Women in Science and the Media

SciConnect has co-developed a new course to help female scientists maximise their communication skills and career success. The first course will be held on 4-6 January 2013  in Windsor, and culminates in a recording session in a radio studio at BBC Broadcasting House. Places are going fast, so please visit the course webpage to find out more. The deadline for applications is 11th December 2012.

HOW CAN female scientists reach the top in their careers? The answer should be simple: just do brilliant science. Unfortunately, reality presents a rather more complicated and depressing picture. Despite growing numbers of women completing PhDs, they remain woefully under-represented in the higher echelons of academia and industry.

In the UK, only about a fifth of senior lecturers in science are women, and just under 10 per cent of science professors are female. Even in fields such as biology, where roughly equal numbers of men and women do PhDs, the proportion of women reaching senior levels is shockingly low.

SciConnect has teamed up with colleagues at Imperial College London, the University of Warwick and Quercus Training to create a course that aims to help female scientists tackle some of the factors that hold them back. Though the medium of science radio and TV production and science writing training, we help participants develop their communication and presentation skills, as well as deconstructing the media portrayal of science and female researchers.

So what is the problem? Although overt sex discrimination is rare, female scientists are battling engrained bias, both at the institutional and personal levels. One recent study, for example, revealed that when shown identical CVs for an academic post application, both male and female faculty members rated the applicant as being less competent if the name on the CV was female.

On a personal level, female scientists are still lumbered with doing twice as much housework as their male counterparts, and are more likely to put their career in second place to that of their male partners, by moving to suit his job or working fewer hours.

These biases and inequalities need to be tackled by enlightened national policies and institutional good practice. But there are also some things that individual female scientists can do to boost their chances of success in a male-dominated work environment. These include developing their ability to communicate and present their science with clarity, confidence and authority.

Another important factor is the low profile of female scientists in the media and the lack of awareness of women’s scientific achievements. This contributes to a social environment that subtly discourages girls and women from pursuing scientific careers. A recent Wikipedia “edit-a-thon”, tied in to Ada Lovelace day last month helped to redress the balance. But there is always more that any scientist can do to proactively communicate their research to wider audiences, be it via traditional mass media or via new media conduits such as blogging and Twitter.

Our new course uses science media to help early career scientists (meaning final year PhD students, postdocs and new PIs)  improve their ability to communicate with different audiences, from other researchers and grant reviewers to journalists and members of the public. It focuses on the barriers facing female scientists in their careers and how developing effective presentation skills and personal impact can help.

The course analyses the media portrayal of female scientists, how it can be challenged, and what female scientists can do to raise their profiles. It also covers the importance of effective networking and mentoring, and participants will be encouraged to network over the duration of the course.

The course involves hands-on science radio and TV production, culminating in a recording session at BBC Broadcasting House. Both women and men are welcome to attend. Please visit the course webpage to find out more, and if you have any questions or thoughts, please add your comments below.

We also have a course flyer available to download (1.8MB) here.

Claire Ainsworth

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