What did you do today?

31st May 1996 at 01:00
Carrie Graham accompanied her mother to work for a day and found more answers than questions

On the morning of April 25, half a million girls set off to work as part of "Take our daughters to work day". This is a national scheme, set up to encourage girls to turn to more challenging, less traditional career paths.

Every girl who took part spent a day at a place of work, finding out what that particular job consisted of. My entire class took part (I go to an all-girls school). We all became lawyers, puppeteers, opticians, pathologists, landladies and many other things for the day.

I went to a medical sociology research unit in Glasgow, where my mum works, and I had a really great time. There were three other girls at the unit with me, all daughters of other staff.

The whole day was highly organised. The basic plan was that we would try to achieve in a day what would have taken a researcher months to do. We had written a questionnaire a few days previously on "Life at Work" to find out three basic things we wanted to know: who the person was (their gender and grade), what they thought of the more trivial things in the unit (such as interior decor, staff meetings and so on) and what they thought of the smoking policy (currently the policy is that people can only smoke outside).

When we were handing out the questionnaires, one man looked at us in shock. "Not a questionnaire! I hate them! I hate being interrogated!" This from a man who spends his life handling questionnaires.

After we had distributed and collected the questionnaires, we went to the computer room. We were shown how to use a statistics package called SPSS to enter our data. We had the responses from 30 different questionnaires to enter and, unfortunately, this proved to be just too much for two of the girls, who resorted to chasing each other round the room on the wheely chairs. We managed to save them from this sad (and quite annoying) fate, by pointing out that we could now make some graphs.

We ended up (after some argument) with 10 graphs, which illustrated, among other things, what kind of work men and women carried out in the unit, levels of satisfaction with aspects of work and the opinions on smoking at work by both smokers and non-smokers.

Now this was excitement indeed! So much so, we felt obliged to go and get a pizza. After that short interlude, we came back to analyse our findings and get ready for the main event of the afternoon - our seminar.

It had been arranged that we would give a 15-minute talk (complete with colour graphs on an overhead projector) about our findings on "Life at Work". We all had been given something specific to talk about: what we had done that day and why, our findings on men and women's jobs in the unit, how satisfied people were with the "trivialities" of the unit. I talked about the responses to the smoking question.

Our discoveries were both shocking and amazing. Shocking because although the unit was 40 per cent male, the majority of men worked in scientific areas, whereas the women were mostly in clerical jobs. Unbelievably, no-one liked the staff meetings. And really amazingly, most smokers favoured a complete ban on smoking whereas most non-smokers favoured smoking only in designated areas.

On the Friday, we were back at school and in English, we discussed our day at work. After hearing my whole class talk about their day, I decided that I had enjoyed mine more than anyone else, and I believe this is because the whole day had a purpose. It was not just watching people work. It was doing a real job ourselves: meeting deadlines and presenting findings.

I enjoyed a well-organised, challenging day and had a great time. I would like to say a big thank you to the people who made it possible.

Carrie Graham is aged 13 and a pupil at Laurel Bank School, Glasgow. Her mother works at the MRCMedical Sociology Unit, Glasgow

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