Synthace – Mingke Pan, Commercial Support Executive

We interviewed Mingke Pan, Commercial Support Executive at Synthace on her thoughts and experience on women in tech.

1. What does your job role involve, and which parts do you enjoy the most?

At Synthace, I work on both marketing and business strategy. As a B2B business, conferences are the main marketing channels to drive sales activities. I am responsible for selecting, organising, coordinating conferences to raise Synthace awareness and to engage with our potential customers. What I enjoy the most is the strategy side, where I explore new market opportunities through market research and talking to industry professionals. It’s fascinating to learn new industry and think about how we could help and deliver value to potential clients.

2. What made you choose a career in STEM?

I have always been interested in STEM, especially the complexity of biological system and ecosystem diversity. During university, I became increasingly interested in new innovations and how biotechnology could change society in a way never imagined before. I had a chance to undertake a placement at GSK where I gained exposure to R&D and pipeline of drug development. It excites me to think about harnessing the power of biology to produce pioneer drugs and to cure complicated diseases. Since then I have become a deep believer of ‘biotech will be the future of technology’

3. Did you study a STEM related subject at A-Level or University?

Yes. I enjoy studying STEM and I am better in STEM subjects than arts/social sciences. During A-level I studies Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geography. At university I studied Biology at Imperial and learned valuable hands-on experience in academic research.

4. Did you get any STEM related work experience before this role?

During my undergraduate studies, I undertook a year in placement at GSK where I optimised the growing condition for antibody-producing cells. Not only it assured my interest in pursuing a career in STEM fields, but it also sparked my interest in innovations. After returning to university for final year, I started working on a startup idea to develop rapid diagnostic tool for surgical bacteria infection and joined a few innovation competitions at university – we conducted the proof-of-concept testing of our idea in lab as well as built the business plan. In the end we didn’t continue working on the idea but the experience intrigued me to explore into startup worlds.

5. Do you think there is a lack of females in STEM related sectors?

Depending on the industry and level of seniority. In life sciences-related industry such as pharmaceutical and biotech, the ratio of female/male is fairly decent at junior/middle level. In more traditional engineering industries such as aeronautical engineering there is less females in general. However, in most of the STEM industries, there is a lack of female in more senior positions and leadership. But I am seeing there’s an increasing ratio of female/male in STEM as more companies realise the improved work efficiency with more balanced gender ratio at work.

6. Do you find there is a stereotype that a career in STEM is just for men?

No, at least not in my generation. At university, I am seeing most of my female engineering friends getting into some of the best engineering companies such as Rolls-Royce and Google. And girls are highly encouraged to get into STEM from university now.

7. What do you think might entice more women to study STEM related courses?

I think interest is the number one factor for students to decide what to study at university. Therefore I think girls should be encouraged by schools and parents to explore their interests in STEM, eg go to museums, watch documentaries; and more importantly they should be allowed to dream big and pursue their passion/interest at any stage of life. On a practical side, STEM graduates tend to have more promising career prospects and the communication of this aspect could entice more girls to choose STEM courses and careers.

7. What do you think might entice more women to study STEM related courses?

I think interest is the number one factor for students to decide what to study at university. Therefore I think girls should be encouraged by schools and parents to explore their interests in STEM, eg go to museums, watch documentaries; and more importantly they should be allowed to dream big and pursue their passion/interest at any stage of life. On a practical side, STEM graduates tend to have more promising career prospects and the communication of this aspect could entice more girls to choose STEM courses and careers.

8. Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into STEM roles?

Not much as far as I know, the only barrier I have seen back in China (which is a more generic thing) is the cost to the company of pregnancy/maternity leave. Therefore, when there are two technically equivalent candidates (one female and one male), the company tends to choose the male candidate due to the potential cost of pregnancy/maternity leave. In comparison, Europe is much better in gender balance.

9. Why do you think some people may be put off by the idea of a career in STEM? What do you think could be done to help?

I think the perception of STEM being a difficult and manual work-heavy subjects might put people off (mostly girls). Also I know a big chunk of my STEM friends eventually went for a finance career because the pay is better in finance than traditional STEM. However, the opinions coming from us (those who are in STEM) might be biased as we went into STEM – would be more insightful to ask for people who didn’t study STEM or left STEM after studies.

10. What advice would you give young women today if they were considering a career in STEM?

Explore STEM as much as you can! Work experience, internships, extra-curricular activities etc can give you better ideas on whether you would enjoy working in STEM from a practical side. Meanwhile, having a network of friends who work in STEM would help you reflect and learn different options at any career stage – this also allows you to help out each other.