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to mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science – BETSY SHEIL recommends ‘scienc

Women in Science: The Heroes of “Science Fair”

By Betsy Sheil

Science Fair (2018) directors Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster follow nine high school students from around the globe as they compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries, only one will be named Best in Fair.

Science Fair introduces us to the extremely talented science students of Jericho High School (Jericho, New York), who claim that they would have nothing without the encouragement and determination of their teacher, Dr McCalla. The sacrifices she makes as a teacher grow from her own experiences as a daughter of immigrants. She comments on how many of the greatest inventors and scientists weren’t American, “You wouldn’t have the simple things in life if it wasn’t for people who have migrated to this country and become these people who are changing our way of life”. She prioritises her students needs above her own – working upwards of 10 hours a day to ensure they are given every opportunity possible for advancement and success. Pouring every ounce of her energy, and hours of her time, into her student’s and their projects, she exhibited the values we admire in our educators and mentors and reminded me of how fortunate I have been to have similar female role models – teachers, friends, my own mother, help shape my life.

However, as wonderful as Dr McCalla is, the true standout character of Science Fair, is Kashfia (not her first time at ISEF in fact she had already placed 3rd as a freshman), whose school fails to properly fund their science department – focusing instead on their struggling sports programs. Despite the absence of support from her school, Kashfia, quiet, but not timid, showed what an amazingly resilient character she is as she focused all her time and energy on her science studies. My heart sank when her fellow students were unable to identify her, let alone comment on her positive contribution to the school’s reputation, because, despite her talents and successes, she was invisible to them. Kashfia became a role model for me in this film and I hope she is an inspiration for many young women who believe that they are not good enough – thanks, in part, to a lack of support and recognition from their peers and short-sighted head educators.

As smart and inspiring as these high school science prodigies are, the ones that really shine are not the brilliant German student, Ivo Zell, who goes on to win, or the smart and funny trio of boys who listen exclusively to trap music – it’s the girls. The film showcases so many strong women. One such young woman, Anjali Chadha, a smart and confident student, determined to make it to ISEF, takes a moment to reflect on the sexist double standards that see confident women, herself included, criticised as arrogant for possessing the same confidence for which men are admired. These double standards no doubt contribute to women being woefully underrepresented in the world of science. Figures show that female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion. Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of national science academies are women. In cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman. Despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics (Source: United Nations), while female researchers make up only 28% of the STEM workforce (source: American Association of University Women – AAUW).

Science Fair not only introduced me to the excitement and disappointment of international competition, but highlighted the importance of levelling the playing field for women across the globe within the scientific world. When creating life-changing work as many of these girls will go on to do, they deserve to have as much of a chance as their male counterparts.

Anjali has since gone on to create a non-profit Empowered, Inc to empower minority high school girls with opportunities in STEM and grow connections to female entrepreneurs. I hope that other girls feel as encouraged as I did by girls like Kashfia and Anjali.

Science Fair is a truly charming and inspirational film.

 Click HERE for where to watch Science Fair

Betsy Sheil

Betsy Sheil is an Arts student from Nottingham. From a young age, she has been an avid lover of filmmaking and the local cinema (Broadway in Nottingham). Although a lover of all film, Betsy has a particular interest in the promotion of female and non-binary filmmakers, and how the presentation of women on screen is evolving and changing. She also has a soft spot for the comedy genre and is a dedicated fan of Olivia Wilde’s ‘Booksmart’. Currently studying for her A levels, Betsy hopes to go on to work in filmmaking/film journalism.

Other Female-led scientific films to check out: 

Hidden Figures (2016) 

“Three female African-American mathematicians play a pivotal role in astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit. Meanwhile, they also have to deal with racial and gender discrimination at work.”

Picture A Scientist (2020)

“Leading female scientists discuss the inequalities they’ve faced as they write a new chapter in STEM for women.”

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is the 11th day of February, by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December 2015. The day recognizes the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.


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