Girls into Physics and Engineering – Northamptonshire

The following is reposted from The Royal Aeronautical Society - news blog:

Radio 4 has just released a list of the 100 most powerful women in the UK . However, the list highlights gaps, for example in the military, and it also seemed lacking in the fields of physics and engineering. This under-representation is not new and the fact that it is reflected across the aviation and aerospace sectors, at all levels, has been recognised by the RAeS for some time. So in 2009, the RAeS Women in Aerospace Committee (WAAC) was formed, with a remit to start looking at and addressing this issue.
Women offer a wealth of skills that would help address the major challenges that the aviation and aerospace sectors face and so, increasing female representation in aviation and aerospace would not only be good for women, but for business. Hence part of the RAeS WAAC’s Mission is ‘To work to increase the number of women choosing a career in all sectors of aviation and aerospace…’  The difficulty in attracting women into aviation and aerospace is a complex issue which begins early in life, with girls’ perception of their role . This influences which subjects they choose to pursue at school, which in-turn influences the career paths they eventually take. So when the WAAC were approached to help at an event titled ‘Physics and Engineering – A New Perspective’, it seemed an ideal opportunity to help encourage more young women to consider the worthwhile and exciting careers available within aviation and aerospace.

This event was created and organised by Tricia Goodchild who is STEM Diversity Coordinator/Placement Manager, Northants Engineering Training Group. It was in response to concerns raised by teachers in Northamptonshire about the lack of girls choosing to take A level Physics. The decision of many girls to drop physics has been attributed to the image of the subject and misconstrued perceptions of limited or unattractive opportunities that would follow. The event aimed to inspire, enthuse and challenge these perceptions; to make these girls think twice before dismissing physics and engineering as too hard, or boring, or just for boys.

The WAAC contacted Squadron Leader Christine Matthews BEng (Hons) MRAeS , hoping that as a female engineer, she would be able help to do this job! Christine presented a ‘personal perspective’ on physics and engineering, based on the opportunities that her physics A level had provided: From working on numerous RAF aircraft, from locations all over the UK and abroad, to setting up local radio station networks in Afghanistan, to indulging in adventurous expeditions and sports. Along with the other presenters drawn from a range of physics and engineering based careers, Christine certainly seemed to get the girls attention. The day also included practical workshops and concluded with a Q&A plenary, during which the girls, all aged 13 to 14, had plenty to ask. They appeared to have got a lot from the event and Tricia reported much positive feedback from both students and staff. Who knows, maybe one of those girls will make a future top 100 list as a top ranking military engineer, groundbreaking physicist or CEO of a major aviation company! But if at least one or two are inspired to continue to study physics and consider a career in aerospace or engineering, then that would be another small step towards addressing the imbalance of women working in aviation and aerospace.

Find out more about WAAC’s research:
To read the 2009 WAAC Specialist Paper click here