Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Elbow_Patches, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. Elbow_Patches Registered Member

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    Hello everyone,

    I'm a Physics teacher and I'm concerned by the fact that only about 20% of Physics students (at A level and undergraduate) are women, and this has remained the same for about 25-30 years.

    I'd appreciate it if you could follow this link: www.quicksurveys.com/s/c6J3EnS

    to fill out a short survey for me. It should take less than 10 minutes, maybe more if you have a lot to say on the issue. If you have any suggestions about how to phrase the questions differently then please do reply and discuss in this thread.

    Many thanks for any responses,

    EB
     
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  3. DrKrettin Registered Senior Member

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    I have already done that - elsewhere
     
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  5. Elbow_Patches Registered Member

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    Oooh, thanks. Clearly hitting up forums this week was effective.

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  7. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    I did it an hour ago.
    Have a tiny complaint: The front page asks for nationality and age, but the body of the form assumes familiarity with the current British school system.
     
  8. DrKrettin Registered Senior Member

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    I wondered that, but then thought that the body would change according to the nationality stated.
     
  9. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I've just completed it. One query: there is a section in the survey that seems to assume the person completed it did NOT study physics and asking why they were put off. As someone who did study it, or something close to it, at university, I found I had to disagree strongly with all the suggestions as to why I was supposedly put off the subject. I would have thought it better to bypass that section if a person had studied physics.

    But I applaud the initiative: we need more girls in physical science generally and it is socially a lot more fun at university if it is not all blokes at the lectures! My own drive to study physics and chemistry was partly driven by the fact that although I was at a single sex school, we had some girls in the 6th form - I found I was subsconsciously trying to look competent for them, I think. I don't know if it works in reverse: maybe if the boys could shed the nerdy image, the girls would be more interested in joining them....
     
  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Being around a lot of guys who refer to women as "females" might have something to do with it.
     
  11. DrKrettin Registered Senior Member

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    The wife reports that when lecturing at Leeds university, the maths department tried to organise a ball, but failed at first attempt because of the overwhelming number of male students. They solved the problem by combining their ball with the classics department, which had the same problem in reverse. As one colleague remarked "great - no geeks there then!"

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  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Ha. As it happens, I have a rather beautiful niece reading Greats at Trinity College, Oxford at the moment.
     
  13. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    One almost difficult obstacle is prejudice. Social expectations
    At the secondary school level, geeky girls are shunned. Clever girls are shunned. Competitive girls are shunned - not only by boys, but other girls, as well.
    A studious girl will have effectively no social life.

    A far larger problem is the relative ages at which boys' and girls' brains are capable of retaining different types of information. Little girls may be fully verbal
    and ready for relatively sophisticated arithmetic at five, while their male counterparts are struggling with symbol recognition. By age 12, most boys have
    become very pragmatic: want their facts simple and problem-oriented - while the minds of girls have begun to take in the world; wonder about life in context.
    Science courses, the way I recall them being taught, was all about applications, and had no time for implications.

    Then there is a period - say, 15 to 22 - when both minds are dominated, intermittently, randomly and uncontrollably - by the urge to mate.

    Male and female minds work do not communicate well until maturity. That's when male and female science teachers need to have a serious discussion
    on how to motivate students. For heaven's sake, invite a (pht, pht) psychologist to that conference.
     
  14. DrKrettin Registered Senior Member

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    I want my life over again.
     
  15. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    That doesn't really concern me. There are other university subjects in which females predominate by similar margins. That doesn't concern me very much either. I don't see any need to try to change the sex-ratios to fit any predetermined target. Students study what they want to study.

    Why do females shy away from physics? Probably because it's so mathematical. Mathematics is hard for those (like myself) who lack talent and prior background in it. It's true that there are some very good female mathematicians out there, but my sense is that females typically tend to feel more comfortable in the verbal-written natural language mode. (You find more females in comparative literature for that reason.)

    And as every guy knows, females obsess about personal relationships, so they favor subjects like psychology and sociology. (And literature, which is all about imaginatively depicting relationships.) Physics is extremely abstract, and concerned as it is with the physical world, it's impersonal by its nature.

    Regarding your survey, I was doing ok until I got to the essay questions at the end. I didn't feel like writing essays and it wouldn't let me finish without doing so, so I didn't complete the survey.
     
  16. DrKrettin Registered Senior Member

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    It doesn't concern me either. I've asked the OP why he is concerned about this, but has not responded.

    That's odd - I completed the survey but didn't write an essay. Well, I don't remember doing so.
     
  17. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Too late: she already has an Old Etonian boyfriend.

    But I know what you mean......
     
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    It timed me out mid-essay - I was, like, thinking about it. Apparently the ten minutes it says it's going to take is enforced.
     
  19. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    It may not concern any of us personally, but it does profoundly influence the society.
    Not how many women are physics or how many men are in psychology, but whether the areas of knowledge and endeavour are separated and sex-dominated.
    It will matter to the educating of the next generation(s) and the direction of social trends, as well as technology; to the balance of political power,
    and even to the economic and political priorities and domestic harmony of the nation.
    On a smaller scale, shutting men and women into "suitable" academic spheres - and out of areas they may have the 'the wrong gender' talent for,
    results in a net loss of available brain power, and an impoverishment of each discipline.
    It doesn't have to pre-determined. It would be nice, though, if the ratios approximated the actual abilities and interests of the students.
    Not necessarily. A few decades ago, it was unheard-of for a man to study nursing or midwifery: that was in women's domain.
    So, any boy who couldn't make the grade for, or afford the tuition of medical school, was out of health care, period.
    They were channeled into more 'suitable' occupations that they enjoyed less - and health care was the poorer for their loss.
    It's all too easy to create an inimical academic environment and then make sweeping, general, uninformed statements about 50% of the population:
    Talent is innate; background is a function of the education system.
    It's true that there are some men out there who can't make change for a dollar, regularly max out their credit cards and can't see that a 20' car won't fit into a 19' parking space.
    When writing up a lab report, an abstract, a proposal for a pilot project; when presenting or reviewing a paper; when explaining a universal law to students,
    try it in pure mathematical terms, without making any verbal sense. Yes, it happens too often. No, it doesn't work.
    Now, there is some of the attitude that keeps "them" and "us" from communicating.
    Soooo.... You've never held the basin for a male friend after a messy break-up? Or seen a 'guy' fly off his abstract handle at a personal slight?
    Or fail, obstinately, to comprehend the principles of natural selection?
     

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