Our girls in STEM mentor, Jan Choudhury, discusses how science can take you to the stars quite literally if you choose to take that path. And how her career evolved to incorporate both art and science.
A career in science will enable you to travel the world – and possibly beyond. It is scientists who will get to Mars first, and scientists who will grow the food we need to eat on the long journey there, and when we arrive on the red planet. I may not live to see this happen, but anyone of school age will almost certainly live through an era of human exploration of Mars.
Closer to home, there are many big challenges facing all of humanity -climate change and environmental degradation being the two most pressing. Is it a co-incidence that gender disparity in leading political and scientific roles has led to us pushing our planet to the brink?
Without adequate representation of women in leading scientific roles, we run the risk of life-changing explorations and problem-solving challenges being led and executed by men for men. Is that good enough for the 3.5bn girls and women on the planet? Not really! Why does the UK have the lowest number of engineers compared to other countries in Europe? Is that good enough? Not really!
As an Asian girl growing up in a disadvantaged part of inner London in the 70s and 80s, I was fortunate to be encouraged to pursue a career in science. Encouragement came mainly from school and my teachers, as home life was difficult. My siblings and I lacked consistent direction from our parents, and we are lucky that teachers were able partly to fill the gaps
Teachers have such a huge role to play in the life of a teenager making choices about GCSE subjects. My love of chemistry and biology can be traced back to my O Level teachers Mr Frost and Miss Robinson – and my love of star gazing. I would try to figure out the constellations and wondered if I could ever see the Andromeda nebula with the naked eye – not easy with the amount of light pollution in the London night sky. I did manage to see the nebula many years later in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. I travelled by myself for a year in Africa and Asia – something else a woman is not supposed to do!
If you are teaching a student who has an ability in science, you could transform that ability into a future career that will be hugely rewarding for the student herself, and for society at large.
My path to a scientific career was not clear cut – I dropped out of my first degree, Applied Chemistry. After many years spent in the corporate marketing world, I retrained in horticulture in my mid 40s and now run a team of highly trained horticulturalists.
“There are careers out there similar to horticulture that are both art and science – it is pure joy to be able to use your right brain and left brain at work each day.”
To wipe away the stereotypes of dull scientific jobs being done by grey-haired pale men is the work of all society not just teachers – but school is a good place to start. Let us be the change we want to see and demonstrate to girls that physics, biology, chemistry and maths will change the world for the better – as long as girls can lead the change alongside male colleagues and not be mere bystanders. Now – that really would be a good start.
About Jan Choudhury
Jan Choudhury has lived in London all her life. Prior to setting up TW1 Gardening, Jan worked at The Palm Centre in Ham which at one time held the National Collection of Trachycarpus species – the windmill palm that grows along the lower Himalaya. Jan studied horticulture at Capel Manor which has an international reputation for training horticulturalists, arboriculturalists and garden designers. Alumni have gone on to create show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show and to present BBC Gardener’s World amongst many other horticultural achievements. Jan’s early career was in corporate marketing and she worked for brands such as Which? Magazine, Associated Newspapers, DWP and Kia Motors.
Find out more about her horticulturalist business here website