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Title: Repositioning the gender gap in UK biology and physics : behind the numbers
Author: Miller-Friedmann, Jaimie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 3172
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Whilst there is an internationally acknowledged chronic gender gap in science, most of the literature offering evidence for and explanations why gender inequality endures focusses on why women choose not to participate in science fields, or why female academics leave academic science. This mixed-methods study investigated the pathways navigated by some of the most successful and elite female biologists and physicists in the UK, in order to uncover best practices and common experiences. The main original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is an empirically based analysis of how women in these fields have negotiated their gendered identities in order to 'fit in' and progress to an elite status, which had not been investigated previously. Secondary statistical analysis of university data were investigated for frequencies, proportions, and trends of female participation in biology and physics over the last 40 years. British female biologists and physicists meeting the study parameters of 'elite' were recruited to participate in semi-structured guided life-history interviews: 10 biologists and 6 physicists participated. Theoretical tools from gender performativity theory formed the overarching framework for the analysis, enhanced and reinforced by perspectives from sociological research, third wave feminist theory, and postcolonialism. Statistical analysis showed that female participation in biology has increased, making females the majority of biology undergraduates. At the academic level, however, attrition is equivalent in both fields, suggesting that retention needs improvement. Analysis of the interview data revealed key coping mechanisms and experiences that have been crucial in helping respondents to choose to participate in biology or physics and to persist to their current elite status. Comparing findings for the biologists with those for the physicists, there were similarities and differences: similarities were found in mindsets towards embracing challenges, and in choosing subfields, but the ways in which the biologists constructed their gendered identities were different to the physicists. These identity constructs provide insight into how women can achieve success in these fields, but also reveal the inherent and ongoing challenges women face in each field. The implications of these findings impact educationalists and policy makers at every level of education and academia, and carefully implemented programmes based on the findings would increase both recruitment and retention for UK women in biology and physics.
Supervisor: Hillier, Judith ; Childs, Ann Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available