IUBio GIL .. BIOSCI/Bionet News .. Biosequences .. Software .. FTP

Science ed in UK

Tue Jan 19 16:14:00 EST 1993

Just to add my few pence worth to this discussion:

>I have just participated in a study here at MIT concerning this topic.  It 
>seems that the single biggest factor in our group was having encouraging 
>parents.  None of the women in the study group (all of us were graduate 
>students or Post-Docs in science) had parents who failed to ACTIVELY encourage 
>the pursuit of science

I can't honestly say that this was my experience.  Despite the fact that my mother 
is a social scientist, she was not keen on my going into Science.  She seems to 
think that this puts me at a social disadvantage.  This has happened more recently - 
at school age both my parents were very encouraging about anything I did, but 
certainly not science in particular. 

I can't remember any science education as such in my state-run primary school (up 
to age 9).  Certainly no-one ever said - "This is a science lesson".  But I know 
that recent changes in primary school education (grades 1 - 6) have made Science a 
compulsory part of the curriculum.  I went to an all-girls school between 11 and 
16, and so my experience is probably not relevant to pupils in mixed schools.  But 
in this all female environment (we only had 2 male teachers - one potter and one 
physicist!) any girl with the slightest academic inclination was positively hounded 
into doing Science - the attitude was "If you're clever, you should study sciences 
and be a doctor".  The teaching I received at school was very good, and I enjoyed 
Science, but I also enjoyed other subjects.   I didn't really decide to make 
Science a career until I was at University, and my (male) Director of Studies 
inspired me(!).  I think this idea of providing girls at school with positive role 
models is a very good one.  I didn't have one.   But I want to add that in all the 
schools I went to I never had anyone say to me that I couldn't do such-and-such 
because I was a girl.

>This raises another (I think important) point.  I am sure most of you 
>notice how much more verbal participation in seminars, group 
>discussions, etc. comes from the male scientists as compared to the 
>female scientists.  This in itself has got to have a dampening effect 
>on the progress of women in science; we need to put ourselves out on a 
>limb sometimes, and don't do it enough.  Is this something we were 
>taught in school?  Do other (female) readers feel that the above described 
>their schooling?

On this point, I find it interesting that girls are found to do better in single 
sex schools, while boys do better at a mixed school.  Perhaps this is a consequence 
of boys being encouraged to speak up, while girls are expected to be more retiring.  
Certainly it was a shock to me when I entered a mostly boys school at 16.  The 
classes were so unruly!  No-one put their hand up and waited to be called, they all 
just spoke up when they felt like it.  A friend of mine who teaches pre-school 
children said she was shocked to find these attitudes being instilled in her 2-5 
year olds!  I also agree with earlier remarks about this persisting into university 
teaching.  One of the women professors I met at university had stopped supervising 
men and women in the same group, since she felt women didn't get a fair chance in 
mixed situations.  

I think the problem with Science education, at least in the UK, has several facets, 
most briefly expressed as follows:
(i) At school, people think it's difficult, and hence only for clever people.  If 
you're not perceived as being clever, you are often encouraged to give up Science 
as soon as possible.  (Male and Female).  From this it follows that Science is for 
nerds.  If you're able to do Science, you must be clever, and therefore also a 
nerd.  Perhaps if girls are taught to care more about what the world thinks of 
them, this is more of a problem for them than it is for boys.  This point also has 
a corollary as you continue in Science to University level and beyond, which is 
that if you are a Scientist, you are very narrow minded, and have no knowledge of 
books, music, etc. 
(ii) Science is for boys.  They are more intelligent, or at least more able to deal 
with the complex concepts involved in Science (and Maths) (this is a genuine 
feeling from some people I have met, I promise)
(iii) Perhaps a continuation of (i).  If the boys are more prepared to speak up, 
and given science is "hard", they presumably may get more help, and thus become 
better able to cope with science. 

I don't know what the answer is, and I should really be writing my thesis, and not 
E-mail messages.  Just wanted to add a trans-Atlantic viewpoint - there don't seem 
to be many of us subscribing to this network.

Sorry about the length of this message,
Emily Lawson (plant molecular biologist/geneticist), John Innes Centre, UK. 


More information about the Womenbio mailing list

Send comments to us at archive@iubioarchive.bio.net