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  5. Factors influencing female participation in Physical Science Postgraduate Research Programmes

Factors influencing female participation in Physical Science Postgraduate Research Programmes

Project leader(s): 
Clare Reger, Mark Bowden, Anne-Marie Gallen
STEM and The University of Liverpool

Why do female graduates within Physics and Engineering choose certain research areas above others? While women are generally underrepresented in most areas of postgraduate and postdoctoral research, the gender balance varies between different research fields, and, in some areas, is significantly below the sector average. This project, a joint study of the Open University and the University of Liverpool, will explore the reasons why the proportion of women pursuing postgraduate research in the nuclear sector, and nuclear fusion in particular, is significantly lower  (~12%) than might be expected considering the sector average for physical science-based postgraduate research of ~25%. 

The lack of information about UGàPG progression makes it difficult to design evidence-based strategies.  With both the OU and Liverpool participating in nuclear sector Centres for Doctoral Training, insight into the decision-making processes of female undergraduates should enable the design of more inclusive recruitment strategies.

We propose a study to identify issues influencing the progression of women into postgraduate research. Within focus groups, female postgraduates will be asked to discuss their reasons for choosing their particular research field. One focus group will be drawn from women involved in nuclear fusion, a field with significant and persistent under-representation of women, while a second group will be drawn from a research field in which the number of women meets the sector average. This second focus group will also be asked to discuss reasons they may have for rejecting the fusion field.

The project will have two main outcomes. One immediate outcome will be information that can be used to inform better recruitment strategies for the OU and Liverpool based doctoral training centres. The second outcome, however, is a longer term one. The results of this small-scale, short-term study should provide the basis for designing externally-funded research into progression choices of women in physical/engineering sciences.