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Girls In Science


I think the problems are in many ways not that different from when I set out

For young girls thinking about doing something like physics and engineering, I think the problems are in many ways not that different from when I set out.  I went to a girl’s school, no one told me I shouldn't do physics and I think that makes a fantastic difference. But if you are in a co-educational school you may find all kinds of subtle messages which convey to you that physics is not a place where girls go.  It may come from your peers, it may come from your teachers, it may come from your parents and it may come from just the media and so I think it is still - and we see it in the numbers - it’s still a challenge for girls to think about physics and engineering as a career. I find this really, really sad that girls are actively discouraged in some cases, and in maths, the idea that, you know, girls don't do maths. What? Why? That’s ridiculous! So I think there are still challenges there.  But even in subjects like biology, where the number of girls is probably slightly larger than the number of men going into the subject, you still find at higher levels that the numbers fall off, and all kinds of reasons contribute to this, and some of it is, sort of, there can be an unpleasant atmosphere, unfortunately still…there are still men who want to hog the apparatus, or say girls don't do science, or women don't do science. That still happens, and we’ve got to get away from that and we’ve got to make sure that our structures are robust enough that women aren't forced out of science when they don't want to go.  I think rather than unsung heroes we should be thinking about unsung heroines, because there are actually…when you dig down there are an awful lot of women who have done amazing things and yet the number of names of female scientists that people can roll off is tiny, and there are various organisations that are trying to cover the names of these unsung heroines and we probably should look at them more.

- Dame Prof Athene Donald