Females Forced out of Physics, Says Professor

Natalie Gil and Daniel Hyman

A Cambridge physics professor has bemoaned the lack of women studying A-level physics.

A Cambridge physics professor has bemoaned the lack of women studying A-level physics, calling the results of a recent report a “miserable reality”.

Dame Athene Donald, a Fellow in Experimental Physics at Robinson, reacted to an Institute of Physics (IOP) report showing that almost half of all state schools have no girls studying A-level physics and that the uptake of physics for men at A-level is four times that of women.

Professor Donald said the report, entitled It’s Different for Girls, “demonstrates an appalling lack of progression of girls. It makes for absolutely dismal reading. The headline figure of 49% [of mixed state schools not sending any women to study A-level physics] is staggeringly bad.”

She deemed it unacceptable for teachers to make comments such as ‘physics is an odd choice for a girl’, and has attributed women’s lack of enthusiasm for the subject to the result of a culture, reinforced by parents and the media, in which “it is ‘odd’ for girls to be interested in space, machines and machinery, atoms or any of the other exciting topics that lurk in physics.”

Many Cambridge NatScis are sympathetic to Professor Donald’s concern. Alex Harrold, a second year physicist at Sidney, called the news “disappointing”.

However, a third year physicist at Caius was less open-minded, echoing the assumption that Professor Donald is trying to combat. He toldThe Tab: “I’m not sexist, some of my best friends are women, but the fact is men and women are different.”

According to Cambridge admissions statistics for 2011, 37.7% of accepted NatSci students were female. While disappointing, this was substantially higher than the 2.9% of CompScis who were female, the 19.3% of Mathmos and the 22.1% of Engineers.

This shortage of girls electing to study for degrees in the sciences goes some way towards explaining the insufficient number of Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates emerging from university, who are required to meet the needs of employers and the economy.

University of Cambridge University of Cambridge News