So recently I made the decision to take, what has generally been a rather negative year, and try and use all the pain I’m feeling and turn it into something positive. I’ve long been fascinated with space and science and have often been heard saying that had Sciences and Mathematics engaged me more at school I would have pursued a career in this and become an Astrophysicist (in hindsight it certainly would have stopped me having my heart broken by someone I met very serendipitous through work but I digress) however when I think back on my time at school the large majority of people who taught the subject were men and none of them had a particularly exciting or engaging way of teaching the modules.
Now in contrast at home I would watch The Sky at Night and was taught the basics of the Solar System and the name of most of the constellations in the night sky by my dad. One of my earliest memories is standing in the garden of my parent’s house in Manchester, on a cold clear night and holding my dad’s hand as he pointed at the moon and talked about the Apollo mission and the first man to walk on the moon. I’ve always watched any science documentaries, especially to do with Astronomy and the make-up of the Universe and have read a few books on the subject (Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” which made my mind melt and two books written by Professor Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw)
Space travel has always interested me and this love was once again sparked when Tim Peake became the first British Astronaut on board the ISS. Recently, to distract my mind from thinking about what’s happened I’ve been listening to podcasts and have pretty much binge listened (probably not a phrase) to nearly all of The Infinite Monkey Cage podcast with Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince. And it’s this along with a recent BBC Two show called “Astronauts: Do You Have What it Takes?” that really gave me the proverbial kick up the backside I have needed. Watching the candidates on Astronauts, who are just ordinary people, doing something proactive to take a dream more viable, made me realise that I should do something to make me happy and that I have longed dreamed to do. And that’s pursuing a qualification in Physics. So a couple of weeks ago, I took the plunge and applied to study for an A Level in Physics in my spare time. Since doing so, I’ve been doing polls on Twitter and Facebook to ask certain questions about Science and Space and it’s the results of those polls I want to share with you now.
One of the first things I wanted to find out was how Physics compared to Biology and Chemistry, to other people who had studied it, or are currently studying it. I’ll be honest it was Biology I found most interesting at school but I think it’s because Miss Gowing (one of the only female science teachers) taught in a way that was engaging and practical. In my poll Biology came out on top with 58% people enjoying the subject, with Chemistry coming up in second place at 25% and Physics coming last with just 17% of people of preferring it over the others. This is something I plan to look into a bit more and I’m planning on collating a questionnaire to get more understanding of why this is.
Another area I wanted to look at is the visibility of women in Science and I thought a great place to start with this would be to find out what percentage of people would be able to answer, without googling it, who the first woman in space was, and then compare it with the number of how many people could name who the first man in space was. I’ll be honest I wasn’t surprised by the results, but it has greatly upset me and made me wonder why more people don’t know.
I found that that 70.2% of people wouldn’t be able to name the first woman in space but a staggering 76.7% of people would be able to name the first man in space. That means that only 38.6% of people know that it was Valentina Tereshkova who was the first woman in space and only 23.2% of people DON’T know that it was Yuri Gagarin who was the first man in space. And it’s really left me wondering why.
About a year ago I read a book called Promised the Moon by Stephanie Nolen which is all about women who were secretly recruited during the 1960’s to take part in Astronaut training, with the idea that they would have the opportunity to go into space. The book looks that how in a lot of areas the women excelled, and sometimes did better, than their male counterparts yet as more years passed their dreams of realising this seemed harder to reach.
So I’ve made the decision, in part to keep me motivated, and in part because it’s both interesting and important, to use the time I am studying for my Physics A Level to look more in depth at the relationship of Science in education, and in particular look at the visibility of women in science and the importance of engaging, not only young people, but young girls and women particularly, in careers within STEM.
Here’s to my journey into the world of Physics, may it be as exciting and fascinating as I hope.