All posts by Olivia Keenan

13Mar/19

Enfield Council International Women’s Day Conference

Friday 8th March was International Women’s Day, a day where we celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the barriers which still exist to achieving gender equality. Our Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Olivia Keenan, was invited to speak at the International Women’s Day Conference organised by Enfield council on the subject of Women in Physics. Olivia used the opportunity to highlight the problems we have in physics around gender equality and to highlight some programmes and schemes working to counter this.

Only around 20% of A-level physics students are currently female, in spite of the fact that all genders perform equally well at GCSE level (IOP ‘Why not Physics?’ report, 2018). Similarly, around 20% of Physics undergraduates and postdoctoral students are female. However, in academia it gets worse as women progress to more senior positions, with only 11% of Physics professors in the UK being women (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Physics Departments’, 2017). These figures get even worse when we look at the ethnicity of physics academic staff. Overall, for all genders, 94.2% of UK national academic staff in physics are white, 2.4% are Asian, 1.5% are Chinese and 0.1% are black (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Higher Education Institutions, 2012). All women face significant barriers in physics academia, with non-white women being currently barely represented at all.

The picture is similar when we look at industry. WISE’s 2018 Workforce Statistics show that currently only 22% of the core STEM workforce are women. For engineering, a career route particularly relevant for those with physics degrees, this proportion falls to 12%.

The good news is that multiple organisations are working on programmes to help turn the tide, and increase the gender diversity in physics. In 2013 the IOP published the report Closing Doors which explores gender and subject choices at school across six subjects. It found that nearly half of schools were making the gender imbalance worse, however in schools that were sending more girls to do A-level physics the gender imbalance was also smaller in other subjects. This was followed by the Opening Doors report in 2015. It highlighted the issues schools deal with when it comes to gender balance and makes recommendations on how schools can address gender balance. These recommendations include appointing gender champions on senior leadership teams, ensuring that sexist language is unacceptable and presenting all subjects equally to students in terms of relative difficulty.

University College London is leading the ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 project, which is a longitudinal study of young people’s science and career aspirations from ages 10-19. They have coined the term science capital, which is a measure of how likely someone is to see science as for them. Science capital can be influenced by multiple factors including whether there is a scientist in the family, if science is discussed in the home and whether someone has visited science spaces outside of formal education. They also find that girls pursuing the physical sciences post-16 are ‘exceptional’ in many ways, including having high science capital and tailoring their performances of femininity when in a science environment.

SEPnet piloted the Shattering Stereotypes project in the academic year 2016/17 with the aim of determining the best role physics Outreach Officers can play in tackling and improving the gender stereotyping problem in schools. Workshops were held with year 8 students around understanding and countering the stereotypical perceptions of gender, with year 12s involved in leadership roles. This was evaluated and is now running in schools during the 2018/19 academic year. Shattering stereotypes incorporates the People Like Me quiz developed by WISE which highlights scientific careers routes to girls based on the traits and skills which they identify with.

The strong message from all of the research and projects happening around gender and physics show that there are many issues compounding to mean fewer girls go on to take physics. Science capital is a key theme, with the need to work towards increasing science capital being paramount. Another common negative factor is the use of gender stereotyping and gendered language in our society. We need to work on ways to counter these problems to help lower the barriers to more girls and women identifying with, and participating in, the physical sciences.

13Feb/19

Director of Outreach and Public Engagement speaking at the IOP

Olivia Keenan, our Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, is giving a talk on her PhD work at the Institute of Physics on the 20th of March. The talk is free and open to all. Refreshments will be served from 6pm, with the talk starting at 6:30.

Location: Institute of Physics, 37 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9BU


Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park (North York Astronomical Association)

Where are all the Galaxies? The Missing Satellite Problem

State of the art computer simulations of our Universe currently over predict the number of dwarf galaxies by a factor of 10. As astronomers, we need to understand why this discrepancy has come about, and whether it is due to problems with simulations, observations, or both. One potential solution is that these galaxies could be hidden, ‘dark galaxies’. Dark galaxies are galaxies which are gas dominated, with few to no stars. There have been many dark galaxy candidates, however, so far none of these has been confirmed. Another solution is that the galaxies are star dominated but extremely faint and hard to detect in crowded, large field surveys. If so these galaxies could be detected using a combination of their physical properties to separate them from background field galaxies. In this talk I will discuss work on this topic, and how this has contributed to understanding the missing satellite problem.

