UK risks losing over 33,000 much-needed female scientists each year, research shows

Some female students report feeling 'lonely and isolated' in their studies which has put them off going further

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Monday 04 July 2016 11:32
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The UK risks losing over 33,000 much-needed female scientists each year as students consider walking away from the subject post-graduation.

New research has shown almost a quarter of current female science students will not or are not sure whether they will pursue a career in science, equating to 33,371 students, based on statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Of those who say they will not go into science, reasons include concerns about the future work-life balance and earning power (11 per cent), with almost half citing “unappealing career options.” Fifteen per cent said they have already felt lonely and isolated in their studies which would put them off from going any further.

The opinions come despite the fact many students have long been committed to science, with half of those surveyed saying they first became interested in science at primary school age.

The research also shown that, while the majority of female science students enjoy their studies, 34 per cent find it harder than they expected. Ongoing issues such as sexism and a lack of support for women in labs also persist; more than one in ten female students has experienced sexism within their studies, and a similar proportion say they’ve felt ostracised on their course.

Conducted by NUS Insight, the research has come from L’Oréal UK & Ireland which employs almost 4,000 scientists and researchers around the globe. The company emphasised how these factors are contributing to the underrepresentation of women working in STEM careers in the UK where, currently, just 15 per cent of the UK STEM workforce is female, and fewer than three per cent of Nobel Prizes in the sciences are awarded to women.

In response to this, L’Oréal is encouraging people to sign up to a series of commitments to increase gender equality in science careers, including better support and mentoring for young women scientists, now that it has launched a global For Women in Science Manifesto.

Atmospheric scientist Dr Paola Crippa, described how working in science is an “exciting and rewarding career.” However, she added: “It can be tough to balance things like caring for a family when working in a research environment in particular, where funding is often limited.”

Dr Crippa also said she would have had to make a tough decision between furthering her research and looking after her young daughter had she not received a fellowship.

Dr Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oreal UK & Ireland, said: “There’s no question that science needs women, and it’s disappointing almost a quarter of passionate young UK scientists are being put off before they’ve even begun their career.

“The reality is that the concerns they face are similar to women working in any sector, but if we stand any chance of plugging the leaky pipeline of female scientists, those concerns need to be tackled head-on.

“We urge people to get behind this issue and support faster change, by signing our manifesto.”

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