How to encourage Britain’s next female astronaut from a young age
The very first Briton in space was a woman. But that was back in 1991. Over forty US women have been in space but there have been no British women since the nineties. Even the fact that the UK currently has a man on the International Space Station is a novelty, but at least it has the opportunity to be an inspirational novelty for today’s young children.
Girls’ schools have a long history of inspiring girls to pursue science careers in areas such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacology and engineering. Now we’re adding space travel to the mix.
Along with many other teachers across the UK, my school (Manchester Girls’ High School) is making the most of Major Tim Peake’s space mission to inspire the girls in our classrooms. Even the youngest will be embarking on a voyage of discovery by becoming real scientists and growing seeds that have been part of Tim Peake’s Principia Mission to the ISS.
This national experiment aims to encourage pupils to think about how human life could be preserved on another planet and the difficulties surrounding growing fresh food in challenging climates. For the girls in my school, it means they can be involved in exciting ‘real life’ scientific investigations and have the opportunity to see their data being used on an international scale. Projects such as this do much to stimulate interest in the study of science and, more specifically, the scientific fields of astronomy and astrophysics. For girls, it means they get to see the ‘real life’ impact of their studies, and start to understand the career options open to them in these growing fields.
Field trips undertaken from a young age are vital to widen children’s perception of the world around them. Museums and observatories are great for enabling girls to explore science through engaging, interactive displays and workshops. We are fortunate in Manchester to have a wealth of options in this respect; locations such as the Jodrell Bank Observatory give pupils the opportunity to have their questions answered by enthusiastic specialists. Their passion and interest in their subject often acts as the initial catalyst that ignites a child’s lifelong interest in astronomy and astrophysics.
Emotional intelligence is another important skill for girls who want to become astronauts or astrophysicists. In fact, it’s fundamental to any future career success. By nurturing and developing individual personal qualities such as resilience, determination, independence and self-belief, we can help girls to overcome the difficulties they may face in their own personal pursuit of the stars.
Former pupils who are already ‘doing the job’ can play a huge role in career inspiration. For example, we’re inviting a former pupil who now works for the European Space Agency to come back to Manchester Girls’ High School and work with our pupils. This extraordinary woman has carved out a successful career in the field of astrophysics. Her visit will provide another opportunity to open girls’ eyes to the potential of less traditional areas of scientific study; it will demonstrate to them that they, too, can forge careers at the forefront of space exploration.
Emma Nash, Head of Preparatory Department, Manchester High School for Girls