Tackling gender bias

06-07-2016

Just 10%-12% of researchers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are women, according to UNESCO. Today the number of women enrolling in universities is growing, but many decide not to pursue a research career later on. With the aim of encouraging women to work in science, the EPSRC-funded beamline XMaS at the ESRF, supported by the Universities of Warwick and Liverpool, in partnership with the ESRF run every year a project taking female Physics students, aged 16–17 years, to Grenoble to visit the facilities. This week, 16 British girls visited the ESRF and participated in the Synchrotron@school programme during two days.

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Computing science, medicine, engineering or physics and philosophy are some examples of the careers these girls want to pursue once they are out of school. They all enjoy science and participated in (and won) a national competition in the UK where they needed to write an essay on the legacy of the Nobel-prize winning, X-ray crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin, “both on the study of structure on an atomic scale and for women in Science". Their prize was a stay at the ESRF for two days. Laurence Bouchenoire, scientist on the XMaS beamline, explains ‘’it is very important to show girls of this age that fulfilling scientific careers are possible for women as equally as for men’’.

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In the experimental hutch of XMas. 

At the facility, they participated in the Synchrotron@School programme, including hands-on experiments as well as presenting their results. The aim was to experience the work of a scientist: from the experiment to communicating the outcome. They also visited the Experimental hall of the ESRF and interacted with XMaS and other ESRF researchers. It was also an opportunity to discover the wide array of research fields covered at the same facility. Emmeline Poole was impressed by the familiar environment at the facility: “I thought it would be bigger and less accessible and instead we’ve had the opportunity to discuss with scientists and we’ve been very close to the instruments too”. 

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The students taking part in the Synchrotron@school programme.

Another aspect the girls appreciated was life as a scientist. For Tayma Ferriera, “you think scientists will always be working alone and instead it is the opposite as their work takes them to travel around the world sharing their results with other scientists, and that aspect surprised me”.

“I feel very inspired by this trip and it has shown me how interesting a science career can be. I now feel I should revise more for my exams so that I could get to a good university next year to study science", said Eilidh Campbell.
 

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Top image: Visit of the XMas beamline.