24Sep/18

SEPnet launches Connect Physics

SEPnet is proud to launch Connect Physics, a set of three workshops for Key Stage 3 science students which answer the questions:

What is physics?
Why do physics?
How do we do physics?

Over the last few years we have been working together with teachers and students across the region to develop a set of workshops which look at the wider picture of physics within the context on a student’s life and career paths. Teachers who took part in our evaluation said said that these workshops help do just that:

“The idea that they can see science isn’t just in a school environment that it’s out
there everywhere, that people are problem solving everywhere and that involves
science and that’s incredible value.”

“It allowed the pupils to work in groups and identify Physics rather than just be told
where Physics is and learn the theory.”

For more information on the workshops please read our Teacher’s Guide which outlines what the resources contain. If you would like to book the workshop in your school, please check the Connect Physics website.

If you are a STEM practitioner and are interested in using and delivering the material, please register as a user here.

Evaluation
The workshops have been tested over the last few years, both as individual workshops and as a set of workshops. The aim of the workshops as a set was to maintain and raise Science Capital in KS3 students across the year as the workshops were delivered. Our evaluation report of the pilot year show we still have to work at getting more indicative measurements of Science Capital and measuring long-term impact of the workshops.

However the outcomes of each individual workshop and of them as a set was seen in feedback from students and noted by the teachers. After each workshop over a third of students said they were more interested in Physics. For a full summary of the evaluation please see the final report here.

If you would like to partner with SEPnet to continue to develop the resource, or help us measure the impact of the workshops across the UK, please get in touch with the SEPnet Director of Outreach & Public Engagement.

Acknowledgements
SEPnet would like to thank all the schools where the workshops were tested at every stage of development, together with all the teachers and students for all their inputs, comments and suggestions, they were invaluable.

SEPnet would also like to thank Scott and Neil at Science Theatre and for taking Connect Physics from ideas to fully-formed workshops. Thanks also to Helen Featherstone for helping with the evaluation at that formative stage.

SEPnet would also like to thank Hugh and his team at Hope-Stone Research for carrying out the summative evaluation and writing the final report.

05Jul/18

SEPnet celebrates #LGBTSTEMDay

SEPnet is proud to celebrate #LGBTSTEMDay as it continues to showcase and celebrate diversity in physics. 

Together with LGBT STEM SEPnet is launching a set of Case Studies showcasing researchers, professional services staff, students past and present from across the SEPnet partners.

These profiles show the range of experiences for LGBT+ folk in physics. Have an explore and see if your experiences are similar to theirs.

You can download them all as a pdf files here.

SEPnet will continue to support their LGBT+ researchers as part of their new embedded approach to diversity across all the SEPnet programmes.

The Outreach & Public Engagement team, together with the University of Sussex, will be running a science stall at Preston Park during Brighton Pride, building on the success in 2016. There will be plenty of opportunity to try out some hands-on physics and talk to some of our amazing LGBT+ folk from across SEPnet about their research.

Dr Dominic Galliano, Director of Outreach & Public Engagement for SEPnet will also be helping organise 2019’s LGBT STEMinar, which is taking place in London. He says: “It is important to work in both directions, not only to showcase the experiences of the LGBT+ community in STEM, but to take STEM to LGBT+ spaces across the region”.

If you are LGBT+ and working in the physical sciences, SEPnet strongly encourages you to join the IOP / RSC / RAS LGBT+ network to stay up to date with the latest news, opportunities from across the country.

04Jun/18

SEPnet looking for Case Studies for LGBTSTEM Day

Here at SEPnet we continue to celebrate and embrace diversity across physics. We also want to continue to support initiatives the aim to raise awareness, such as the upcoming LGBTSTEM Day on Thursday 5 July. This day will help raise awareness of LGBT+ people in STEM subjects.

