In May, ASPIRES 2 researchers Professor Louise Archer and Dr. Julie Moote submitted evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into science communication. The purpose of the inquiry was to investigate how the Government, scientists, the media and others encourage and facilitate public awareness of, and engagement in, science. Following the submission Professor Louise Archer gave oral evidence to the Committee at the Natural History Museum on 14th June.
The evidence submitted used findings from ASPIRES 2’s national survey of over 13,000 15-16 year olds, and focussed on the science communication strategies being taken to encourage young people to study STEM subjects post-16 and to encourage those young people into STEM careers. We recommended that science communication efforts must work to diversify the image of ‘who does science’, and showcase science qualifications and skills as useful for a wide variety of careers.
Whilst many existing science communication strategies are aimed at ‘making science fun’, our research shows that most young people do enjoy school science and express positive views of scientists. However, interest in science and positive views of scientists do not translate into post-16 participation and careers – with most young people struggling to name any science careers beyond ‘scientist’ and ‘science teacher’. In addition to a lack of understanding as to where science can lead, ASPIRES 2 research also found that the persistent image of science (especially Physics) as a ‘masculine’ subject only for the ‘brainy’ impacts particularly negatively on girls, working-class and some minority ethnic students.
In order to encourage more young people, from more diverse backgrounds, into science and STEM careers we have recommended that science communication efforts must:
- focus on the message that science is useful for any career,
- challenge the ‘brainy’ image of science, and especially Physics,
- build young people’s ‘science capital’ (science-related knowledge, understanding, attitudes, behaviours and social contacts),
- challenge the white, male, middle-class image of science, and
- ensure a more equitable and inclusive science and STEM culture within education systems and STEM organisations.
Read our full written submission here.
Watch Professor Louise Archer giving evidence, and find out more about the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry here.
Author: Emily MacLeod