There have been a good number of scientists who have contributed to the understanding of our surroundings and the universe. If one were to take a closer look at the list of famous scientists and distinguish between genders, the male list would be a lot longer.

Looking at the history of the impact of gender in science, wo­men have always had less opportunities than their male counterparts, with women’s contribution not given that much weight. Such a complex issue cannot be understood without tackling issues such as gender stereotyping.

Most discussions around gender disparity are not driven by data but by speculation. Recent data published by the EU States show that female scientists and engineers make up less than 45 per cent in over half the countries studied (33 countries). In a study for EU-28, female scientists and engineers made up 2.8 per cent of the total labour force in 2013, while males made up 4.1 per cent.

Some trends that prevail are that women tend to publish fewer research articles and tend to domi­nate fields of research in health and life sciences rather than the physical sciences. Understanding the role that gender plays in research such as bias, disparity and equality will be able to provide much needed information to guide policy development and public engagement.

Scientific research should be open to everyone, where the emphasis should be on collaboration of the genders in science, focusing on gender diversity and removing any cultural barriers that still loom in today’s society.

Diversity provides a greater va­rie­ty of goods and services that is already being acknowledged in the US and many leading European and international research and integration companies. Teams of US invented patents consisting of at least one female and one male were cited 30-40 per cent more often than patents invented by female-only or male-only teams in the US. Diversity in teams is also vital for the creation of new ideas.

Women’s participation has increased with various initiatives to engage women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields; however, statistics show that girls become disengaged from STEM subjects at school. This results in a lower likelihood for girls to pursue a science-related degree at tertiary level. The reasons for this are complex. They could include lack of knowledge about STEM careers at schools, a lack of female role models, unconscious bias and a tendency for women to be encouraged to pursue pastoral roles and teaching rather than research and academia.

Women working in research tend to have a greater role in parenting duties than their male counterparts and measures should include a wider spectrum of opportunities to include both genders.

Gender mainstreaming is a strategy that works towards embracing gender equity that takes into consideration integration of preparation, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies.

This strategy can guide the pro­cess of revealing where the weak spots exist and help in re-structuring institutions. In this manner, both genders bene­fit by working in academia and research. Celebrating and acknow­ledging the qualities in such hidden publics will benefit every sector of society.

Did you know?

• Most adults have reportedly said to have 15-20 seconds of useful consciousness, while experiencing rapid decompression at cruising altitude.

• Space suits are able to provide oxygen, temperature control and some protection from radiation.

• Tycho Brahe was a 16th century Danish astronomer who also lost his nose in a duel in college and had to wear a prosthetic metal one for the rest of his life.

• Hedy Lamarr, together with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a ‘secret communications system’ whereby the unbreakable code prevented classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel. This formed the backbone that makes mobile phones and other wireless operations possible.

• Hypergraphia is a behavioural condition characterised by the intense desire to write.

For more trivia see:

Sound bites

• STEM subjects are almost always taught in the classical way, with class time used to give out lectures explaining the material being covered, and pupils doing homework afterwards to supplement that learning. Lecturing is seen as essential, because of the complexity of the principles being taught. However, lectures can often be disengaging for pupils, due to the lack of interaction involved.

One professor of environmental engineering, Stephanie Butler Velegol, has taken a leaf out of the books of arts classrooms to try to solve this. In liberal arts, students are often tasked with learning the content beforehand, with class time being used for discussion and further development of those ideas. Velegol calls this ‘flipped classrooms’.

In flipped classes, pupils watch videos before class, and then discuss the problems encountered in class. This way, it easier to understand complex ideas when they are being applied to problems already encountered by the pupil.

• Researchers designed material to guide parents in talking to their children about the importance and relevance of STEM fields. This included pointing to how subjects factor into specific careers. The parents participating in the 10-year study in Wisconsin were divided into two groups where one was given the material while the other group was not. A variety of outcomes were tracked over the years to assess the effects of both groups.

The research shows that parents can still affect their children’s motivation and guide them towards a career in STEM fields. These findings provide a new perspective on discussions at federal level. Re­searchers believe that this could aid policymakers to focus on students’ beliefs around STEM, deeming it to be cost-effective.

For more soundbites listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta 2 every Monday at 1pm and Friday at 6pm

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