Mixed messages could discourage future generation of UK young scientists

2 min read

3M has released the findings of a new survey – State of Science Index – to mark British Science Week and has found that almost nine out of 10 adults in the UK say they would encourage their children to pursue a science-related career and that despite most of those questioned never wanting one for themselves.

A global survey that involved 1000 people across 14 countries it found that while 88 per cent of UK adults think that a science-related career for children is a good choice, only 37 per cent say they actually regret not choosing one themselves.

When asked which field of study they would have picked today as satisfying, information technology/computer science (23 per cent) was the top British choice; while art and design and history (both 19 per cent) proved more popular than engineering (16 per cent).

The survey says that there is a widespread perceived lack of knowledge about science. Only 14 per cent of people in the UK claim to know a great deal about it.

Parents were found to be keen for their offspring to be more engaged in science with 94 per cent wanting their children to know more.

The research was welcomed by the British Science Association's (BSA) chief executive, Katherine Mathieson, who said: “Science is not just a school subject or job, it’s a state of mind; a way of asking questions and exploring the world around us.

“Many people instantly characterise their relationship with science in terms of how much they know about it, or how confident they are with the perceived subject matter, as opposed to how much they enjoy science or engage with it as part of everyday life in the way that we might other things, such as music, sport or politics. The results of the survey underline the need for a better appreciation of just how fundamental science is to our society and culture.

According to Mathieson, “Parental influence is so very important to young people, and the results of the survey paint a really interesting picture. On the one hand, it’s heartening to see that the enthusiasm is there for encouraging their daughters and sons towards science-related careers, but on the other, parents may be unwittingly putting their children off by their own views and strength of feeling towards science being something that they don’t identify with themselves. “

Parents could do a lot to counteract stereotypes about science by doing more to show how science and engineering is integral to daily life through the things that many families do already – such as cooking, sport, trips out, computer games and conversations following TV shows and films.

Crucially this research highlights the importance that parents have in encouraging their children to take up a career in science and at the very least, to better value science and its role in improving peoples’ lives.