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How to Get Girls into Physics

By Frances Saunders

Research from the UK has identified several impediments that discourage girls from studying physics, with new interventions now being trialled.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The Institute of Physics has been active in researching diversity issues for a decade, examining the whole pipeline of people in physics-related careers in the UK, from school, through further education and into jobs in academia and industry. From this research there are two critical parts of the pipeline where gender diversity issues stand out:

  • at the age of 16, when the proportion of girls studying physics drops to around 20% of the cohort; and
  • at senior leadership roles (e.g. senior lecturer and above in academia), where it drops a further 10% so that women are significantly under-represented in the top jobs.
    • Both of these drops in engagement and participation have proved remarkably stubborn for physics, despite having been identified for at least 20 years.

      We know from our work with researchers and campaign groups that girls and boys are highly gendered from a very young age, and that this affects their subject choices and career options. Our recent research suggests that many schools are unconsciously re-enforcing these gender stereotypes or making them worse, and that a “whole-school approach” to tackling the problem is essential.

      Our work has also identified three key influences on students’ attitudes to studying physics. It starts with their own self-concept and whether they can see themselves enjoying the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.