Equipment and image problems plague the 'tough' sciences

十二月 3, 2004

'It's all well and good learning the theory, but I can understand why children find chemistry boring if they don't get to do any hands-on work'

Like many young people, Rob Pullinger spent years dreaming of becoming a vet.

But after starting a veterinary science degree at university he decided the lifestyle of a vet wasn't for him and he transferred to the less popular subject of chemistry.

Now in his fourth year at Liverpool University, Pullinger says that many people he meets assume chemistry is frighteningly tough.

"As with all degrees, if you are going to do it well, you need to put the work in. But if you work it's not difficult," he said.

Pullinger attended a private secondary school where chemistry was "one of the big subjects" and students had access to exciting laboratory facilities.

But he realises that this positive introduction to chemistry was very different from the experience of children in many state and inner-city schools, and he worries about how to persuade students to love science without access to proper equipment.

"It's all well and good learning the theory, but I can understand why children find chemistry boring if they don't get to do any hands-on work," he explained.

Academics might believe that the fundamental problems facing their sector pass students by. But Pullinger is well aware of the number of chemistry departments that have disappeared across the country.

"It definitely worries me," he said.

'When I was choosing my A levels... knew of only one other girl who was doing physics. Physics is regarded as a bit geeky'

Jilly McCarthy, a sixth-former at Parmiter's, a state school in Watford, studied triple science at GCSE, but abandoned science completely when it came to choosing A levels.

"Most people in the school do double science at GCSE, but I chose to do triple science, even though that meant staying after school for extra lessons," she said.

Now McCarthy is studying arts subjects and heading towards a degree in English and creative writing.

"I was thinking of doing physics at A level but I decided the work was too much," she explained.

"There's a lot of stress in the sixth form as it is and physics would have meant even more stress."

She insists that she chose her subjects based on how much she enjoyed them, but admits that the issue of which courses would lead to the highest grades might also have crept in.

"I know some of the science students at our school say you only do arts subjects because you know they hand out As," she said.

Friends of McCarthy's who are doing science have tended to opt for biology, which she says is seen as the easiest of the three sciences. The people she knows who are studying physics and chemistry are generally feeling very pressured.

McCarthy agrees that gender plays a role in which subjects people choose.

"When I was choosing my A levels I knew of only one other girl who was doing physics and that influenced my decision," she said. "Physics is regarded as a bit geeky," she added.

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