AAAdmissions Blog

This blog is maintained by the Undergraduate Admissions Tutors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol. Here you will find FAQ answers and news updates on our admissions process. For more information, visit the Department home page or the undergraduate admissions home page.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

On Gender

It was good to meet so many prospective applicants and guests at Saturday's Open Day. I hope the event was enjoyable and helped demystify some of the admissions process.

Two questions came up on Saturday that deserve blog posts.  A discussion on applicant numbers at the different stages of our process will follow shortly. Today's post is inspired by a conversation with a young woman and her father: "Quite male dominated, your line of business, no?"  As yet another man in engineering, I only hope I can address this without the sort of gaffe that is likely to keep it that way.

The under-representation of women in engineering is well-known: there are numerous articles on the subject (eg here and here), organizations to support and inspire more women engineers (e.g. WES and WiSET), competitions (e.g. the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year) and even a Wikipedia page on the subject. The headline figure, quoting an IET study from this article, is that 6% of the engineering workforce in 2012 are women.

Does Bristol's Aerospace programme do any differently?  Not significantly.  Of the 130 students about to start their degrees in a couple of weeks time, 10 are women (7.7%).  Tracing back through the selection process for home students, 42 of our 542 applications came from women (7.7% again), and 29 of our 273 offers went to women (10.6%).  Roughly, then, a female applicant stands the same chance of getting an offer and a place as a male applicant, and the low proportion of female students can be traced back to a correspondingly low proportion of female applicants, broadly in line with the proportion in the profession as a whole.  This makes sense as gender isn't a factor in our selection process: in fact, your name and gender are two of the boxes on the UCAS form that are least likely to be even looked at.  Sorry if that sounds impersonal but they simply make no difference, nor should they. (I have been asked whether or not we'd consider positive discrimination.  That's a minefield I'd rather avoid.)

I'm obviously not the one to describe what it's like to be a female Aerospace Engineering student at Bristol.  If you're good enough to get an offer, come along to one of our Wednesday taster sessions and ask one yourself.  Anecdotally though, I was interested to hear from some of my tutor group that they'd held a "Women in Aero" dinner, where female students across all years got together to talk about their experiences.  Also, hat-tip to PhD student and former undergraduate Isobel for reminding me of the blindingly obvious: your programme is only part of your university experience, and in halls, the precinct, clubs and societies, etc, you're part of the entire University student community, of which 51% are women. This is ducking the question, of course, in that it doesn't solve the problem of under-representation on our degree or in the engineering profession.  However, if you're a woman interested in an engineering degree but held back by the male-dominated environment, I hope it might help you to do one thing that can reliably increase the number of women in engineering: apply.