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Women in STEM Q4 2020

How children’s curiosity helps STEM careers

Image provided by Dr Niamh Shaw

Dr Niamh Shaw

Award-winning Science Communicator, Writer, Performer, Engineer and Scientist

Headshot: Steve-Humphreys

Dr Niamh Shaw shares how an inquisitive mind and encouraging support from teachers helped her into her career in STEM.


Curiosity is as innate to me as breathing. I loved science in school and then to write and perform at home. We were a family of Encyclopaedia Britannica, literature, history books, gadgets, screwdrivers, spare batteries, fuses, trad music, singing and storytelling. This was my world, and I realise how lucky I was. I was even luckier to have three teachers whose passion for their subject spilled over and onto my lap: Mrs Greer for Chemistry, Mr Kelly for Physics and Sister Louis Marie for English and Drama. 

They say that every child is born curious. I also had teachers who embedded such a positive influence on my innate interests, so it is no coincidence that I’ve ended up in a career combining those two elements (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths). It was a struggle at first; I was embarrassed to be different and to want so much from a career with no formal training pathway.

Curiosity is within us all, but some need a little more encouragement than others. We can help by just being visible, showing up, normalising diversity in STEM.

Helping to support and inspire others

However, the support I received later on from women in STEM was a vital part of the development of my practice. Thanks to their support I now have a STEAM career where everything I do is about igniting curiosity in others. This includes talks, theatre shows, writing, broadcasting, my space activities and working with groups like the Irish Girl Guides.

I’m especially proud to have created the Space Badge of STEM-themed activities recently for the guides along with CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory and the European Space Agency’s Education office, ESERO Ireland. I’ve been very lucky. I know that. 

Curiosity is within us all, but some need a little more encouragement than others. We can help by just being visible, showing up, normalising diversity in STEM. We have to keep throwing the ladder back down, mentoring, inspiring, encouraging. We all need our role models to steer and inspire us. If we all just keep trying, one conversation at a time, imagine the equal, innovative and progressive world we could create.

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