Simran Kooner
  • Founded Women in Computing and STEM Support System
  • Student ambassador, course representative and PALS leader
  • Passionately encourages and supports women in STEM

Championing inclusivity

Simran Kooner

1. Who are you? And what is your passion?

I've lived in Bristol all of my life. When I moved to Plymouth to study computing, I realised I had the opportunity to expand my friendship group, develop my skills and learn about my weaknesses as a person. Being an introvert, I had always struggled with talking to new people and presenting in front of others.

I became a student ambassador, a course representative and a PALS leader. Within these roles, I not only helped other students but also developed as a person. It made me realise that I know more about my subject than I think, and that I have skills that I can apply to whatever I do and whatever company I work for. 

With this new-found confidence, I have already secured a graduate position. I strongly believe that it is the different experiences that I’ve had at Plymouth which have pushed me to do things I would never have thought possible. Struggling with anxiety means that it was a huge achievement to go for a job interview in a different town, on my own, and to apply for a role which I’m not fully confident with. In the end, it was my personality and willingness to go for such a role that set me apart from the other candidates. 

My passion is to achieve a work-life balance. I came to university to get the skill set needed for working life and to find something I could enjoy, but not make work my entire focus. 

Plymouth has helped me to find out who I am.

Women in STEM - Simran Kooner

2. You do a lot of work supporting women in STEM subjects – how would you like that to change in 10 years? 

I knew that as a girl studying computing I’d be in the minority, but I wasn’t prepared for how alone I could feel. It was this that sparked the idea of setting up the Women in Computing Support System. 
Almost straight away, I realised that the group needed to be expanded to all women in STEM subjects. The aim is to provide both academic and personal support. Sometimes this simply involves going out for a chat and some food. It has highlighted to me how many students actually need support. 
Even when I graduate, I still intend to be involved. I’ve spoken to my tutor about taking the network further and ensuring that a strong system is in place.
I have also created links with the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) group at the University as I’ve realised that there can never be too much available support from a cultural point of view. 
Looking to the future, I would like to create a similar support system in the workplace. I believe every company needs one. A lot of women don’t feel that they can speak their minds unless they have a support system behind them. 

3. What is a fear you’d like to conquer?

I think my main fear is being an adult in the real world! It’s a daunting step – I’ve spent almost my whole life in an academic bubble, but now I feel like I’m ready to get out in the real world and put what I’ve learnt into practice. 
I’ve also recently learnt to conquer my fear of swimming and of spiders!
circuit board - getty
Simran Kooner
Materials and Structures Research group

4. How do you respond when faced with a problem?

Being a planner, I analyse the situation. I draw up a mind map of the pros and cons and go with the best solution. If this doesn’t work, I don’t knock myself down, I just go for the next best solution.

5. What do you know of that you believe could really change our world for the better?

That’s easy – recycling! 

We are all aware of the problems our planet is facing and I try and do the small things to reduce my footprint. From campaigning for more water fountains at the University to taking metal straws with me on a night out, I believe every small act is important.

6. What do you want the world to look like in 10 years?

I would like to see technology used to the absolute benefit of mankind. But there needs to be a balance. Continuing improvements in artificial intelligence can be useful in so many ways but need to be controlled – I don’t want robots to take over.
From flying cars to automatic systems on our phones, these can be really good ideas that solve problems, but they cannot be at the cost of human safety and security. 
Our personal information – whether in banks or social media – needs to always be rigorously protected. It is so important that data safeguarding measures are continuously built into our developing computer systems, so our online identities and, therefore, our personal lives, do not get taken advantage of.
My hope is that we will see a world where more girls are empowered to help guide us through the advancement of AI and contribute to technologies that benefit everyone. So it becomes a world where girls working in STEM are not simply the minority, but an integral part of industries making a positive difference.

7. If you had the chance to share one message to the whole world, what would it be?

Be you and don’t be scared. 
I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression and insomnia and took a gap year before my final year at Plymouth to work through these issues. I am now in a stronger place and am working on creating a mental health app for my dissertation. I’d like others to know there is a great deal of support available and that there is always someone to talk to. 

Create the innovative and enabling technologies that underpin society and industry

Study computing

BSc Computer Science - image courtesy of Getty Images

What would your answers be?