And So It Begins: Scientific Stereotypes

12. December 2012

David McGloin

This post is reproduced from the blog Dundee Physics with the kind permission of the author.

Recently, my daughter was asked to do a writing and comprehension exercise related to her science class. On the surface, it was a simple assignment: Look at an image and write descriptive words and phrases about it, and then put these into context in a few sentences. The exercise was linked to her current project work on magnets and their properties. (It was rather straightforward, as she is only in Primary 3.) But the picture that the teacher had chosen was what caught my eye. It was of a “scientist” in the old man, Einstein mold with a set of test tubes.

Although I don’t have a problem with the assignment itself, I do take issue with the way that this particular image reinforces the tired old cliché of the stereotypical scientist. This is the type of thing that seeps into kids’ minds and influences the way that they conceptualize the sciences. While it may not put them off entirely, it could lead them to perceive science as being uncool or only for a limited group of people. At a young age, I think many kids love science. They like doing experiments and discovering things. But after years of being bombarded with images like these, that can begin to change. I think my daughters are capable of anything, including becoming much better scientists than I am. However, in spite of their potential, years of reinforcement of the idea of scientists as disheveled old men could ultimately take its toll.

This is a deeply entrenched image in society, and it is not a simple problem to fix. The misconception should be addressed on multiple levels, and so science communication needs to extend much further than just the pupils. The solution begins with teachers. The instructors at a primary school may not know better. They too have grown up with these stereotypes, and they may be, through no fault of their own, unaware that this is an issue.  That is why we in the science community need to raise awareness among educators so that our teachers can help take on the lack of female students in the sciences. 

I have watched with interest the development of projects like Sciencegrrl and Geek Girl Scotland. For quite a while, I have sympathized with their cause and seen the need for such initiatives. However, before I had my own daughters, it didn’t hit quite so close to home. Now the issue seems much more personal. I have ordered a Sciencegrrl calendar to pass on to my local school. In addition, as the Head of Physics at Dundee University, I will try to look at ways to improve our attractiveness to female applicants. As a community, we need to explore ways in which we might help out more in the community to try and counter such stereotypes. As a start, I have ordered a Science Grrl calendar to donate to my kids’ school. You should get one too.

David McGloin (d.mcgloin@dundee.ac.uk) is head of the division of physics and a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee, Scotland. 

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Laser-focus Your Job Search with Work in Optics

4. December 2012

Jean-Michel Pelarpat

For optics and photonics industry professionals, navigating the vast universe of job listings on mainstream job sites can be daunting. The specific careers and organizations you seek may be buried among thousands of other outdated or unrelated positions, even after you’ve attempted to narrow down results as much as possible. Fortunately, professional societies such as OSA are available to provide career assistance for their members and the community. Indeed, part of OSA’s mission is to expand and develop the field of optics globally, and a critical step toward that goal is effectively connecting professionals around the world to industry leaders, emerging fields and opportunities for conducting breakthrough research.

OSA’s online job board, WORKinOPTICS.com, provides a global career resource for the optics and photonics community. Accessible by employers and job seekers worldwide, this niche job board gives optics and photonics professionals the unique opportunity to connect directly with organizations at the forefront of their field.

Since its inception, the Work in Optics site has been consistently updated to be as user-friendly and practical as possible. Users can sort job postings by state, country, education level and specific subfields, including academia, aerospace/defense, biotechnology/medical, telecom, government and more. There is no cost for job seekers to browse positions or post their resume, and there are more than 70 open positions currently posted, ranging from leading optics universities, government laboratories and prestigious companies.

The benefits even expand beyond the job seeker -- OSA corporate member companies receive 20 free job postings per membership term, and non-OSA corporate members are welcome to post jobs for a nominal fee. There are nearly 1,800 resumes in the resume database for companies seeking qualified candidates.

 A great new feature on the Work in Optics site is the internship listings page. As someone who serves on the OSA Corporate Associates Committee, I collaborated with OSA leadership and staff to establish this new component to the online job board. We’ve had great success with our internship program here at Vytran, and it was important to me that there be a means to connect students with internship opportunities on the Work in Optics site. The internship page allows OSA corporate members to post unlimited intern positions at no cost (there is a small fee for non-OSA corporate members), and students can browse those listings, apply, and post their resume for free.

I encourage all job seekers or professionals who may be open to a career transition to post their resume to the Work in Optics site. This job site was developed especially for you: It cuts through the clutter of mainstream job websites and gives you direct access to employers or job seekers in your specialized area. Share this resource with a colleague, friend or family member and help us continue to expand our network of bright, innovative optics professionals.

Jean-Michel Pelaprat (jmp@vytran.com) is president and CEO at Vytran Corporation, a supplier of optical fiber splicing and processing solutions based in Morganville, NJ, U.S.A. He is the 2013 chair-elect of the OSA Corporate Associates Committee.

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