That was an interesting article, with some bits I agree with and others I don’t. I wonder if the bits about not relying on spectacular stuff/really impressive people is related to this? I think there is definitely a place for spectacular stuff but it needs to be in conjuction with more relatable stuff. I went to a couple of events as a teenager run by the Institute of Physics which were brilliant. Yes, they had liquid nitrogen, but they also had computers linked to this thing called the ‘internet’, and we got to present our own talks and listen to ones by proper scientists (we had stuff on GM tomatoes, volcanoes, and loads of other stuff that sounded so interesting). They showed what science could be and was really inspiring because these people weren’t famous names, they were just people but they were doing extraordinary things.
One thing the article said was that,
"it’s better to get someone in who is from the local area, from a similar
background to the students, who can come back again and again and
develop a sustained relationship.”
It reminded me that while doing my GCSEs we had a Chemistry PhD student come in for a term and join our chemistry lessons. I don’t remember exactly why she was there but it was definitely a benefit as, again, it was just someone normal studying amazing things and by having her there for a term we got to know her and start to think that we were able to do what she did (which is pretty amazing considering how bad I was at chemistry!).
Without wanting to extrapolate too far from my own experiences, I’d say that maybe what they’re trying to say (though not fantastically well) is that famous people doing amazing things isn’t necessarily the best way to inspire, getting it’s ‘normal’ people who do amazing things. So, instead of getting Helen Sharman in to talk about going up on Mir, get someone from the local university who has worked on an ESA project or something. From what I’ve seen of ALD, that’s a lot of what you do so I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about.
The part where I’m in complete disagreement with them and complete agreement with you is about the ‘opening doors’. One of the major reasons I left physics was that the only two career paths that seemed in front of me was 1) being stuck at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere using a telescope (that I would spend a lot of time in a university hadn’t been made clear to me) or 2) going and working in the City, and I’d have rather died than live that scenario. If more career options within physics
had been made explicit during my student days I might have stuck it out rather than quitting after the first year.
I thought this line was rather telling,
“Until the mums are comfortable that their daughters will be happy and
successful in a Stem career, they will not be supportive and the
daughter, at the end of the day, will think again."
I think this is a very good point. Parents (usually) want their kids to be happy and if they predict that a career choice will not bring that happiness they may well try and guide them away from it. I also think that peer groups are important here - studying science still seems to be considered a ‘male’ thing and girls are often steered away from studying it through peer-group influence.
I’ve waffled on far too much, but I just want to end by saying I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution and there isn’t an easy fix. Inspiring people to study physics is pointless if you can’t show that there’s interesting careers that will use that degree. Inspiring women to study physics is pointless if you can’t show that they won’t be miserable and feel socially ostracised. But fixing a lot of this can’t be fixed by focusing on physics, or engineering, or whatever institute is complaining that there aren’t enough women in their field. It’s societal, and from everything I’ve seen it starts really
young. Babies are treated differently according to their sex, toddlers are guided away from playing with certain toys depending on whether they’re a boy or a girl. Toys, TV shows, books, films, all say that boys and girls are different and like different things and are good at different things. A single event is never going to undo all of that social conditioning, but it can be the final straw that breaks the conditioning for a few people and as long as that’s an acceptable outcome for the organisers then it’s totally worthwhile. (Also, getting people into science shouldn’t be the only goal, getting people interested in science as laypeople should be an equally valid outcome and these events totally do that).