Thursday, June 21, 2012

Science: It’s a girl thing – flashmobbing for science

While the intensive discussions are underway at the Digital Agenda Assembly on Europe’s digital future, next door at the European Parliament, the girls are having rather more fun.  The European Commission’s new campaign to encourage women into science, “Science: It’s a girl thing” launched its first phase today, with a colourful (ie largely pink) array of activities aimed at showing teenagers that science can be cool and engaging. In a science fair on the somewhat rain drenched Parliament Esplanade, teenagers can be a DJ for a day thanks to maths, test bracelets with UV lights and see the changes and build a Lego machine to save energy. Young scientists are out in force to share their passion for science and hopefully entice people into a brilliant future career.

Inside the Parliament, and sadly away from the live band, Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director General of the DG for Research and Innovation outlined the aims of the campaign. Primarily, this is to attract girls to science but also to try to change the image of science as being a slightly stuffy, solitary pursuit and to bring science closer to society. This first phase is aimed at teenagers, because as OECD-PISA shows, this is when large numbers of girls drop out of science, engineering and maths. The campaign will concentrate on using hands-on activities to bring science to life, an interactive website and a series of national events, starting in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands. Role models play a key part, but recent research from the University of Michigan suggests that these should be used with caution. For those with a tenuous interest in science and maths, overly glamorous female role models in science can seem even more unattainable and ultimately off-putting. Instead,  says Strohmeier, the campaign wants to show why science is an opportunity for a woman as a person and for society as a whole.

This impassioned message was backed up by Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, who made it very clear that Europe needs more women scientists to tackle problems like climate change, energy and public health. Europe cannot afford to waste any talent. Science is creative, innovative as well as fun and socially useful. Patrizia Toia, MEP Vice-Chair of the Committee in industry, Research and Energy said how pleased she was to see such a large proportion of women in the audience for a change, and welcomed the fact that in the EU, well over half of graduates in most subjects are women. However, they are still under represented in engineering and manufacturing, science, maths and computing. Across the EU, women make up only a third of career researchers – the training is in place, but the links to well paid, engaging scientific jobs needs to be made. The second phase of the programme will encourage older students to consider science as a career, and this will also be a factor in fine-tuning the Horizon2020 funding programme.

And as women like Angela Merkel, ex-physicist and German Chancellor and Claudie Haigneré, medic and astronaut show, a science career can also be a stepping stone to a truly stellar career.

1 comment:

Catherine Gater said...

Since I posted this, the launch video has been attracting a lot of flak from the science communication community and even a spoof video... Will the European Commission withdraw the video?