Girls have to be shown that top female scientists have more “glamour” than celebrities such as Katie Price and Beyoncé if they are to be drawn to science, according to a key figure in Scottish education.
Finding the “stories and emotion” in science will also make it more appealing to girls, believes Liz Cameron, the new executive member for children, young people and lifelong learning at Glasgow City Council.
There are many female scientists who show the “huge glamour” around gaining knowledge, she said.
Ms Cameron recalled watching astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell relay an “almost spiritual aspect” through reading poetry dedicated to space travel and the stars. “It’s society’s loss that we have given up the pursuit of education for celebrity,” said Ms Cameron.
“That’s why I think that Dame Jocelyn and Susan Greenfield [Baroness Greenfield, a scientist who has researched treatment for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease] have got to take the place of the likes of Katie Price and Beyoncé.
“I’m the first person to rush in on a Saturday night and watch Strictly Come Dancing...but there’s more to life than celebrity.”
She also described the renowned classicist Professor Mary Beard – known for her forthright opinions and engaging television presenting style – as the “greatest thing since sliced bread”. The academic, she said, was someone who might help to “get over to girls that there’s a beauty in intellectual expertise as well”.
Many girls suffer from “learned helplessness” when it comes to science, along with a prevailing view that “it’s not cool to be a geek”, Ms Cameron believes.
Science must be presented to girls in a way that shows it is a “really relevant, living subject”, she added.
“Young women are emotionally mature; women work through stories, people, how that affects the world…whereas I think with men it’s the beauty of the equation itself,” she said.
This is an edited version of an article in the 22 January edition of TESS, available at good newsagents in Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story by clicking here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here