Tackling Jakarta’s Floods Problem: Alya’s Motivation to Apply for the Women in STEM Scholarship

Alya Dayna Salma in front of the University of Glasgow’s Stone Plaque, which was a part of the original University of Glasgow building dating back to the year 1451. Source: Personal Documentation

Having lived in Jakarta and experienced its complexity, Alya decided to pursue MSc in Sustainable Water Environment at the University of Glasgow. Alya is one of the recipients of the prestigious Women in STEM Scholarship by the British Council 2021/2022. She aspires to implement her knowledge and skill from her Master’s degree to solve the water problem in Jakarta.

By living her passion, Alya also wants to break the bias regarding women in the STEM field

My name is Alya Dayna Salma, and people usually call me Alya. I studied Biology for my undergraduate degree at IPB University in Indonesia, where I became intrigued in wildlife and sustainability. During my undergraduate studies, I spent a lot of my time actively participating in organisations. I served as an active member of the Student Council of the Department of Biology for two consecutive years. I also volunteered for many activities related to biology and preserving the environment.

In my final year, I started working as a freelancer; translating documents, managing events, and doing some other administrative freelance jobs. Apart from that, I also volunteered as a Community Facilitator for a Non-Governmental Organisation called the Inspiration Factory Foundation, in which my role was to teach underprivileged children.

In 2020, I was chosen to be one of the Digital Activists for the Nature X Youth campaign held by the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia (WWF). In this role, I created weekly social media posts about numerous environmental sustainability topics amongst the young generation to gain engagement and spark discussions between my collaborators and my social media followers.

Alya’s Motivation to Study

Living in Jakarta, the current capital city of Indonesia, which by 2050 is estimated to sink because of the rising sea level and poor climate change adaptation, made me realise the urgency of seeking practical solutions to water sustainability issues. Since Jakarta is the densest city in Indonesia, millions of lives are at risk if the city is ruined by a disaster. Therefore, I chose to study this programme to gain in-depth knowledge of water sustainability and then come back to my city with skills that could be implemented to help mitigate against the water disaster.

The MSc in Sustainable Water Environments is a multidisciplinary programme part of the School of Geography and Earth Sciences, College of Science and Engineering, offered by the University of Glasgow. The programme is very multi discipline hence my classmates come from various backgrounds. Thus far, I feel like this programme has been very up-to-date in equipping us with the skills to utilise state-of-the-art software tools that can help us monitor, manage and model environmental change, especially in water environments. 

Alya entering the School of Geography building in the University of Glasgow. Source: personal documentation


Chasing your dream through Women in STEM Scholarship

The British Council’s Women in STEM scholarship is a scholarship given to women globally to pursue postgraduate studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the UK. It is a fully-funded scholarship covering all costs, from tuition fees to living allowances, travel costs, visa application fees, and includes extra allowances for mothers. This prestigious scholarship is designed to increase opportunities for women in the STEM field. I believe this scholarship is a fantastic opportunity to engage and collaborate with the community of Women in STEM; thus, it will expand the impact of the Women in STEM campaign.

I found this scholarship through a webinar held by an education agency in Indonesia which included a presentation by the University of Glasgow. Then I researched the programmes offered and how to apply for the scholarship. The application process was pretty straightforward; I first submitted an application to the university programme. After getting accepted by the university, I applied for the scholarship by submitting a personal statement essay through the university’s portal.

The University of Glasgow at night. Source: personal documentation.

Alya’s breakthrough moment that led her to the STEM field

I have been intrigued by natural sciences since primary school. When I was younger, my father took me to the zoo every other week to see the animals. I clearly remember enjoying reading encyclopaedias about nature and human biology. I specifically enjoyed studying biology when I was in senior high school. This was why I chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology. In my first year, I experienced my first breakthrough moment.

I participated in a voluntary programme conducted by my university to help the local settlements surrounding my campus. I joined the programme on a whim, but I ended up gaining a life-changing perspective from it. I was assigned to a village nearby where villagers faced multiple environmental problems. The source of their problem was their main river, which often got blocked by various debris, which caused a lot of problems, such as floods, and they did not have the correct information on how to solve it.

Thus they had to rely on volunteers from the university to help them. The programme was only two days long, but its influence on me changed my passion forever. As a result, I aspire to take my part in shaping a more sustainable future that can be experienced by all, especially for marginal communities, particularly women in remote areas, that tend to get left behind.

Gender Stereotype for Women in the STEM field

One of the challenges I have faced (and sometimes still face) while studying in STEM is gender stereotypes. Society sets some harmful gender stereotypes and expectations towards women, such as “there will be fewer career opportunities for women in some fields” and STEM being one of them. Or that “women are expected to take care of a child and a family; therefore, there is no point in women pursuing a high degree of education or having an astonishing career”. These are some examples of gender stereotypes that women, including me, have faced at some point or another in their lives.

Honestly, I am in no way capable of breaking these stereotypes alone. I contribute to breaking these stereotypes by trying my best and letting my hard work prove that they were wrong. I kept on going, kept my optimism, and kept on believing in the best.

Alya giving presentation in the Topographic Mapping laboratory. Source: personal documentation

Words of encouragement for fellow young women who have passion in the STEM field

My message for fellow young women out there interested in STEM: please go for it, don’t let societal expectations dictate what you can and can’t do. Even though some STEM subjects are popular amongst women, it is still not enough. More STEM fields lack women studying about them or pursuing a career in those fields. Currently, opportunities and networks for women in STEM are expanding rapidly, so don’t be afraid of your career opportunities after graduation.

Lastly, be the role model you wish you had when you were younger. By pursuing a STEM study or career, you can be the representative, the spokesperson, the inspiration for other girls and women out there who wish to follow a path in STEM. So, go for it.

Tips for applying Women in STEM Scholarship:

  • Prepare early to avoid missing deadlines, create a timeline and set attainable and timely goals in preparing the application.
  • Use your initiative and be as proactive as possible in searching for the information regarding the scholarship and the programme you are willing to apply to. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and contact the university representatives or programme representatives for more information.
  • Always proofread your essay to numerous people and don’t finish it overnight. The more practice drafts you have, the better your essay will be. The proofreaders also will give you insights and perspectives on things you might not realise when reading your own writing.
  • Be courageous, believe that you are good enough and don’t worry too much about failing. Applying to a scholarship itself is a win, so don’t be afraid and take the chance while it’s there!

If you are passionate about a career in STEM and wish to inspire future generations of women, apply for British Council Scholarship for #WomenInSTEM: https://bit.ly/IDWomenInSTEM

Editor: Rizkiya Ayu Maulida


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