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


Physics Study in London League Tables

London is the best city to study in and physics is the best subject to study – a potentially biased opinion but one that I am proud to argue and experience first hand. Quite a few institutions are offering Physics degrees and pupils forced to apply via UCAS use university league tables as a crutch in choosing an institution. In a future article I will discuss how I think this pressure to pick “the best” university is nonsense for the majority, an unnecessary worry, that the geography should be the main focus, but that’s for another time. Here I will simply list London’s vast array of options.

For simplicity and because I refuse to purchase The Times Higher Education book or pay to look online, I’m going to use The Guardian’s subject table.

6th – Imperial College

8th – UCL, University of London

20th – Royal Holloway, University of London

32nd – King’s College London, University of London

41st – Queen Mary, University of London

This is an enormously different picture to three years ago. UCL and Imperial were pushing for top 4 positions with Queen Mary and King’s in considerably lower positions than previous years.

As a graduate, I receive a much better understanding as to some of the criteria used to complete the university tables. One column takes the overall satisfaction of students gathered via The National Student Survey with the current year’s now being published to universities. That data is with regards to the year of 2014 yet the league table exists currently for students applying for 2015 entry. The current data from 2013’s cohort is being used to influence students that will enter in 2015 – a two year difference. It’s arguably outdated. This was one of the only columns that I naively believed to be a good indication as to the quality of the university but as an insider knowing just how large the difference between 2013’s and 2014’s NSS is, I can say that students should be cautious.

Prospective students: remember that the league tables are a guide, not to be a decision maker but a tool. I have never met anybody that said “I hate studying in London”. It’s a fantastic location to be in and whilst you’re an undergraduate, you are allocated an increased student loan for being in the capital as well as zero council tax making the city affordable. Strongly consider making one of your options one of the 5 above. London and physics will be the best decision you ever make.