Thao My captured in Oxford on a trip with Vietnamese society in Brunel.

Tran Ngoc Thao My was awarded the British Council Scholarship for Women in STEM 2022–23. She is currently studying the MSc in Disease Mechanisms and Therapeutics at Brunel University London.

Why did you choose to pursue your studies in a STEM subject in the UK?

I have chosen to study STEM subjects (specifically Biology) since middle school, to have a continuous learning path from a high school specialised in science, to the University of Science, and then a Master's degree in a Biology-related field. Since I was young, I have always loved this subject, and the more I am attached to it, the more aspects of the subject I can explore - especially Biology related to medicine, a field where I can participate in bringing benefits to the community.

Currently, Viet Nam is gradually catching up with the world regarding technological development. Therefore, many new techniques are being applied in researching, diagnosing, and screening various diseases. However, we still need to catch up regarding the application of high technology in treatment. Therefore, I am always passionate and eager to learn about these new technologies and techniques. I was fortunate to come across this MSc programme at Brunel University, noticing that it was supported by the Women in STEM scholarship, so I was even more determined to apply for it. In addition, there are many future opportunities for both academic and industrial aspects of Biology, so I am more confident having chosen this path.

As a woman pursuing an education in STEM, what are the advantages/disadvantages?

After a long time studying in this field, and STEM fields in general, I have seen many disadvantages for women. First, choosing an academic path (to PhD) will take time. For the old Vietnamese mindset (the mindset of our parents), 'girls should not study too much', because women are always expected to get married, have children, and fulfill their motherly duties. Therefore, in the long-term academic environment, the number of women is always smaller due to the lack of support from family and society.

Second, some stereotypes exist about how men think logically and perform better in STEM subjects than women. This can be observed when students focus on choosing specialised high schools. STEM subjects often do not attract women because many stereotypes suggest these subjects are for men only. These stereotypes affect the psychology and motivation of female students, making them feel insecure and putting them at a disadvantage compared to male students.

One big advantage of pursuing a Master's degree in STEM in the UK is that it takes only one year to gain such valuable experience and a degree. Therefore, if one knows how to take advantage of it, there will be many great opportunities.

What advice would you give to Vietnamese students who wish to apply for British Council Scholarships for Women in STEM 2022–23?

I believe that there are lots of opportunities in life that we may not be aware of. Thus, I encourage future candidates to go all the way and apply for the scholarship. A strong applicant is a suitable one. Therefore, spending the time to carefully go through the university, programme, and scholarship eligibility criteria would be very helpful to best prepare for your application. Good luck!

Five Women in STEM Scholars (middle) and two programme staff Mohammed (left) và Nadia (right)
Thao My (left) and Tu Anh (right) – Two Women in STEM Scholars 2022-2023