Survey reveals mixed opinions on science in UK

Mixed messages could discourage future generation of UK young scientists

Research released to mark British Science Week has found that almost nine-out-of-10 adults in the UK say they would encourage children to pursue a science-related career – although most have never wanted one for themselves.

A global survey carried out by the science-based technology company 3M revealed a mixed message of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ being handed on to the prospective next generation of UK scientists.

The 3M survey – State of Science Index – was carried out among 1,000 people, aged 18 and over, in each of the 14 countries.

While 88% of adults think a science-related career for children is a good choice, only 37% say they regret not choosing one themselves.The survey found that such levels of regret were far higher in other regions such as Saudi Arabia (68%) and China (58%).

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

When the participants were asked which field of study they would have opted for if given the choice again, information technology/computer science (23%) was the top British choice; while art and design and history (both 19%) proved more popular than engineering (16%) or medicine (14%).

The survey revealed a widespread perceived lack of knowledge about science, with only 14% in the UK claiming to know a great deal about it. However, parents are keen for their offspring to be more engaged in science with some 94% of them wanting their children to know more.

British men put themselves forward as the more scientifically informed (21%), with only 7% of women claiming to know a lot. What’s more, 1-in-5 women reported feeling like they knew nothing about the subject at all.

This research has further strengthened our resolve in seeking to engage both parents and children to ensure that they, and the country as a whole, value science and better understand the crucial role it can play in improving lives for everyone

The 3M research has been welcomed by the British Science Association (BSA). Katherine Mathieson, the BSA’s chief executive 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.” 

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Mathieson continued: “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.”

“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 can counteract stereotypes about science by doing more to show how science and engineering are 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,” Mathieson concluded.

The results found that British people are less likely than many nationalities to put scientists on a pedestal – but conversely, 24% believe that someone has to be a ‘genius’ to have a career in science.

Whether geniuses or not, respondents’ views on scientific endeavors are less positive. More than a quarter of UK respondents say they are sceptical of science and almost half believe science causes as many problems as solutions. More bizarre still, 61% of respondents think that scientific research is underfunded in the UK and 72% believe the best days of science are yet to come.

3M technical director Wynne Lewis commented: “3M has long been committed to supporting the teaching of STEM subjects in schools and colleges as a central focus for the company’s community programme in the UK.”

“This research has further strengthened our resolve in seeking to engage both parents and children to ensure that they, and the country as a whole, value science and better understand the crucial role it can play in improving lives for everyone,” he added.

To read the full report, visit the online 3M report. 

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