Dear Future STEM Pioneers

(Courtesy of Kiara Nirghin)

(Courtesy of Kiara Nirghin)

Google Science fair winner Kiara Nirghin gives Assembly readers advice on how to begin a career in STEM.

Kiara Nirghin knows that the answers to the world’s most pressing problems can be found anywhere — and from anyone. Using orange peels and avocado skins, the 18-year-old Google Science Fair winner recently developed a solution to South Africa’s crop shortage. In a letter to Assembly readers, Kiara discusses why it’s crucial for girls to pursue traditionally male-dominated fields and how to begin a career in STEM.  

Dear Future STEM Pioneers,

I am often asked, “Why is it important that girls get involved in science?” I prefer to answer with my own question, “Why shouldn’t they?” According to Fisher’s Principle, the cure to cancer has a 50% chance of originating in a female’s brain. Yet, girls and women continue to be underrepresented in STEM education and jobs.

(Courtesy of Andrew Weeks)

(Courtesy of Andrew Weeks)

We need to control the narrative that excludes girls from innovation. This means following your passion — join your high school’s robotic team, enter a science fair or answer questions in physics class. I know that you might feel out of place or receive sneers from your peers, but be confident in your project or answer. Continue to work hard. Then work even harder. Any female in STEM knows that to be taken seriously you have to be 110% knowledgeable. I like 110%, it is after all better than the 100% that your male counterparts have.

To those interested in pursuing a career in STEM, I am delighted with your decision. If you are just getting started, I have a few pieces of advice for you:

  • Keep up to date with environmental, social and technological issues in your community, country and the world. Current affairs are the starting point for many scientific projects.

  • Once you identify an issue that you are passionate about (do not be intimidated by large global issues), break it down. Understand how it affects your immediate community and the people around you. After approaching the issue from this perspective, I suggest you then think big. Think applications, machine learning, or artificial intelligence.

  • Now comes the simple part: use your resources. Make use of your teachers, mentors, libraries or school laboratories to build upon your idea.

  • Finally, it is important to note that the hours you put into a project might not generate a solution, but keep at it. I constantly remind myself that if I do not find a solution to this issue no one will!

I am calling upon a generation of future female scientists to stay curious. Ask questions and pursue answers with resilience. It might not always feel like it, but the world needs you and your brain.


Kiara Nirghin

(A proud STEMinist)

Through Assembly, Malala Fund is helping girls around the world share their stories. Subscribe to receive our newsletter and learn about the next generation of leaders.

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about the author

Kiara Nirghin is an 18-year-old Google Science Fair winner from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a STEM advocate, a TEDx speaker and an undergraduate at Stanford University.