Amaya is a second-year student on the MSci Physics programme and the current social media officer for the Women in Physics society at Imperial. She comes from a state school in rural Spain and has an interest for outreach work and motivating other students from non-traditional backgrounds to pursue STEM.
Su Ann is a fourth-year student on the MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics programme and the current secretary for the Women in Physics society. She is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and is passionate about the diversification of Physics.
Outreach Talk at Avanti House Secondary School
A few weeks ago, a first-year Physics student reached out to the Women in Physics society to ask if we gave talks at schools, as her old secondary school’s Physics Society was very interested in hosting a talk about women in physics. We had never given a talk as a society before, but we replied and this past Wednesday 16th March we were fortunate enough to give our first one at Avanti House Secondary School in Stanmore, North London.
We had prepared slides to talk through our experiences: why we chose to study Physics, how university differs from high school as well as our experiences as women in a male-dominated field. We soon realized we wanted the presentation to be engaging and conversational, to make sure the experiences we shared resonated and to be able to offer relevant information.
As this was a Physics Society event, we were expecting a few interested students to show up. We were excited and starry-eyed on the way to the talk – if we had known in advance that over a hundred Grade 12 students, along with students from other years, were attending, we might have been more nervous! However, this ended up being a very comfortable environment as the students were very enthusiastic about responding to our open questions and asked their own throughout.
The society committee warmly welcomed us with their teacher and offered us a tour, tea and lunch. We set up in their large assembly hall and the students gathered on the benches.
We started off by introducing ourselves: we had representation for the Theoretical Physics degree from Su Ann and for the experimentalists from Amaya. Then we went on to explain our paths into Physics, from liking Maths and Science in school to our Imperial interviews.
We discussed the structure of the degree and how central project work is to learning at uni. In our experience, coding can be very daunting at the beginning, so we shared thoughts on how the course brings everyone up to the same level, previous experience is not needed, and a little faith in yourself goes a long way.
It was also important for us to highlight how different the learning environment is and how it’s sometimes hard to realize you’re not at the top of the class anymore once you get to uni. To help with managing expectations, Su Ann shared her experiences. Amaya explained how she feels about the gender ratio in the Physics degree and how much she appreciates the Women in Physics network.
We took a couple of slides at the end to celebrate some of our Academic Women in Physics, including our Head of Department Michele Dougherty, and their achievements. We also took the opportunity to plug our blog and our social media accounts, which feature interviews with some of these women as well as researchers and students.
It was lovely giving the talk to such enthusiastic and passionate students; it was obvious to us from the get-go that it was a very academic school with many talented students. Their interest in our subject helped put us at ease as they had plenty of questions after the talk about how we got to Imperial, what it was like studying and why we ended up choosing Physics in the end. We believe that the talk allowed them to open up about their worries about studying Physics at university as we tried to emphasize to them that we were there for a casual discussion rather than a lecture. It was also very heartwarming to have some of the younger students come up to us after the lecture to ask if we get to study space physics.
After this event, it was really highlighted to us how important outreach is in schools; less formal talks and interactions like this can help give students the encouragement to study something they’re truly passionate about if they were previously having any reservations about going down this path. We encourage anyone who would be interested in outreach to join the outreach programme as it gives you a chance to spread your love for your subject whilst also helping younger students make very important decisions in their lives!
“Su Ann and Amaya’s passion for physics was reflected in their speech and I really enjoyed hearing about their journey so far. The talk was informative and engaging, inspiring me to consider physics as a potential degree course.” – Avanti House Physics Society President.