The number of UK students taking up STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) at A-levels increasing. However, we’re still lagging behind other countries when it comes to encouraging girls to follow a scientific path. City Kids magazine spoke to our Director, Dr Stathis Stefanidis, to find out how to inspire our next generation of scientists – boys and girls.
CK: Can you remember the first experiment you did?
SS: The very first experiment I recall is the one with a spinning bucket filled with water. I was fascinated by the fact that the water wouldn’t fall out, which I understood years later when I was taught Newton’s laws of motion and centripetal forces.
CK: When did you know you would make a career out of science?
SS: At the age of 13, when I started studying physics and chemistry as standalone subjects. I was fortunate to have a few charismatic physics and maths teachers who introduced me to the methodologies and concepts of physics. I knew from that young age that teaching science interested me. Although I miss research, I get huge enjoyment from teaching.
CK: Sir Tim Hunt made some badly judged comments about women in science, but it got us all talking again about the lack of female scientists working today. What can we do to encourage more girls to take up STEM subjects?
SS: I believe we need to overcome the stereotypes that are not only fostered in schools, but also in society and families. We need more women in science, as teachers, as researchers, as members of the strategy boards. We need to get away from the “a telescope for John, and a doll for Jenny” attitude. Let’s overcome the known stereotypes that exist around us. Let us, as educators, develop the potential that girls have for science and engineering subjects, and then examine other factors. My experience working with women at CERN is against all stereotypes. The current Director-General of CERN is a woman and that says something.
CK: What can the science world do to promote itself to younger people?
SS: Well I don’t think this applies to the scientific community alone. It is an issue for our society as a whole. The needs of our society are changing at an unprecedented rate and the question we need to ask is whether or not science has a role to play in advancing the achievements of the mankind. If not, we continue as we are and hope for the best. If the answer is yes, we need to transform our priorities. If we think we need faster trains, fewer polluting cars, better medicines and … why not … another planet as beautiful as ours to explore, then we need to encourage science and raise the people’s awareness.
CK: What would your answer be to a student who said “Science is boring!”?
SS: It is. As educators, if we don’t ignite the spark in students inspirationally, then yes it will be boring. I studied Particle Physics and always found Solid State Physics boring. Students don’t have to find excitement in everything. They need to find their own spinning bucket.