What can we do to make our children do physics?

TL;DR Tell your kids it’s ok/awesome to pursue physics as a career choice as you have more influence than somebody smashing a frozen flower on a table.

I read an interesting article, that discussed this enormous gap that we are experiencing in the sciences. Simply, engineering, maths and physics are male dominated, which is bad.

I took our society to CERN last year. Have not circled the women.

I took our society to CERN last year. Have not circled the women in hard hats…

Assuming that students only care about making stuff blow up or that girls want to see women in hard hats is greatly patronising. When choosing an A-level, pupils are basing their subject decisions on what they intend to study at university, what will support their future job applications, which GCSEs they enjoyed, which GCSEs they did well in. It is clear that there is a struggle to get women into STEM and whilst that motivated me to follow the path, to others it yells of an obstacle to difficult to overcome. Why break your back studying physics, fighting a lack of diversity when there are other less competitive career paths?

I don’t blame students for not choosing A-level physics. It’s hard. And university gets harder if you couldn’t lock down the mathematics ability. But physics at university opened all of the doors imaginable and we must communicate that physics IS for everybody.

At GCSE, I remember physics being horrible. I didn’t care that speed could be worked out as distance moved per second. I couldn’t go home and impress my parents with that. But I could talk about cells and the effect of isotonic sports drinks or the reason that wax’s flame was different to burning ethanol. GCSE physics was dire. I was in an all girls class. We all hated it. The only reason I went on to do it at A-Level is because I wanted to be an Aeronautical Engineer (that dream died when I realised that I didn’t want to work in a big warehouse making wings). But, that motivation got me into A-level physics and my life is better for it. Don’t let a poorly designed curriculum affect what students expect from physics, it is so much more than equations, it’s a handy toolbox that makes those possessing it employable.

Why else did I do it? I felt supported by my parents to. This is important. Many parents would not instinctively suggest a career or degree in physics. But they should. I listen to my parents (mostly) and when they agree that it would benefit me and demonstrate great qualities to employers, it reassured me and I never looked back. My point? Tell your kids that physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science, chemistry are good degree and career choices. You’re the biggest role models in their lives and they will definitely hear you out. If they don’t do those subjects, then it just means that there is something else they want to do more, which is a win-win situation.

Failing the degree is almost impossible if you attend 80% of your classes, achieve 65% average on your coursework (which is more than doable as they are open book), establish revision techniques that combine an estimation of what is probably going to be in the exam using past papers as a resource and revision of content. It seems daunting but is probably the most achievable degree available due to answers being either right or wrong. And it is much easier to excel as a result.

I think that the point made in this article about students being exposed to excessively successful women as a negative is important to identify. Not everybody is going to win a Nobel prize, do a PhD or work at CERN, some are going to do other things and this is not demonstrated. Success isn’t about becoming the most prominent figure in a field, it’s something we define. For me, getting more women into physics is imperative.

We need more normal women that did physics talking to our youngsters, discussing the benefits of a physics degree, talking about the fact that physics is not in fact our lives, that we don’t all aspire to be in a white coat and that learning physics is actually a life hack. Physics at A-Level and degree is an important tool and yes, it is a travesty that more girls don’t get into the subject.

Tell your kids to do physics. They will love it past GCSE and get so much from it. They might not be the next Einstein but they will probably get a job. There are tons of factors affecting our lack of females in the subject but as parents, you can be a big challenger to these.

#wise #physics #womeninscience #engineering #university #GCSE


TONIGHT’S COMET: Lovejoy C/2014 Q2

Today’s the day. Lovejoy is set to be at it’s brightest. The comet C/2014 Q2 aka Lovejoy will be close enough for viewing this 7th January. At a magnitude of +4.1, it’s not quite the brightest object in the sky but it will be visible to the naked eye.


Look at that beauty. Captured by Willie Koorts.

Sadly, us townies don’t really get to see the sky and certainly not as vividly as Willie’s snap above, but 10.30pm offers peak viewing times.

Sky and Telescope have made a neat little diagram showing the expected path of the comet.


This should make it easy to find. NOTE: Clouds not accounted for…

One of the more interesting aspects of the comet is its colour: it appears mint green. Sadly, the trail won’t be as beautiful as the one seen at the top of the page but below is a recent shot of the comet. The naked eye will see something similar.


Comet captured by Chappers88 in Berkshire via Stargazerslounge.com.

It is quite dim. If you have a pair of binoculars, get them out. That zoom can make all the difference.

Comets are always exciting and with a large orbit of around 11500 years, you won’t see this one again!

Happy looking.


Oprah and the Physics Speaker


Oprah is an example of a key person of influence that seeks to provide a daily nugget of inspiration to Americans ready to be moved. Such is the success of her empire, Winfrey is one of the most powerful and wealthy individuals around. With that money, she has changed lives and communities and is deserving of praise.

As any KPI should, Oprah continually updates how she connects with her following and the latest effort, “Live the Life You Want” has the motivator touring the US as she preaches faith, hope and love. Attendees will leave feeling touched by her words and honoured to share her presence. But there is a third party left feeling sour.

At these events, tickets are charged from $99 all the way up to a stinging $999. For that, attendees get to hear Oprah speak amongst other spiritual spoken journeys not by the mogul herself. Those speakers, revealed by one act asked to speak – Revolva – are simply not being offered financial compensation. Even travel expenses are a dollar too far.

Profits are important and keeping them shouldn’t involve taking advantage of organisations that need to build their public profile. It isn’t like Oprah can’t afford it.


Paying Physics Entertainers
Not obviously relevant to physics and education (I don’t think Oprah has a physics degree), I mention the above as a series of conversations I had with some fantastic academics suggested that their ability to draw a crowd is valued enough to ask for their performance but not enough to charge accordingly. Usually, these leaders in science are volunteering their time on the basis that what they are saying should be communicated to the masses. It should, but they shouldn’t have to always do it for free.

I ran a society for a year and every month we would ask a speaker to give an evening lecture on behalf of our department and would offer plenty of wine as a thank you. We did not charge members to attend and did the events at a loss made up for by our generous school. But there are an increasing amount of events where attendees pay for tickets but speakers do not make any money. The fact that these talented physicists double as influential speakers and great entertainers should be celebrated and rewarded accordingly. There needs to be a movement towards paying for events and thus, speakers being paid for their time in not only delivering knowledge but their preparation and skill. Scientists are putting up with it but might not for much longer. Their role in getting our passion out there is priceless but surely deserving of a reward.

There isn’t really the money for it. Lots of people are doing it for free which means that those wanting to charge for their time can’t really do so. We, as attendees and supporters, have to be happy to start paying for events. Next time you attend a ticketed science event, consider how generous the performer is given the understanding that they probably aren’t being paid.