Just recently I was given a healthy reminder that some stereotypes are really hard to break. I am very open about the fact that I was always interested in science, however when I hit 16 I was more interested in being cool. Unfortunately I had no role models that were cool scientists which led me to make some decisions that would lead me away from science* for over a decade**. And so during my time at the Research School of Earth Sciences I have gladly been involved with the university’s Equity and Diversity Unit, that most recently included participating in their ‘Who are scientists?’ workshop that was held for 14 year olds from regional school along the coast.
The 8 representative ‘scientists’ were jumbled in with other staff from our coastal campus, and when singled out the 120 kids were asked to stand if they thought that person was a scientist. Of 120, guess how many stood for me……
When I congratulated my ONE champion afterwards, his response was:
‘Oh but I stood for everyone‘
Sigh. The two other female scientists had similar numbers, perhaps 4 or 5? The old men, with grey hair and goofy shirts, or socks and sandals, they had most of the kids standing. And so, just over 20 years have passed and we still don’t think that women are scientists. Sigh.
But the day was not just about gender. It was about getting kids enthused about science because the numbers of students choosing science and mathematics at high school is dwindling in this country. The number of students enrolling in science and engineering courses is also not encouraging. Yet somehow we are going to solve the multitude of problems facing a planet that supports over 7 billion people….without science, technology and innovation?
The main driver for me to set up this blog in the first place was because I wanted a platform from which students, of any age, could see how INTERESTING science (and in this case, earth science) can be, and how relevant it is to society. But every time I do outreach work I come up against the same reaction in many (but not all) students, and that is that a scientist is a crusty old man in a lab coat. I had a wonderful day regaling students with the adventures of this particular earth scientist and was rewarded with some great feedback, that included that I have nice shoes. It is the hope of all the scientists who participated in the day, that from now on, when asked who in the room is a scientist, that the kids will stand up for everyone!
* It’s tempting to write ‘regret’ here but had I made different decisions to the ones that I did, there is no guarantee I would have had any of the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to have; the best of which was meeting my husband on a research vessel six years ago. Awesome husband = no regrets.
** My GAP year from school turned into a gap decade, where quite frankly I was a bit of a spanner for a long time, however * still applies.