Beyond Breaking Bias

A critical question for any scientist is what to do when you have your data. Publish and move on? Ignore the numerous questions that have bubbled up as part of your investigations? Neither of these option felt quite right to us after our work for Breaking Bias. We have the data which shows there are serious issues to be addressed in the community, so we are going to do something about it. The Royal Society of Chemistry have awarded us a grant in 2019 from the Inclusion and Diversity Fund to directly build on our work.

Here is our plan!

1. Share the Data

We are going to share all our data. We’ve drafted a paper and are finalising this for submission, which will contain all of the textbook data collected to date. This also means we will be discussing our data with teachers, textbook and curricula writers, government bodies, educational professionals, publishers and more. We have already started having these conversations and are really excited about the feedback we have had to date.

2. Bridge the Gap

Curricula change takes time. It will not happen instantly, even if everyone works as quickly as possible. This time delay means there are students who will continue to have a chemical education that is not highlighting many of the amazing women who have contributed to the field of chemistry. Our preliminary results from our Student Survey indicate that this is already a big problem as students can reel off lists of men who are scientists but struggle to identify women, and in some cases unconsciously don’t select any.

Our new grant will enable us to develop curricula-linked resources that will enable teachers to slot the work of these amazing chemists straight into the material that is mandatory. We intend to distribute the resources to as many schools as possible but will also make them freely available online for everyone to use. We hope that you will help us!

Who?

Who are the scientists that we want to see in the curriculum? Well, that question is better phrased as ‘Who are the scientists YOU want to see in the curriculum?’ Our fantastic researchers have been on the case to develop a survey to help us hear your voice. We want to know who you would like to see on the curriculum and who you believe is missing. We hope to convert some of these suggestions into resources for schools to use and we want to hear from EVERYONE.

Head over to our survey to give us all of your suggestions please!

Speaking of recognising fantastic women scientists, on International Women’s Day 2019 it is only right that we introduce who our brilliant researchers are in more detail so we can give credit where credit is due. We are very grateful to them for all their time and effort, which they are contributing around their degree courses and their hard work to promote women in STEM.

Charlie Simms
Charlie is a 4th year undergraduate chemistry student at the University of Edinburgh. As secretary of Edinburgh University Women in STEM society, she plays a vital role in promoting gender diversity on campus and throughout all of her networks. Charlie is also Equate Scotland Student Champion for Edinburgh University, where she uses her passion for empowering women in STEM to make positive changes.

Yvonne Anderson
Along with her studies as a penultimate year undergraduate chemistry student, Yvonne is the president of the Edinburgh University Women in STEM society. In this role she has coordinated over 15 events this year with the aim of promoting equality and diversity among the society members. She has also played a vital role in working with Bright Network on their International Women’s Day celebration in London this year, a further example of her advocacy to create equal opportunities for all.

Thank you both for all of your hard work and we can’t wait to see what you get up to as Women in STEM of the future!  

Student Survey is LIVE!

The student survey is now live and available here: Student Survey

This survey will help us interrogate and monitor the awareness students have of scientists. The survey clearly details how we will use the data provided and also highlights that it is very important that the students should not be primed or prompted with answers to ensure we get the most representative and accurate data set. We would like to distribute this as widely as possible, so please share with teachers and schools throughout Ireland and the UK. Thank you very much!

How?

Let’s get down to business. How are we doing this? Well the project has three work strands:

1. Textbook Analysis

We are systematically reviewing curricula and textbooks for Ireland and the UK. This is work in progress but we are already seeing large discrepancies. We intend to write up our data to provide a transparent overview of our methodology and analyses.

2. Student survey

This is currently live here.

The survey aims are twofold: (1) to provide a baseline understanding of what scientists the students are aware of and (2) to provide a metric against which we can measure success. We are distributing this via all education networks and hope to reach as many students as possible.

3. Who should we include?

We want to gather suggestions from the community to identify scientists that we should include in secondary school curricula. This will be going live in February 2019 as we want to first understand what the situation currently is in textbooks and curricula. We will welcome contributions from everyone and we will be developing resources for teachers to use in class to accompany these suggestions with clear links to current curricula. We will also be collating these suggestions for presentation to those in charge of curricula and text book writing and publication.

The longer term aim of the project is to raise awareness of these issues in the community – we are hoping to see change how students see chemists and who they think can be a chemist.

Why?

Sometimes the ‘why’ behind any project is just as interesting as the ‘what’ comes out of the project. In the case of ‘Breaking Bias’, the ‘why’ is due to a series of experiences in 2017 where it was noted that secondary school students struggled to identify women scientists, let alone chemists, but could reel off long lists of men scientists. We know that men have had more opportunities to contribute to the scientific diaspora, but the fact still remains that there are plenty of women scientists who are never mentioned even though they made incredible discoveries and changed our understanding of their field of science.

This ‘why’ grew even stronger when it was recognised that Kathleen Lonsdale was not mentioned in the story of benzene in any secondary school textbook. Her ground-breaking analysis of the crystal structure of hexamethylbenzene (only because benzene is liquid at room temperature and there were no cooling facilities at the time) rocked the world of Chemistry as it was definitive proof that benzene was flat and that the carbon bonds were all equidistant from each other. It seemed odd that her work was completely omitted but that the other key scientists in the story of benzene would all get a namecheck.

Before jumping on a soapbox, however, we thought it would be best to actually drill into the data and explore what chemistry textbooks look like at secondary school. We are interested in who is mentioned but also who the students see when they look at their textbooks. These factors both contribute to an underlying perception of whether a student feels they can be a scientist and therefore they should not be overlooked. Our preliminary investigations indicated there was a bias, so we applied to and were awarded money from the Royal Society of Chemistry Inclusion & Diversity Fund to carry out a detailed analysis. We hope you will join us for the ride and we are very excited about getting stuck in!