Write your choice

The background
We know a great deal about adolescents' attitudes to science, academic performance and educational choices as a result of surveys (ROSE, TIMSS, PISA, Eurobarometer, Vilje-con-valg/”Lily”, IRIS, etc.), but we know little as yet about what makes certain girls choose to go against the current, or about the extent to which these choices are gender-related. I aspire to contribute such knowledge to the debate about recruitment to science and the significance of gendered meanings for educational choices.

The approach
The project belongs to a feminist phenomenological research tradition that focuses on the girls' lives and everyday understanding. I will analyse the stories that comprise my empirical data using narrative methods. Narrative methods attach importance to how the informants express themselves and what this expression, through interpretation, can say about a phenomenon.

This methodological approach has been chosen to understand, describe and explain the girls' choice of science, on the basis of an understanding that construction of text is construction of meaning. This links the research project to a general view of science that emphasises the individual's understanding and perception of her place in relation to her surroundings, or, to put it in other words: a perspective that attaches importance to both sociocultural and bodily shaping of attitudes in relation to the social and physical world.

”Write your choice!” – The narratives
In autumn 2009, I launched a website for the purpose of collecting data. The website contained information about selection criteria, relevant themes in the stories, rules for participation, information about incentives, about the further use of the stories etc. I urged the informants to submit what they wanted to emphasise. Deadline for sending in the written stories was 31.12.2009. (See "Announcement").

Some preliminary reflections
Norms and values exist in form of 'tacit knowledge', expectations and stereotypical perceptions about girls' educational choices, cultural barriers at school, in research communities, in the world of academia, in the world of work and in 'society-at-large'. Such discourses can be reproduced without resistance, because we take knowledge for granted.

It is said that girls make choices that are conventional and traditional. The majority choose educations and occupations in the field of health and care, subjects often described as 'soft', and as appealing to 'female values'. The girls in my material break with these conventions through their actions. They have chosen to study sciences that have a low percentage of women. They are in the minority. To what extent can these girls be perceived as non-conformist? Do they see themselves as such? Such questions open the door to many interesting interpretations of the material, which must be viewed in the context of other knowledge about being young in our society.

Further exploration, interpretation and follow-up
The interpretation and analysis of the narratives will be compared with the findings from the quanitative questionnaire surveys in the Norwegian “Vilje-con-valg” research project conducted in autumn 2008, and the collaborative EU funded research project IRIS conducted in 2009. Both projects address the challenge that few young people, and women in particular, choose education and career in STEM. My project is different, both methodological and theoretical as I go deeper into stories of girls choosing to study science in order to explore what influenced them, how their choices can be said to be gendered – and how such knowledge can challenge the meta-narrative told about girls and science.

An interpretation of the informants stories in the light of findings from IRIS and Lily, will hopefully raise the awareness of why and how some girls choose science - and may be informative for future initiatives towards better gender equality in science.

I will furthermore follow some of the informants through higher education, who embark on a career in STEM after their studies, which makes this research project a longitudinel study.

Project leader was Marianne Løken.