A Whitchurch student is hoping to inspire more women to enter scientific subjects by setting up her own zine.

Lilly Denny set up STEMMED in March 2021, and has organised a team of like-minded women to produce their fanzine that aims to spark discussions and provide information about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects to female students.

“I wanted to produce something that’s not seeming like it’s written by someone much older, and is professionally done,” she said. “I wanted something that’s fun and creative and weird.”

Lilly says that she has always been interested in scientific subjects, but that growing up, female role models weren’t always there.

“Looking back at my education, there were only male maths teachers in our school and it was sad the representation wasn’t there,” she said. “I think it’s the availability of women in that sector.

“There were times I had male teachers telling me I couldn’t do something, and if you tried to speak up about something boys would never have your back. It’s because they can’t be in our shoes.

“It’s even the unspoken things like doing experiments where there are harsher chemicals where a teacher would get a guy to demonstrate. It wasn’t spoken but you know deep down why it was a guy getting told to do that.”

Following school, Lilly decided to go into forensic science at university, which she said was “very female-dominated”. However, she decided to make the change to medical science, and has been supporting her studies with STEM tutoring on the side.

It was while tutoring students in January that she realised that they needed more guidance about their future.

Lilly said: “I was tutoring science and maths and I was talking with my students, most of which are girls, and none of them had a clue what they wanted to do with their life. They knew they liked science but hadn’t really been told all the different ways they could do it.

“Thinking back, it was always maths, chemistry, biology, physics and medicine and no one really discussed anything else. Once you’re in Uni, and it’s too late, then you realise there’s a lot more options.”

After posting her idea for a zine, aimed at girls leaving secondary school and college, on a Facebook page, she got a good response from members, with 40 signing up in some capacity to help her, with 10 of them forming the core editorial team for the zine, christened STEMMED, which launched on Instagram shortly after.

“In the first week we gained 100 followers without pushing it that much,” Lilly said. “There’s definitely a need for it, to create something positive and empowering.

“It’s a space I think where we can discuss things that aren’t often spoken about, especially in some places, as there are some parts of science where everyone acts like the idea of men always being in charge has been dealt with, but there’s still hidden sexism we all deal with.”

Men and women alike have given them positive feedback about their work, leading the team to start putting together their first print edition, focusing on STEM in lockdown. However, it wasn’t a smooth ride.

“Trying to understand the software is the most difficult,” Lilly said. “I’ve used some software before but never for a professional looking magazine. Writing articles is alright as it’s something I’m passionate about, the ideas come quite easily, but just trying to figure how to put it all together is a challenge.

It’s very much trying to learn on the job, doing the research and chatting to others. I don’t think any of us have really done a magazine before and it’s just a lot of learning. One girl is doing a graphic design degree which is really helping but it’s a big learning curve.”

They launched a Kickstarter to back their project, aiming to raise £100 and print 25 issues. They received a massive response, garnering over £1000 in funding, and having to double their print run as copies sold out. They plan to print as soon as the crowdfunding platform transfers their funds, and are already working on the second.

“In the first meeting we already decided our second issue’s theme,” Lilly said, “so the second issue will be focusing on LGBT+ issues in STEM as Summer is when most UK Pride events take place. We’re trying to find trans women and we’ve talked to some drag queens about the issues they faced because that’s quite a new thing that’s been brought up, especially trans women in science and it’s something we want to look more into.”

Looking to the future, the team hope to produce STEMMED four times a year, and also plan to launch a podcast in the coming months. They also have plans for events as well.

“When we have the funding we’d like to hold conferences where women can have a safe space to speak about everything. It’s really interesting the random STEM jobs we’ve found in the past few months, and we want to bring their voices forward.”

STEMMED is always looking for new people to get involved, and they can be contacted on https://instagram.com/stemmedzine or at stemmedzine@gmail.com