Frances Colgan, 14

She has a younger sister and two younger brothers. Her mother works as a secretary and her father is a civil servant.

"I've wanted to be a doctor since I was about 11. I like helping people and I like the sciences, especially biology. Before that I wanted to be a rugby player, a Japanese interpreter and a train driver. I've always wanted to be something, never a layabout or a housewife. I wouldn't like to be dependent on a husband; I want my own opinions, my own beliefs and I'd need my own job. But I think if a woman wants to stay at home, then that's fine, too. She should have the choice.

For me, getting a good career is probably more important than having a family. If I don't find the right person to marry, then I'm not bothered. But if I do have children, I'll take time off work to have them, then I'll give them to my husband to look after. I wouldn't employ a nanny.

My role models are women who are known for their minds, not their looks. My hero is Emily Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragettes. I don't admire women like Princess Diana - she's more bothered about being a superstar - though I admire the Queen for putting up with her.

I want to go to medical school in Cambridge, London or Sheffield, and then I'd like to work in a casualty unit because I'd be directly involved in saving people's lives. I'd quite like to join the air ambulance service or the army doctors. I hope that being a woman won't make any difference though I know there are people who might not want a woman doctor. I suppose you've just got to put up with that. It'll probably be happening less by the time I qualify because people are getting better opinions.

I hope to be a practising doctor by the time I'm 26 and I know that if I work hard, I can do it. After the next 10 years of solid work, the future looks good to me."

Rebecca Stobbs, 16

Taking 11 GCSEs. She lives with her younger brother, her mother, who is a manager of a pharmaceuticals company, and her step-father, a self- employed business man.

"I've always wanted to be a vet. I don't believe in marriage; you shouldn't need a piece of paper to stay together. And I don't think I want babies - screaming, crying, puking - they'd drive me crazy. I prefer baby animals! If I was stuck at home looking after children, I'd go mad. My mum's very much a career woman: she's worked since I was six. We've had a couple of nannies. Mum made her way up her company, starting as a sales rep, and I really admire her. I think it's important for women to have a choice.

Two years ago, I started helping at our local vet's. I work there every other Saturday. I've grown up around animals, I spend a lot of time outdoors and I love the work. It used to be a male profession, but that's turning round now. In the past, you needed strength but new techniques are being developed all the time - like special devices for holding cattle - so it's more down to skill. That's one thing women have more of. We're generally more careful. In veterinary science, you have to notice the little things.

When I go to farms with the vet, farmers look at me doubtfully and say, "So, you want to be a vet?" But that doesn't bother me. I'll stick to my ambition and prove myself. I wouldn't let anyone stand in my way, and I expect that attitudes will change as more women vets come up.

I want to study at Cambridge so I'll need three As at A-level. When I imagine the future, I see myself working for a mixed practice, living in a big house in the country with a long-term partner. You have to believe you'll get there as there's so much competition.

I think more girls have a set idea of what they want to do. They're more focused, they can see how important things are. Your job is going to take up most of your life; it's important to do something you enjoy.

Ruth Milway, 18

She has 10 `A' grade GCSEs and is taking three A-levels. She plans to read English at university. Her father is a BT manager, her mother a teacher. She has two young brothers.

"Ever since I was little, it's been assumed I'd have a career. I've imagined myself as a business woman or a journalist or someone in TV, but then suddenly, I'll think, `Oh, who wants a career? Let's just have babies!' Sometimes, I don't think I'm ambitious enough. My mum works, she loves her job, but she comes home and she's tired. I think, `Do I want to be part of this?'

It's important to encourage people to fulfil their potential, and if a girl's as bright as a boy, she should be able to have a career. But I get the feeling that we've got to want to be that powerful, equal-to- men type of woman who goes out and gets it all, has the husband, a couple of lovers, a big apartment and the lovely office with the mahogany desk. Usually, I tell myself, "Of course I want a career. That's what will make me fulfilled." But there's no way of knowing what's more fulfilling. Staying at home is painted as being a dreary existence, but I don't know, I've never experienced it. Maybe I'd put the baby to bed and read great works of literature.

I change my mind about what career I want every week. I see myself in everything. I've got a love of theatre and I'd love to be in the media. At other times, I want to go to Africa and do something useful. I have this nasty feeling I'm going to end up teaching. I'll come out of university with a degree, everything will seem impossible, so I'll fall into it.

If I had to choose between a family and career, I'd choose family. I couldn't handle reaching 40 and still living in a big apartment with only a cat. The other day, I saw a girl who dropped out of our year to have a baby. She was in Tesco's, pregnant again. She looked how I imagine an adult to look - glowing and womanly. We're taught to think that girls like her are wasting their lives, but I thought, `Well, is she?'."