I teach a core third year module on quantum mechanics – not surprisingly the majority of the time is spent developing the formalism, which is ‘beautiful’ mathematically – and conceptually challenging.
The extraordinary physics breakthroughs we study were mostly achieved by (now dead) white men: till last summer I had just recognised these truly impressive accomplishments and moved on.
Does this matter?
Over the summer of 2018 I had successfully bid for an Educational Grant jointly with the University of Nottingham. This included a week’s internship with a recently graduated BME student.
She described how the lack of diversity in her lecturers was compounded by the lack of role models within the physics that she was learning about. It made her doubt that ‘people like her’ should be doing physics, and further this had been a part of her decision not to apply for postgraduate study.
So what changed?
Well, firstly I haven’t rewritten history!
Instead I introduced a ‘Quantum Researcher of the week’. Given this is my area of research, it enabled me to both diversify the people but also link current research in snippets within physics that otherwise might feel as if it was fully understood a 100 years ago.
So, who did I include?
Dr Hannah Price Birmingham Fellow and Royal Society University Research Fellow
Recently arrived, current undergraduates would not have had the opportunity to be taught by her. She won both the Chancellor’s Prize and the Institute of Physics James Clerk Maxwell in 2018 and they might be interested in undergraduate or postgraduate projects supervised by her.
Prof Jim Al-Khalili Most people might say ‘science communicator’ but he is a nuclear physicist originally! Infact he featured twice. Having emailed him to let him know that he had featured in the lecture -he recorded a video message for the students on how they might want to think about the material we were covering. It is probably the only time I will have spontaneous applause for playing a video.
And there were more… As is probably evident I enjoyed this part of the preparation. And it received a lot of positive feedback in the questionnaires. (For those who said they preferred not to be distracted from the core physics I provided extension material to think about in these brief interludes).
If we are a little more imaginative, we can make changes to how we present material `even’ in the STEM subjects to demonstrate science, and the discovery of new ideas is inclusive now if not ‘then’.
Professor Nicola Wilkin, Theoretical Physics Group,
Director of Education, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
Incoming Chair of the Juno Panel (Equality awards), Institute of Physics.