On Tuesday 13 October in a galaxy not so far away at Edinburgh Napier University, astrophysicist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE delivered the university’s first Ada Lovelace lecture – Women in Science: The Challenge.
In the audience were Rachel Adamson from the Scottish Funding Council and Jackie Galbraith from Ayrshire College. Here is a summary of what they took away from the lecture.
Maggie talked about her three-pronged approach to encouraging young people into science and technology –
- Role models – who don’t need to, indeed shouldn’t, be perfect. Maggie believes that the critical skill of a role model is to share experience and knowledge
- Relevance – where the contribution of science, engineering and technology is demonstrated by meaningful examples which young people can relate to
- Wonder – encouraging curiosity and exploration of ideas.
But, we have a problem. A problem which Maggie summed up as a ‘societal PR problem’. According to Maggie, science, technology and engineering suffer from an image of being ‘pale, male and stale’, with significant women scientists and mathematicians invisible in most classrooms.
She highlighted the achievements of historical and current day female scientists including Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win twice in multiple sciences.
Possibly more disconcerting and damaging is the image of science, engineering and technology as irrelevant, with the portrayal in this Dilbert video one which many parents and young people identify with.
To overcome these negative perceptions, when she speaks to young people in schools, Maggie shares three things with them –
- Why she became a scientist
- How she became a scientist
- What she does as a scientist
What inspired the 3-year-old Maggie to become a scientist was the Clangers and a desire to travel to space to meet them!
This desire kept her motivated throughout her school life and, despite having undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, she graduated with a BSc in physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London.
As a scientist, she has worked for the Ministry of Defence on projects ranging from missile warning systems to landmine detectors.
Up, up and away!
Introducing her lecture, Maggie said that we live in ‘scientifically exciting times’, which she illustrated very well in her presentation. She concluded that ‘science has the power to unite us’ if we adhere to the statement in the photo below of her daughter.
Food for thought – Could science be the new cookery?
Maggie was hopeful that we could soon see as many TV programmes on science as we currently have on cookery and that there might be as much excitement and interest generated by them!
But how might such interest come about?
As Maggie said, we need to address the ‘societal PR problem’. As part of this, Jackie and Rachel are working together with people from across Scotland to develop a Gender Action Plan setting out actions to achieve gender equality within Scottish colleges and universities.
Some of these actions will be focused on tackling the shortage of women in science, engineering and technology as well as the lack of men in other subjects, such as teaching and early years care.
With colleges and universities working with schools to provide pupils with positive role models, who show them the relevance of STEM to their own lives and instil in them wonder and curiosity for all things scientific, how long will it be before we have the Great British Science Off?
We think Maggie would make a great host!
RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES