Written by: BioGirl MJ
Edited by: Abigail Goh
BioGirl MJ is a science teacher and hosts an educational online platform - please check it out here. To start off our month’s theme of STEM, we are featuring BioGirl MJ as an entertainer, an educator and a role model in our local biology/nature community. Thank you BioGirl MJ for encouraging us to JustKeepThinking!
1. How did you start JustKeepThinking? Following this, what inspires you to continue your work/platform?
Well it started off when my co-founder, Raye, and I were on a snorkelling trip in the Philippines, and while waiting for our turn to get on the boat, I picked up a random dead coral on the ground and started sharing random scientific facts to him. He was a social media content creator back then, so this moment sparked something in him and he pondered over it silently on our way back. Then right after, there was this "AHA!" moment and he pitched the idea to me the rest is history.
When we posted our first few videos and infographics, it was rather well-received and we just continued doing it as we treated it as our fun little passion project on the side. It took us around 4 months before we had our first "breakthrough" via a video on how "Soft-shell crab isn't a species of Crab" and from there we realised that people enjoy the entertaining and light-hearted manner of how we present Science, which is very different from the usual Science videos you see on YouTube. You could say it is like a combination of the funny SGAG style and science information, which we always make sure to keep it short, simple and easy to understand.
And then a month later, our infographic post on how a surgical mask works went viral due to the lighthearted joke that we had in the post (our channel's style) and things just started picking up from there.
That's when we realised that there is this niche in the market for science-entertainment, Science content that can reach out to the non-sciencey audience and we decided to grab this opportunity.
2. Your personal experience in the field and scientific background
I was pretty much a Science student my entire life - taking triple Sciences for my "O" levels (while ignoring my other subjects) and I just had a knack for it. Studying for Science never felt boring to me and I knew I was going to have a career in this field. Then, I went to study Environmental Life Sciences in NUS as I really loved nature and wildlife and wanted to learn more about it, so that was where I got the bulk of my nature and wildlife knowledge from. I also worked in various organisations/companies such as Wildlife Reserves Singapore (Singapore Zoo), Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and National Parks to amass experience and learn more about the industry. I was always taking up the educational role in these jobs so I truly enjoyed just sharing and educating people from all walks of life. I am currently a Science teacher and I love my job as well, even though it is no longer focusing on nature and wildlife. So I guess that's where my skills for creating engaging Science content and hosting videos come from.
3. Do you feel like you had role models in STEM growing up? Following this, what did these role models look like?
Well I wouldn't exactly call them my role models, but they were people I remembered thinking "wow, it will be awesome if I could be like them". As I do watch a lot of nature-related shows that featured famous wildlife experts such as Steve Irwin (bless his soul), Jeff Corwin and of course, David Attenborough, I thought it would be cool if I could do that. I think it's common that our dreams and aspirations change as we grow up so I wasn't too adamant on them being my role models. I was very intrigued by how the wildlife TV presenters could convey their excitement to their viewers across the TV, and just blabber out science facts so eloquently at the same time. It can captivate even people who are not into nature stuff so I remembered being really impressed and it became one of my "possible future careers" in the list of 10 other jobs that I was interested in .
4. In Singapore, do you think there is a gender gap in areas of STEM? Where have you personally seen or experienced this? (i.e. in school, the workplace, family, other)
Well, for one, the above wildlife experts that I mentioned were all men. I guess there is this ingrained idea that women should be more demure and women are expected to do non-gruffy jobs so to actually pick up dead cockroaches and sharing about the science behind cockroaches (which is one of our videos) is not something people expect from a woman. As for the STEM industry, I do notice that the ratio of female engineers to male engineers is worlds apart - I think any educational institutions in Singapore will be able to verify this. Just the term "engineering" will conjure up an image of a male and I feel that this is a huge gender gap in the STEM industry. However, as I am not an engineer myself, I cannot speak much about it. But, I doI feel there is a lack of knowledge of what engineering is all about - I had no idea what engineers do until I entered University.
