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It's your thing!: How the European Commission Is Trying to Attract More Women to Science
January 29, 2013 - 8:39pm

Note from the editors: Today we start a new offering on our blog: every few months we will have a theme that we ask guest bloggers to write about for University of Venus. These themed blog posts will run month after month on the last Monday of the month. For January, February, and March, our guest bloggers will be writing about gender equality in science fields, and we’re kicking off our series with a post by Curt Rice, the Vice President for Research and Development at the University of Tromsø in Norway.

It's your thing!: How the European Commission Is Trying to Attract More Women to Science

Dream jobs, 6 reasons science needs you and Profiles of women in science are three of the areas on a website launched last year by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to consider science as a career—a website called Science: It's a girl thing!

The EC's campaign gave me the opportunity to try out an idea for making a so-called teaser clip that would attract attention to the site; I didn't want to make the clip myself, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just announced a contest. What if I tried a crowdsourcing experiment?

The contest started when I wrote a piece about the campaign that was published at The Guardian. At the end of that article, I suggested a contest.

Maybe crowdsourcing the creation of a teaser – based on the campaign’s website – would be the best way to find out what could tempt teenage girls to study science. Let’s have a contest. Go to the campaign website and find your inspiration. Think about what could be a meaningful teaser video. And then make it! I’ll show the best one at the European Gender Summit 2012. For more details and the official rules for the contest, see The #ScienceGirlThing Contest.


The response was tremendous and the winners were announced in late November.

There were three crucial success factors, but before I tell you about them, enjoy one of the winning videos!

A few people criticized the crowdsourcing idea as a way to get professionals to do work for free. Even though I was thinking more about school kids making videos than professionals, I could understand this criticism. It was then fortuitous when Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, read one of my tweets about the contest and replied that he would donate prize money. I didn't know Brian then, but he thought the cause was important enough to support, and his contribution was crucial to the success of the contest. Thank you, Professor Schmidt!

Before I continue to the second important factor, enjoy another one of the three winning videos.

The second key development was when the European Science Foundation came onboard as a co-organizer of the contest. Even with something as anarchistic as a crowdsourcing contest, there is a lot of work to be done—setting up a good website, organizing the submissions, getting sensible materials to the jury members, and organizing the announcement of the winners. ESF took on these tasks and made the contest a much better experience than I ever could have done myself. ESF Chief Executive Martin Hynes also added considerable status to the event by joining the award ceremony and mentioning the contest in his remarks at the European Gender Summit.

The final thing that made a difference is coming below, but first, watch the third winner!

The contest received prize money, status, and excellent organizational support, but none of that would have mattered without the investment of the participants and other supporters. The decisions of many individuals to engage is the final crucial component.

There were tweeters and bloggers who publicized the contest, like Joanne Manaster, who put it on The Scientific American site, from which many others picked it up. There were jury members: the European Parliament was represented by member Antigoni Papadopoulou, the European Commission was represented by Laura Lauritsalo, science educators were represented by Cheryl Miller, who also gathered seven bright and influential girls who also judged the videos. The organizers of the European Gender Summit let us use their networking event to show the videos and announce the winners. To all of you I've mentioned here, I want to express my gratitude for making this contest a success.

But there's one more group to mention—the most important one! The crowdsourcing contest generated about 40 submissions. Most of them can be viewed here; they are as varied and inspiring as the three winners and I encourage you to have a look.

This campaign is built on the premise that targeting teenagers is important for having more women at age 30 or 35 or 40 still in science careers. And while there are many women in medicine, veterinary sciences and biology, the situation in physics and chemistry and several branches of engineering is still quite bad. Indeed, we probably need to aim at even younger aged school children if we want the brainpower of the entire population brought to these fields. And that of course is a core issue in this movement. Drawing 90% of the physicists from 50% of the population means by definition that we're drawing from the bottom half of the pool of men instead of the top half of the pool of women. It's not an intelligent use of societies' intellectual capital. This work is complicated by the increased skewing in school performance, to the favor of girls. So, on the one hand, we have work to do to keep boys in school; on the other hand, we want to break down the barriers in particular fields.

To those who participated by making a video, on behalf of myself and the European Science Foundation, as the two co-organizers of this event, please know that your efforts touched us all. You are the future of science and you let us know: Science: It's your thing!

An earlier version of this post was published as Science: It's your thing! 3 steps to a crowdsourcing success! at Curt Rice's blog. To keep up with Curt's writing on gender equality, open access and more, follow him on Twitter @curtrice.

 

 

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