Gemma Molyneux

Please describe your current research interests/projects.
My current project is exploring girls’ consumption of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). The aim is to understand why girls’ uptake in STEM is lower than boys’. STEM careers have a large effect on moulding our world: without girls studying STEM women have a lesser influence in shaping our world. Previous work has focused on the masculinity of STEM, within this research the girls’ everyday lives is the focus.
Why did you choose this field? 
My undergraduate degree was in Engineering, followed by a 10-year career in the turbine industry for both power generation and aerospace. During this time, I had lots of positive experiences and wanted to understand why the imbalance in STEM was still present.  

How did you get into research?

Following a work placement in UNHCR in Cairo, I tried to get a job within UN women but discovered I required qualifications in a different field, such as social sciences. After completing courses online to see what subject interested me, on return to the UK I completed a masters in Sociology. During the Sociology masters an opportunity for a PhD linking my interest in STEM gender imbalance became available. 

What are the main methods you use, how and why?

The project proposal was to use an ethnographic study of girls’ consumption of STEM in school, exploring how their broader lives influence their decisions to pursue STEM further. An ethnographic study would allow the interaction and effect from peers (both men and women), teachers, curriculum and school space on the girls. Further one-to-one interviews would develop understanding regarding other influences such as home. Alongside this, I will complete a discourse analysis of the curriculum to understand if there is any gendering. Due to Covid – 19 this plan has had to change, the ethnography is no longer possible. The new plan involves interviews with teachers (either online via zoom or telephone) and online group interviews with students in school in conjunction with photo elicitation. Following the latest lock down further changes are being made to the online interviews.  

Which methods excite you?
The ethnographic study that I had hoped to use, to give me an insight into what is going on in girls’ lives, I thought was really interesting and would give some great depth in insight. Being able to see something over a period where natural behaviour is being observed.  

What I have been able to explore and enjoy is the statistics data, this combines my number based background with the sociology interest.  I have been looking at some government and exam board data, the numbers are interesting but also the way they have been produced, what bias can be seen by this and what they have left out.  

I have enjoyed the interviews more than I was expecting too. Rapport with the participants has been good and has not felt awkward. This is an area that takes time to develop and I am seeing my learning curve.  

Are there any methods you’d like to explore?
Having to change my plan more than once due to Covid -19 has made me be more creative with the different methods. Thinking about how methods can be adapted or changed, what works with different participants and what works online. The photo elicitation has been really useful in this respect and further visual methods would be interesting to explore further.
What, about methods, did you wish your younger self had known?
The piece of advice for my younger self would be, everything takes longer than you expect.
Have you had any memorable methodological blunders?
I haven’t had any blunders so far, however coming from a different background, which is processes driven, meant I found the less ridged descriptions of types of methods challenging. I spent a lot of time looking for a more precise definition and a firm process map that does not exist.
If you could recommend students read just one text on methods (book or journal article), what would it be?
I think it would be an article on reflexivity. The one thing that I have found with social science is that there is no right or wrong, things can be interpreted and the importance of understanding where the interpretation comes from. Gallinat, A., (2010) ‘Playing the Native Card: The Anthropologist as Informant in Eastern Germany.’ in Collins, P. & Gallinat, A., The Ethnographic Self as Resource: Writing Memory and Experience into Ethnography, New York: Berghahn Books pp.25-44.