Encouraging Girls to Be Scientists with a Girl’s Best Friend

Women in canine science inspire girls to be scientists in social media campaign.

Posted Nov 27, 2018

Africa Studio / Shutterstock
Source: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Do dogs have what it takes to interest girls in science?

All through November 2018, the popular science blog Do You Believe in Dog? has been sharing inspiring quotes from women in canine science on social media. The project aims to encourage girls to become interested in a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). One quote has been shared per day, with the final quote to come on November 30.

Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht, the two scientists behind Do You Believe in Dog? (and of Monash University and CUNY, respectively), say:

Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission
Source: Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission

“When young, girls and boys show the same level of interest and abilities in STEM… Sadly, social, cultural and educational discrimination and biases are leading to girls losing interest in STEM. The ages between 10-15 have been identified as most critical, with many 15 year olds having already lost interest in STEM subjects.”

To do something about this, they invited 30 women working in canine science (including yours truly) to share messages aimed at encouraging and inspiring girls to become scientists.

As scientists, Cobb and Hecht reviewed the literature to find out what encourages girls to consider a career in science. They found that when girls don’t have good female role models in scientific careers, they lose interest in those careers themselves.

As well, having a good role model in one scientific field also leads to increased interest in other fields.

Do You Believe in  Dog?, used with permission
Source: Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission

This is an international initiative with participants from around the globe, not least since Cobb and Hecht are based in Australia and the US respectively. Their blog began after they met at a canine science conference in 2012.

Canine science is fascinating–not just because it’s about dogs–but also because it draws on many disciplines including Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology.

Dogs are common pets in households with children, and when children with pets are asked to say what type of animal is their favourite, more than half of them pick dogs (Westgarth et al 2013). So if girls already love dogs, it stands to reason they might also love canine science.

Not only that, but as Cobb and Hecht point out, women are thriving in canine science, which means it’s a great field to find role models.

Dr. Alexandra Horowitz (of Barnard College, and author of Inside of a Dog), wrote:

Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission
Source: Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission

"You are already a scientist. You ask questions about the world around you, and you look closely. These are fundamentals of the scientific process. If you have an inquisitive mind, you're halfway there. Keep pursuing the questions you return to; keep following your interest; and don't let anyone tell you it isn't practical, realistic, or right. You'll show them."

Cobb and Hecht have turned excerpts from the quotes into highly shareable images for social media. They say, "share them with a girl you know!"

The images featured here show quotes from Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, Dr. Monique Udell (Oregon State University), Dr. Laurie Santos (Yale University), and Dr. Lisa Gunter (Arizona State University).

Participants have highlighted a range of topics from things they love about working in the field, the hurdles they had to overcome, and advice on the qualities needed to become a scientist.

Mia Cobb says:

Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission
Source: Do You Believe in Dog?, used with permission

“We have been overwhelmed with the positive response we've received. From the general public on social media, from others in STEM and also from colleagues in canine science, who say they've been reminded of all the things they love about the field we work in.

This feeling of shared positivity, support and enthusiasm is one we hope every girl considering a future in STEM now gets to experience in their future vocation.”

You can read more about the project over at Do You Believe in Dog? and take a look at their  Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds to see all the quotes in full.

What message would you give to girls to encourage them to be scientists?

References

Westgarth C, Boddy LM, Stratton G, German AJ, Gaskell RM, Coyne KP, Bundred P, McCune S, & Dawson S (2013). Pet ownership, dog types and attachment to pets in 9-10 year old children in Liverpool, UK. BMC veterinary research, 9:102. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-6148-9-102

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