Churchill College held its first physical sciences residential last month as part of a targeted programme of outreach events to encourage and enable young women to study STEM subjects at university.

Visiting and staying in College for events and Open Days has proven to have a very positive impact on students when choosing to apply to study at Churchill and Cambridge. As part of a new programme of access initiatives, Churchill is collaborating with current university and departmental initiatives to encourage Year 12 and 11 students —especially those from state schools, to visit and stay at Churchill for subject specific workshops.

Two high school students conducting a science experiment

High school students conducting an experiment as part of our women in STEM residential workshop programme.

It is hoped that a particular focus on workshops aimed at prospective female subjects interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at university will have positive impact on balancing the gender distribution of these subjects at the College.

On April 4, 30 female students attended a physical sciences residential workshop, led by Churchill’s Director of Studies for Physics, Dr Lisa Jardine Wright.

Speaking about the residential, Dr Jardine-Wright said:

“My overriding impression of these girls was their keenness to participate, their academic ability and, like many, their under confidence. I was delighted to visibly see their confidence grow over the evening and day that we worked together as they began to understand what studying at Cambridge is all about and that “getting things wrong” is an important part of scientific discovery and learning.

I had two aims for the residential; the first to give the young women an understanding of the sorts of skills that they would need to study STEM at university and secondly to encourage them to ask questions and deepen their understanding through the application of their adept mathematical skills to real physics problems.

The evening began with an opportunity for the students to meet some of Churchill’s undergraduates while working in groups to explain a variety of physics “toys”, such as Newton’s Cradle, Gyroscopes, Spinning Tops etc. These were open ended real-life puzzles that in my opinion take confidence to tackle but the girls really enjoyed working together to try and understand how these toys worked. 

As I sat back and watched our Churchill undergraduates I was also able to observe what excellent ambassadors they were, showing off the confidence and wider transferable skills that they have developed throughout their Natural Sciences degree.” 

The Master Athene Donald talking to prospective female science students.

The Master Athene Donald talking to prospective female science students.

Prompted by the discussions and questions led by our Master, the final activity was to ask students to volunteer anonymous free form responses to the following questions: What was most unexpected about the residential? What was most useful? Why/Why wouldn’t you choose Churchill College or Cambridge? Some of the responses included:

“The overnight stay helped me to experience the university more and get to know how it would feel to actually live here.”

“It was useful to get the experience of lectures in the University and the tutorial system as well as being able to talk to the students that are currently studying here.”

“I learnt that it’s OK to get something wrong and making mistakes is fine and good. Also, the food was pretty good and accommodation – really surprised with how big and nice it is.”

“I found staying over was useful as it gave a real feel of university life. I also found the different physics problems like the ones on Isaac Physics website useful at testing how much you truly understand concepts and if you’re able to apply it.””I did not expect to see the diversity of community.”

“I found the relaxed attitude unexpected as my stereotype of Cambridge as a university does not reflect this.”

“It was a really useful and eye-opening experience and I am considering applying to Churchill College now.”

In response to the students’ feedback Dr Jardine-Wright said:

“The responses to these questions has provided clear evidence of our assertion in piloting this residential — the opportunity to stay and experience a college really makes a difference to a student’s perspective of Cambridge and Churchill College, we plan therefore that this residential will be the first of many.”

The Admissions and Widening Participation teams plan to continue expanding Churchill’s outreach programme with more targeted events alongside our popular general and subject-based open days. The next open day coincides with the University’s main general open days on Thursday 30 June & Friday 1 July 2016. 

Find out more about our Open Days

Contact the Admissions Team

Related article

Read more about Churchill’s outreach initiatives aimed at encouraging and enabling young women to study science, technology, engineering and mathematical subjects at university.

Read article

Postgraduate student NIkita Harri writes about her vision to uplift society through education and inspire other women, particularly from developing countries, to pursue a career in STEM subjects.

Read article