SEPnet has partnered with LGBTSTEM to showcase LGBT+ people working across all our physics departments through a series of case studies that will be featured on both the SEPnet and LGBTSTEM website. We are looking for LGBT+ people who want to share their stories through a very short questionnaire. If you are interested in adding your story, please complete the questionnaire and return to d.galliano@qmul.ac.uk, together with a photograph of yourself looking your very best, either in the lab or out and about!

Deadline for questionnaires is 17:00 on Friday 29 June. The case studies will launch on LGBTSTEM Day. On the day, feel free to join the celebrations across the UK & Ireland and join the conversation on Twitter with #LGBTSTEMDay.

16Feb/18

SEPnet launches Shattering Stereotypes Evaluation Report

During the 2016/17 academic year, SEPnet Outreach & Public Engagement has been piloting a project determining the best role Physics Outreach Officers can play in tackling and improving the gender stereotyping problem in schools.

This was the first SEPnet-wide project which involved building a direct partnership with a set of schools to deliver a programme of activity over an academic year. The pilot was a first step, so the priority for the evaluation was on logistics over impact of the project, though both were considered. The evaluation was carried out by Elizabeth Jeavans and Sarah Jenkins. The full report can be found here.

Overall the project delivered a programme which led to positive experiences across all stakeholders:

  • Year 8 Studentsfollowing their involvement in Shattering Stereotypes, they now view future opportunities as not being constrained by stereotypical perceptions of gender.
  • Year 12 Studentsdeveloped transferable leadership and communication skills through their participation in the communications challenge.
  • Teachersvalued external visits and having resources from universities.
  • Schools – In some schools, the pilot project raised awareness of gender stereotyping across their entire schools
  • Outreach Officers welcomed the opportunity provided by the project to work as part of a team and to be involved in building up a relationship with schools, as opposed to one-off activities.

This gives the project a fantastic base to evolve and grow from in future years. However the project did highlight some areas where further development is needed. Most of these were themed around the following areas:

  • Message. Throughout the project there was some confusion about whether primary purpose of Shattering Stereotypes was to address/ reduce gender stereotyping or to equalise the gender balance in physics through greater understanding of physics career opportunities.

    This was the tension the project team struggled with from the development of the project. The idea was to address / reduce gender stereotyping, but the strength of SEPnet’s experiences in School’s Outreach shifted this towards equalising the gender balance in physics, especially in the earlier workshops.
  • Logistics and Partnership. Throughout the project there were some logistical challengers in booking the Shattering Stereotypes activities. There was also a lack of connectivity across the activities and support between said activities.

    This was due to its nature as a pilot project. It was the first time SEPnet has both worked in the realm of Gender Stereotyping and in the format of delivering activity throughout the year. This together with the large workloads and busy environments in schools led to some workshops being missed at some schools and a lot of last minute work being carried out by Officers and Teachers.

A summary of experiences and outcomes, along with opportunities from development can be found here.

The report also issued a list of twelve recommendations, all of which we taking into account as we develop the project for the 2018/19 Academic Year.

The project team would like to give a massive thanks to all the teachers who partnered with us on the pilot project. Their input and time has been invaluable and has a great impact in how we continue to develop and deliver this project, and many others across SEPnet Outreach.

The project team would also like to thank:

  • Elizabeth and Sarah for their contribution and insights throughout the process.
  • All the physics role models from activity two, who took time from their busy schedules to attend events.
  • The Year 12 students who took part, most of whom are currently in the process of applying for University. The team wishes them good luck in your future careers.
  • All the Year 8 students who participated in the pilot project. Their enthusiasm for the subject matter was apparent from day one of the project. They constantly surprised us, challenged us and pushed us to do better. The team hopes they all remain staunch champions and continue to challenge gender stereotyping wherever they see it.

The schools who participated in the pilot project where:

SEPnet will be running the project through the 2018/2019 academic year.

If your school is interested in joining the project as a partner, please e-mail the Director of Outreach & Public Engagement outreach@sepnet.ac.uk. At the moment SEPnet is looking for state-funded, mixed-gender schools for this project.

Further details on the project will be available in Mid-March 2018.