assumed that I wasn’t actually interested in the subjects myself and I was there against my will.

So when I came home from there and questioned that way of thinking, I soon realised that I had been treated in a similar way in Sweden. It wasn’t taken for granted that a girl with typically “feminine” interests could also be interested in mathematics and physics.

Girls in STEM therefore became my way of setting the record straight on incorrect stereotypes and reducing the norms around who is suited to study and work in STEM.”

What makes Girls in STEM more than breaking patterns and shattering norms?
“To start with we were just a local association in Linköping but are now a national organisation with members all over Sweden. Here everyone should feel welcome to explore what STEM has to offer. To achieve that, we highlight relatable role models, draw young people’s attention to various opportunities in STEM, provide information about education and careers and arrange activities for socialising and building networks.”

Do you feel that there has been any change since you started?
“Absolutely! Many members tell us how the association has benefited them. Thanks to Girls in STEM, many young girls have dared to take the step to study a degree in STEM and what’s more, many who are at university today have heard about the association. A graduate student even tipped me off about Girls in STEM. Guess how surprised she was when she heard that I was the one who founded it!”

You have received the Compass Rose King’s medal for your work. How has it changed you?
“The Compass Rose Scholarship confirmed that I’m a leader in what I do, and the fact that even the King recognised it has been important for equality work in STEM on many levels. The scholarship gave me a platform to develop as a leader, which I’m extremely grateful for.”

Why are more women needed in STEM?
“We see STEM everywhere in society, in our mobile phones, when Netflix recommends series and in the car when it tells us we’re getting tired. STEM is everywhere and is used by everyone.

However, not all types of people are represented in the groups that create the technology. For example women are clearly underrepresented which in turn leads to deficiencies which can be seen in everything from airbags for pregnant women to how many tampons should be sent up to the ISS. We need diversity to be able to develop a society that is adapted for everyone.”

How would you describe technology in three words?
“Widespread, necessary and creative. I want to emphasise the last one especially.”

Who inspires you?
“My mother came to Sweden from Iran when she was as old as I am today. She studied a Master’s degree in technical physics as a single mother to me and my brother. I was actually born two weeks before an exam, which she passed brilliantly. It’s probably her drive and way of prioritising both career and family that inspires me the most.”

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
“In five years I will have a PhD in mathematical physics and will hopefully have passed the first stage in the admissions process to be NASA’s next astronaut.”

Brave New Business