Competition vs collaboration


Sooo, bear with me on this one…

I have taken up running, much to my extreme surprise. I need to get fit again and the gym is too far away to walk (and I have no car), so running it is. I’ve started using the NHS Couch to 5k app, which is basically a podcast that eases you in to running by doing alternate walks and runs. What I love about it is how Laura, who voices it, is endlessly patient and encouraging.

I’ve tried other exercise apps before, like FitBit and Nike, but they are based on competition, rather than encouragement, and the competition aspect of it really puts me off. The fact that my friend Rachel does more steps than me and runs more than me is not going to inspire me to work harder, because she’s way fitter than me and runs marathons. I don’t run marathons and never will run marathons, so the false competition either just makes me cross or totally demotivates me. (None of this, of course, is Rachel’s fault, as she is utterly lovely and I’m super impressed that she runs marathons!)

This leads me to wonder whether part of what puts less competitive girls off STEM is the fact that technology itself often couched in terms of competition. There are robotics competitions, science prizes, science essay writing competitions… and if you’re a) not a joiner and b) not competitive, these things seem designed to drive you away.

So I think one thing that we need to be mindful of when drawing up our educational resources is that we need to cater for a variety of personality types, including shy, quiet, loner girls who wouldn’t compete if their lives depended on it.



Completely ignoring your point (which is well-made and definitely something worthy of discussion), I’ve had a look at the NHS podcast but haven’t tried it out yet and was wondering what you thought of it. It seems to only have one run a week until week 5. Is that all you’re doing or do you listen to the same podcast a few times? I really need to get fitter but am struggling to get started. Once it becomes a habit it’ll be ok, it’s just making that habit that’s hard!



Ha ha ha! Shall we start a Fitness thread? I’ll answer it there.



Answering your original post, Suw, I think you have a point. I remember some TV programme about PE in schools and how girls often lose the fitness habit in their teens while they are self concious about puberty etc. They found that general circuit training where the girls were measuring their own fitness, and not comparing themselves to others worked better.

This is all good, and it might have kept me in an organised fitness habit in to adult hood where team games etc had lost me by the age of 13.


One thing I know about myself is that I am ferociously competitive. I hate losing at things i am trying to win. But I have also developed ways of hiding this all my life. I think it’s not an attractive trait - is this me having been conditioned to hide my competitive streak because women “winning” and enjoying it is not considered “ladylike” for want of a better word? I don’t know, I really don’t.

My point is that IF there is a societal tendency to play down competitiveness in women, then we should also be mindful that pitching activities in a purely collaborative way risks playing to that stereotype, and inadvertantly emphasising it. So activities would ideally require elements of both to work, iyswim



It seems like a lot of early years science engagement is couched in terms of competition, as you say, which not only can drive people away but also doesn’t seem massively representative of science as a whole. I know that you are ‘competing’ with other labs to be the first to find something but generally the work is much more collaborative, both in terms of working within departments and as well as making links with other researchers.

I’m pretty competitive when it comes to games and things and when there are prizes for best whatever I do want to win (though I rarely do!). However I can definitely see how the competitive aspect can be off-putting, not just for those who don’t like competition but also for those who do and feel that because they didn’t win they aren’t good enough or just get an irrational dislike for the subject as a sort of ‘well screw you’ retort to the loss.

Luehea makes a good point about the sexism aspect of competition but I’m now wondering whether the hyper-competitiveness of men is also a largely social construct and there are many who would prefer to have to spend their lives competing.



It is collaboration, not competition, that girls need, from the WISE report 'Not for people like me?"

The Churchill Fellowship reported that girls don’t need competition to thrive. “Girls can thrive on collaborative and mission-based tasks that have goals to accomplish and achieve. Girls will generally take longer because they do things properly whereas the boys think things are ‘good enough’. If you told the students to get their robots to form a square the boys would be happy to get the gist of the task and move on to the next activity even with an imperfect square. Girls on the other hand, are more likely to keep labouring on with the task until their robot draws a perfect square. The boys race ahead in a class. The girls think they’re not as good as the boys and lose self- esteem in technical abilities. Boys are less worried and self-conscious about getting stuff wrong”.

Thus activities that are intended to encourage girls to consider STEM careers need to take this difference in approach into account and not to rely on competitions as the motivator as the subliminal message that girls take away, on losing, that girls are not good at STEM will reinforce the gender stereotypes, confirm their self- identity as ‘not STEM’ and lead them away from STEM.

A Science Centres report recommends:
• Girls work best in girl-only events with female-only experts.
• Girls are sensitive to the physical environment and how it looks (e.g. is it dirty?).