Zahura Begum

When and how did you realize that you want to pursue a STEM career?

Maths and Science has always been appealing to me from as long as I can remember. Whether it was the books I read, the films I watched or the museums I visited, it was the STEM that drew me and a need to know how things work and why they are the way they are. I find the ability to deconstruct phenomena and explain it in a logical manner, building on principles and axioms, a fascinating insight and beautiful description into the nature around us. And, despite it being a real challenge for me to grasp, when I finally understand an equation or theory regardless of how small or mundane it may seem, there is a joy that stays long after. 


I had always been inclined to follow an academic career in research and definitely do something in STEM but as a career the specific field took some time for me to develop. My current career interests lie in materials engineering and energy production as I feel that for a more sustainable future we have to broaden our research and search for novel ways to make materials that are sustainable and kind to the environment. We will always rely on energy and materials in our every day life and I wish to be a part of the search and efforts to ensure that we can meet those needs in the future.

How does the Open University help you achieve your goals?


The Open University's flexible approach helps me to work and study at my own pace. With its help I wish to achieve my predominant goal of graduating with a Maths and Physics degree. This important first step will then open up many opportunities into research in the future and enable me to do my part in those developments. It has been very welcoming, helpful and cost effective and I have met a whole range of different and inspiring people who remind me that education has no age and no limits when driven by one's passion to learn. I have met people from their 20s to their 60s and over who have made the decision to join the OU to learn and to succeed in a way that suits them and their current situations. As you have to be very self motivated and organised with your time, it is great for self development too.

What would you say to someone who thinks that maths is hard or that maths is pointless?


I would say yes Maths is hard and there are bits of Maths that may seem pointless but the phone that you use, the money that you spend, the games that you play and even the pictures that you tag on Instagram have all been developed with Maths. From the machines that run your lives to the algorithms you do not even realise you follow or the statistics that you are a part of, Maths is fundamental to your every day life. There's Maths in nature and there's Maths built into your machines and all of it is beautiful when you see how elegantly it all fits together. So whether the maths you have seen is simple or complex, pure or applied it may at the beginning seem like it has no use but when an engineer, scientist or even designer uses their creativity or discovers through research that it fits perfectly, you understand how the seemingly unconnected parts of Maths fit like a puzzle. As if it was always meant to be there. And I as someone who likes Maths love that about it, but through experience I am also aware of how difficult Maths can be for some people to understand and how they have been put off by it. For this I do believe that more approaches are required in teaching and demystifying Maths.

Have you ever been the victim of a gender stereotype?

I have not been personally stereotyped but I have had experiences where I came across gender stereotyping. I have always believed STEM (especially in our current times) takes one's capability, contribution and experience as more important than their gender. However even with the push to involve more women and girls into STEM and make STEM more inclusive; I have come across comments and ideas that women from BAME backgrounds may not suit hardcore STEM roles for many different reasons. There are still cultural influences that may on the one hand say sure a girl/woman can excel in STEM at one level e.g. undergrad but on the other hand may consider that specific support roles may be better for them when they enter industry. Not every STEM graduate will stay in STEM regardless of gender, as it is their personal circumstances that will affect their journey, but being able to eradicate barriers and ensure equality for all in pursuing and flourishing STEM will help everyone - even sectors other than STEM. And this is an evolving process that each man or woman helps by being more than their gender in whatever they do, and letting others do the same.