Monday, 17 August 2009

Women in science

In the same week that Athena SWAN commended university departments which it considers are making positive steps in encourgaing women working in science, engineering and technology, I stumbled across a new governement website called 'Science: [so what?]'. I shan't let the overly 'cool and edgy' use of punctuation detract from the fact that I am delighted to see a site aimed at engaging non-scientist members of the general public with the science that underpins both the natural world and human innovation around them. But why, you might be asking, am I mentioning these two things in the same paragraph?

Well maybe it's because, of the scientists featured, the biomed people were female while the engineers were almost exclusively male. Maybe it's that they made a point of mentioning that Rachel Riley, co-presenter of Countdown, was "the only girl to read mathematics" at her Oxford College (shame on you, Oriel!) And that she beat beat 1000 other women to the job. Were men debarred from applying? Is she the maths brain, or eye candy? Oh, and let's chuck in "she was bullied at school for being clever."

The site may well provide some answers to how things work (although the content seems a bit thin on the ground at the moment). But if it harbours any desire to inspire people to go into science careers (and this page would suggest it does), then it's awful. In summary, I have learnt:
1. Biomedicine is for women, engineering for men
2. Girls studying maths at uni are a unusual
3. If you're smart and sciencey, you risk getting picked on.
4. Their suggested link for careers advice does not recognise the scientific field I work in when you search their site for it.

Helpful. Thanks for that.

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