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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Harnessing talent and work-life balance

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    03 Mar
    iop-Women in A level Physics Jan 2016 iop-Women in A level Physics Jan 2016


    Career I’ve had quite a few enjoyable and fulfilling jobs over a 40-year career, all in science education. I’ve taught physics in schools and trainee physics teachers in Universities. I’ve done some important research on children’s understanding (and many teachers’ misunderstanding) of science. Most recently I’ve been employed by the Institute of Physics to help address the very low number of girls taking Physics A-level. Did you know that nationally only about 22% of the entrants for Physics A-level are girls. Research in 2011 showed that Physics was the fourth most popular subjects for boys to choose but the 19th most popular for girls.  In 46% of schools no young woman completed a Physics A-level.  This is a shameful waste of talent.

    I was drawn to physics because it addresses big questions. How can you look at the sky and not just wonder? How can you not want to study it? And maybe it’s the wonder in a grandson’s face when he looks up at the moon which links my own passion for physics and for looking after (and teaching) children. But the great thing about studying science at University is that it lets you have your cake and eat it. Unlike some other disciplines, graduates with science degrees are rarely short of a job, even if they want to combine their career with childcare or other life passions.

    You can glean insights into just a few of the jobs available within other blog entries: Sarah chose a role in creating new drugs, Angela in harvesting fuel resources, Annie in health care for women in prison, Zoe in international consultancy, Rebecca in researching the epidemiological consequences of behaviour and Jelena in developing genetic testing facilities. Like many contributors to this blog, I went to New Hall (Murray Edwards). I was very unsure whether this was a good idea at the time as I came from a state school in Cleethorpes. The College was welcoming and friendly. I learned that we all brought different strengths and skills. And the people I met as an undergraduate became and remain my closest friends. I haven’t got a paid job anymore. Now retired, I seem to spend most of my time looking after grandchildren. Some would see a pattern in this – I gave up a PhD to look after my own children. Having a fulfilling life is about more than what you do at work. But I don’t for a moment regret choosing to study science (mostly physics) at University. It was great for my life as well as for my career. And I’ve spent most of that career encouraging young women to do the same – and to make full use of their talent for science. So why do I want to encourage you, to study science? Firstly, because there is so much that you will find interesting. Secondly, doing science opens up so many possibilities for what you can do with your life. Thirdly, you can be very good at it. Finally, and importantly, young women are needed. Jenny Mant Alumna