Encouraging female students to take STEM subjects at A level

Hi!

I’m Steph and I’m a Sixth Form student who plans to pursue a career in engineering.

 

As the only (out of about 40 students total) female physics or further maths student in my Sixth Form, I am keen to encourage more GCSE students to take science subjects at A level. Speaking to some of them, a lot of them do not believe they are intelligent enough, even the top students in the class.

I am currently volunteering to help out with science lessons once a week but want to do more.


Does anyone have any ideas about how to encourage more students (particularly female students) to take science subjects at A level?

Thanks for any suggestions!
Parents
  • SRVerwey:

    Hi everyone,

    What I meant by my question was how can I help make it more welcoming to female students, so they do not discount physics as an option only because it is male dominated.



    I have come to realise that it is exactly these kinds of attitudes (that STEM subjects are male dominated because they are only for men) that make STEM subjects unappealing to girls and women. Of course many girls and women choose not to pursue STEM careers because they do not want to, which is completely valid and these are not the people who I am trying to encourage. 



    I am trying to encourage the girls who are considering STEM subjects but hear people like you telling them that they can pursue STEM careers if they really want to but that they will fail because they are not men, because that is even off-putting to me even though I have never wanted to pursue a career in the arts!



    Thank you very much to the people who have replied with suggestions or who have helped to fight against the misconceptions surrounding gender.




    Hi,


    Really good question again. I think the critical point is to make sure that any activities take it for granted that of course anyone who is interested in physics (engineering, technology, chemistry, whatever...) is going to be able to do it. The good news is that, in my experience, the age group (say) 15 to 30 are really good at this.


    (By the way, a bit off topic, but the age group 5 to 11 are BRILLIANT at it. It was huge fun when I used to run primary STEM activities - some kids were into it, some weren't, but what divided them wasn't sex, gender, race, IQ or anything else easily spottable. It just doesn't occur to most of them that they can't do things. Then they go to secondary school and the conditioning really starts...)


    So the key really seems to be having enthusiastic people around - of either sex - who are prepared to take anyone who shows an interest and encourage them. There's an excellent BBC Radio programme, "The Life Scientific", that interviews successful scientists from all sorts of fields, many of whom came from very unlikely backgrounds. The common theme throughout tends to be that they had one teacher, lecturer, or employer who believed in them and encouraged them.


    I'd have thought an excellent thing to do is to look out for inspiring webcasts / vlogs aimed at your age group with the attitude "you could do this too" - maybe someone here could recommend some? And after lockdown go to IET events and if there's an inspiring speaker go up to them and invite them to your school (or by then university / college), asking them specifically to gear their talk to "you can do this".


    I'm going to talk to my team about this as well to try and get some more ideas - we're a 50:50 male / female team working at a rather serious level, two of them (Carolyn and Daniela) featured here: https://www.railengineer.co.uk/2018/12/11/175-years-of-progress/



    I was talking to my youngest sister (who's still rather older than me) about this subject recently, and how it was that my three sisters who were born during the 1940s and 1950s came to be doing a rather extraordinary range of jobs through their careers, very successfully. Our Father, who was born in 1913, was a Chartered Engineer, and the way my sister put it was "it just never occurred to Dad that we wouldn't be interested in things or that we couldn't do things, and so it didn't occur to us."


    My own daughter is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zv2skmn She's currently on her way home from spending several weeks in the Antarctic, when she gets back she'll be analysing her samples using computer algorithms she's written. This is an interesting page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Antarctica - as Jazzy says, until 1987 she wouldn't have been allowed to do it. Things are changing, but it is an interesting case study to see the attitudes that you do need to watch out for, as that article says:



    A letter from BAS personnel sent to a woman who applied in the 1960s read, "Women wouldn't like it in Antarctica as there are no shops and no hairdresser."



    She seemed to survive that pretty well ? (P.S.  In her spare time she fixes her (male) musician friends' instruments and teaches them the difference between Phillips and Pozidrive screwdrivers! Anyone who thinks males naturally understand and appreciate technology should try spending time with musicians - as I have over very many years... Horses for courses, I'm not an excellent musician but pretty good at the technology side. And that's fine.)