I did not feel any extreme gender gap in any of the work I do. I think Singapore has progressed drastically as compared to the past as I've seen my female friends and colleagues doing really well in their careers - some even achieving global status, and even though more could be done, I feel that we are generally moving towards the right direction.
What I do notice - not only in the STEM industry but also outside of it - is the sheer number of male CEOs we have as compared to female CEOs.
Only 27% of women are holding senior management roles in the APAC region (and apparently that is an improvement already?) and this was something that has been clouding my mind for the longest time. It is even more important to me as our channel may potentially grow even bigger and I will probably assume a leadership role.
5. Where do you see sexism and other forms of discrimination in your field?
Throughout the various jobs that I have assumed previously, I do realise that as a female, voicing out your own opinions may incite a very different response as compared to a male who does it similarly. I've been told that I am too direct or too opinionated at times, but the same opinion from a male colleague will be deemed "value-adding" and "fore-sighted", even though I felt that there were negligible differences in the way we convey our own opinions. It is not too much of an issue for me personally, but it definitely gets me thinking more and it could be a much bigger issue in other industries that we should look into.
6. What motivated or inspired you to go into STEM?
It sounds like a really cliche answer, but it's really purely because I enjoy what I do. I love it so much that I could overcome any challenges I faced because giving it up is almost impossible.
Being motivated and inspired is a good first step, but it is the passion that will drive you forward. I love it that Science is everywhere around me and I can literally regurgitate a fact or two with anything thrown at me - be it a rock, a bird or the atmosphere.
I think I am really lucky to be able to have the chance to share this passion for Science with more people. Passion used to be a very vague term for me and I think a lot of people use this term colloquially, but when I finally discovered it - I can only charge forward with it. You will know it if you are truly passionate for something.
7a. What advice would you hope to give your younger self?
I am a rather honest person and I am very genuine with my feelings (be it excitement or hostility LOL), but I had a self-esteem issue with these traits of mine. I did shut myself off for a period of my life and I would like to tell my younger self that these imperfections made me who I am today, and this "noisy", "annoying", my personality is exactly what people enjoy in my videos. I may not be the most demure, sensitive, poised woman out there but hey, I think people do appreciate somebody with my personality as well.
7b. If you were to give a piece of advice to women who are starting their journey into STEM, what would you like to say? (i.e. advice on careers as well as wellbeing/mental health)
I think first and foremost, you should be doing something that you find a calling in. It may not be your dream job, but it doesn't have to be your dream job to feel that you enjoy what you do. Once you do find that job, give in your all to the best of your abilities and never stop learning new skills to improve oneself. I always believed that every single skill can be useful in one way or another. It may not be useful at the moment, but it could very well be in the future. Once you have reached a certain level of expertise, then at least there is a fighting chance to attain a higher position if you are in an industry which experiences female discrimination.
Give people no reason to find fault in you and let people acknowledge how good you are by being just that.
8. What were some of the myths/stereotypes about entering the STEM field that you were told as a child?
My mom constantly preached to me when I was a child that I couldn't be an educator (more specifically, a teacher) because I had a bad temper then (okay seriously, it wasn't so bad but that's what my mom feels). I think as female educators, there's this really clean image of a sweet, polite and demure girl that people have in mind. Also, as I was growing up, no one spoke anything to me about engineering, even though it is everywhere around us, which was a pity because I might have changed my course of career should I have known better.
9. What do you think should be done to encourage more girls/women to enter your field?
I think the lack of knowledge is an important aspect that we as a society should deal with.
We cannot love what we don't know and if women do not know what they can become in the STEM field, then they won't be able to have a chance to experience it until it is too late.
I think we have progressed enough to have aspirations beyond typical careers such as doctors, lawyers and teachers - women can be mechanical engineers, actuarial analysts, marine biologists, software developers, and these are job terms that are still very foreign to most of us, simply because we know too little about it. I think a good step would be to share with girls and women about the existence of such jobs and what they do. We should also feature more women in these fields for them to share their journey and inspire not only girls/women, but even boys/men as well - something Women Unbounded has been championing for!