There are not enough women working in, or studying at a higher level, the STEM subjects. This should not be shocking news although is hugely disappointing. The sciences have traditionally been dominated by men and, although at GCSE level girls do as well (if not better) than boys at the sciences and maths, at any level past GCSE women are hugely under represented.
In a recent radio interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRADIO Dr Clara Sousa-Silva, Twinkle’s education lead and astrophysicist identified why this might be. “There are so many factors at play…but what we do know is that there is a lack of role models. It is very hard to feel welcomed in a field where you don’t see anyone in your textbooks, or in your teachers, or in the media being a female scientist.”
Although this isn’t the only reason for the gender disparity seen in STEM subjects, it is one that can be clearly combatted. Within our Twinkle team, we are lucky enough to have some fantastic female role models, including our science lead, Prof Giovanna Tinetti, and our lead engineer from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Dr Susan Jason. Through our outreach and EduTwinkle programmes, we aim to show that women are indeed leading the way in developing missions to understand exoplanets.
Clara is ensuring that this message is getting out into schools. She is splitting her time between working for the Twinkle mission and teaching physics at Highams Park School, a local comprehensive, as part of the Researchers In Schools (RIS) programme. In addition to this, she has enlisted 16 Highams Park students in the ORBYTS programme, where they are working with Clara on molecular data for studies of transiting exoplanets, the same type of data that the Twinkle satellite will use. “The kids feel like they themselves are scientists…initially they were really fearful: there’s no answer at the back of the book because they’re writing the book. This isn’t undergraduate level stuff – it’s graduate level,” explained Clara.
Getting to work with scientists like Clara can be hugely influential for young students, and will hopefully lead to a higher number of students deciding to take STEM subjects at A-level and at university. If you, or a school you are linked with, would like to get involved in the ORBYTS programme, please get in touch with us. You can find more information and contact details over on our EduTwinkle page. Twinkle is a gender balanced mission, but it would be amazing if in the near future that was no longer something unique in our field.