As is the case in many developing countries, South Africa strives for a knowledge-based economy and every effort is being made to increase the number of PhD graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to support this goal. Women and girls have an important role to play; hence increasing the number of female graduates is a high priority. But progressing on the path towards a PhD in STEM is not easy, and many young women get lost along the way. This loss of women is a common phenomenon in most academic systems around the world, including in South Africa, and is described as the ‘leaky pipeline’. Socio-economic factors, the masculine image of science, lack of mentoring, role models and confidence in mathematics are some of the factors contributing to this phenomenon. According to estimates by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, women represent less than 30% of the research workforce worldwide. The underrepresentation of women in STEM translates into a loss of a critical mass of talent, thoughts and ideas, which hinders countries from reaching their maximum development potential.
Because Science is Fun is a dynamic book that presents the stories of 25 emerging South African young female scientists to inspire young girls and women in South Africa, on the continent, and around the world. It tells stories of how these young women scientists have overcome a range of obstacles to obtain their PhD degrees, embarked on successful science-based careers, and their engagements in science for society work. Their personal stories tell of overcoming financial and personal challenges; dispelling misconceptions about science; and tackling societal pressures and beliefs to follow their dreams. The vivid recollections elicit emotion and provide sound inspiration to young people, and especially girls and young women in South Africa. The stories are told in the form of a motivational talk and do not reflect biographies of the young women scientists interviewed. It encourages girls and young women to follow their education and career dreams in science.