    Bottom line to pass on: never let anyone tell you that engineering, physics, tech, or indeed arts, humanities, or social scientists are not for you because you're "an xxx, and xxx's can't do that".


    Good luck, keep at it,


    Andy


Reply
  • SRVerwey:

    Hi everyone,

    What I meant by my question was how can I help make it more welcoming to female students, so they do not discount physics as an option only because it is male dominated.



    I have come to realise that it is exactly these kinds of attitudes (that STEM subjects are male dominated because they are only for men) that make STEM subjects unappealing to girls and women. Of course many girls and women choose not to pursue STEM careers because they do not want to, which is completely valid and these are not the people who I am trying to encourage. 



    I am trying to encourage the girls who are considering STEM subjects but hear people like you telling them that they can pursue STEM careers if they really want to but that they will fail because they are not men, because that is even off-putting to me even though I have never wanted to pursue a career in the arts!



    Thank you very much to the people who have replied with suggestions or who have helped to fight against the misconceptions surrounding gender.




    Hi,


    Really good question again. I think the critical point is to make sure that any activities take it for granted that of course anyone who is interested in physics (engineering, technology, chemistry, whatever...) is going to be able to do it. The good news is that, in my experience, the age group (say) 15 to 30 are really good at this.


    (By the way, a bit off topic, but the age group 5 to 11 are BRILLIANT at it. It was huge fun when I used to run primary STEM activities - some kids were into it, some weren't, but what divided them wasn't sex, gender, race, IQ or anything else easily spottable. It just doesn't occur to most of them that they can't do things. Then they go to secondary school and the conditioning really starts...)


    So the key really seems to be having enthusiastic people around - of either sex - who are prepared to take anyone who shows an interest and encourage them. There's an excellent BBC Radio programme, "The Life Scientific", that interviews successful scientists from all sorts of fields, many of whom came from very unlikely backgrounds. The common theme throughout tends to be that they had one teacher, lecturer, or employer who believed in them and encouraged them.


    I'd have thought an excellent thing to do is to look out for inspiring webcasts / vlogs aimed at your age group with the attitude "you could do this too" - maybe someone here could recommend some? And after lockdown go to IET events and if there's an inspiring speaker go up to them and invite them to your school (or by then university / college), asking them specifically to gear their talk to "you can do this".


    I'm going to talk to my team about this as well to try and get some more ideas - we're a 50:50 male / female team working at a rather serious level, two of them (Carolyn and Daniela) featured here: https://www.railengineer.co.uk/2018/12/11/175-years-of-progress/



    I was talking to my youngest sister (who's still rather older than me) about this subject recently, and how it was that my three sisters who were born during the 1940s and 1950s came to be doing a rather extraordinary range of jobs through their careers, very successfully. Our Father, who was born in 1913, was a Chartered Engineer, and the way my sister put it was "it just never occurred to Dad that we wouldn't be interested in things or that we couldn't do things, and so it didn't occur to us."


    My own daughter is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zv2skmn She's currently on her way home from spending several weeks in the Antarctic, when she gets back she'll be analysing her samples using computer algorithms she's written. This is an interesting page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Antarctica - as Jazzy says, until 1987 she wouldn't have been allowed to do it. Things are changing, but it is an interesting case study to see the attitudes that you do need to watch out for, as that article says:



    A letter from BAS personnel sent to a woman who applied in the 1960s read, "Women wouldn't like it in Antarctica as there are no shops and no hairdresser."



    She seemed to survive that pretty well ? (P.S.  In her spare time she fixes her (male) musician friends' instruments and teaches them the difference between Phillips and Pozidrive screwdrivers! Anyone who thinks males naturally understand and appreciate technology should try spending time with musicians - as I have over very many years... Horses for courses, I'm not an excellent musician but pretty good at the technology side. And that's fine.)


    Bottom line to pass on: never let anyone tell you that engineering, physics, tech, or indeed arts, humanities, or social scientists are not for you because you're "an xxx, and xxx's can't do that".


    Good luck, keep at it,


    Andy


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