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A pan-European women ambassadors programme bringing role models to schools and universities to stimulate and mobilise girls and young women for studies and careers in SET

Final Report Summary - SET-ROUTES (A pan-European women ambassadors programme bringing role models to schools and universities to stimulate and mobilise ... young women for studies and careers in SET)

The low profile of women in science is exacerbated by the lack and invisibility of successful women scientists to act as inspirational role models for young women and young men in scientific professions. SET-ROUTES' aim was to mobilise successful women in science, engineering and technology (SET) to go into schools and universities throughout Europe and beyond. These SET-ROUTES ambassadors were to provide inspirational role models to rekindle young peoples' (especially girls) enthusiasm for science, encourage young women science graduates to pursue further studies and careers in SET, and help change the perceptions of 'women in science' in future generations of Europeans.

By coming together to form a unique consortium, three of the most renowned intergovernmental science organisations in Europe, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the European Organisation for Particle Physics (CERN), provided European school children with direct access to an incomparable pool of Europe's best female scientists. Girls and boys alike have had the opportunity to talk to female role models coming from all walks of science: astronomy, ecology, medicine, molecular biology, particle physics, space science and satellite engineering.

Recruitment of the school ambassadors and university ambassadors from the staff, contracted staff, members, fellows and alumni of the three partners was key to the success of the whole ambassador programme. In-house campaigning was done by each of the consortium partners to attract potential ambassadors to the project. Ambassadors were presented with customised briefing documents and provided with training during the start-up conference before embarking on their visits. Recruitment was originally planned to last eight months. In fact, in-house recruitment of ambassadors started as early as May 2006 and expanded into a full recruitment campaign after the start of the project in November 2006, continuing throughout the duration of project.

By the end of the project the pool of ambassadors had grown to 70 SET-ROUTES SAs and 65 UAs, with interest growing amongst the new intake of PhD students. From a early stage in the project it became clear that because of the very nature of the science enterprise, recruitment was going to be an ongoing activity throughout the project. Science is not planned, it happens. And as new results appear in the literature, scientists are challenged to respond with further research. Young scientists need to remain flexible to follow-up with further experiments, writing, reading or attending conferences. The same applies to more established scientists who have even more demands placed on their time through teaching or administration responsibilities.

Providing a backdrop and launch pad for the pan-European ambassador programme, the International Conference Women in science - The Way Forward, hosted by EMBO at EMBL Heidelberg from 9 to 11 May 2007, examined the current status quo of women in science: evaluating progress made, presenting and discussing new systems to promote women in science, defining barriers and ways forward, and providing a platform for the induction of the SET-ROUTES school ambassadors. The conference signposted the way forward, providing the 243 participants with ideas and tools to improve their own working environment with sessions presented by 24 speakers.

The objective of the school ambassador programme was to organise a programme of visits of SET-ROUTES SA visits to schools throughout Europe. As a rule, ambassadors were encouraged to go back to their old schools in their home countries. This had the advantage that they were familiar with the ambience, the teachers and the cultural of their target audience, and of course mastered the local language, which was an invaluable asset. The aim of the programme was to provide role models of young women scientists and engineers to rekindle students' excitement for science. And at the same time, SET-ROUTES SAs presented pupils with positive, young role models that challenged the young peoples' assumptions about scientists, engineers and technologists, and raised the awareness of SET career options.

As an indirect outcome of the schools programme, SET-ROUTES school events provided an opportunity to inform stakeholders in education (who are furthest away from the job market, i.e. students, teachers, parents and governors) about routes into SET and particular growth sectors within science. The programme was targeted at key countries where, according to EU statistics (EU She Figures 2006; International Standard Classification of Education ISCED 5 and 6) the proportion of female engineers and scientists in the total labour force is low and where there are a lower proportion of females studying SET at university. In total, 59 school visits were run presenting 75 SAs during the project. The message from the 75 SET-ROUTES SAs was that science is exciting, challenging and rewarding.

In order to make the activities of the SAs more visible, SET-ROUTES produced the brochure SET-ROUTES School Ambassadors - 12 young women scientists talk about their careers and science - designed by EMBL, that gives an overview of the lives and careers of 12 of the SET-ROUTES SAs. They talk about themselves and their careers with the hope of inspiring younger students to become scientists, too. The brochure can either be downloaded from the SET-ROUTES website (see online) or a print copy can be obtained directly from EMBL. Print copies have been widely distributed by the SAs during their visits, during the SET-ROUTES insight lectures, and more than 2 600 copies have been sent out to educators and other stakeholders in science education via the Science in School journal network. The brochure has greatly enhanced the visibility of the programme and the image promotion of young women as dynamic, enthusiastic and dedicated scientists.

On 23 and 24 April 2009, SET-ROUTES organised a 1.5 day Final Ambassadors Event at CERN. Around 20 young women who had taken part in the SET-ROUTES programme over the two years as ambassadors - visiting schools and universities in their own countries to share their passion for science with students - rounded-off the project by coming to CERN to talk about their experience and share their ideas. The outcomes of this meeting were important to draw conclusions from the programme and to set the scene for potential follow-up activities.

In the special April 2009 issue of research eu - 'Women in Science: The March Toward equality', Baroness Susan Greenfield described the dilemma of many young women scientists in a nutshell: If you are a young women researcher in the lower echelons of research, you've every chance of staying there, either because you bid farewell to your ambitions or-if you decide to stick in there regardless - because you are at a disadvantage in the advancement stakes compared with your male colleagues. Addressing this very problem, SET-ROUTES encouraged prominent women scientists to become role models, showing budding women scientists at university that they can reach the top echelons of SET through commitment, thus inspiring them to follow similar career paths to occupy decision-making positions.

The programme was designed to provide a broader perspective of the opportunities in SET, the synergies between different disciplines, and cross-discipline mobility. When planning a universities programme venue, it was ensured that some participant ambassadors came from a different country than the host country. This had abstract advantages. In a society where different cultural experiences are seen as a part of continuing professional development, young women scientists often want or need to take placements in other countries to promote their careers. In doing so, they are often confronted with the dilemma of organising family commitments within a new socioeconomic infrastructure. Pre-knowledge of childcare, healthcare and education in different European settings allows them take a more constructive and practical attitude to mobility, i.e. they can be loyal to their family commitments and at the same time have room to be creative at work.

To increase awareness of women in science issues at the institutional level, SET-ROUTES university events were inclusive, welcoming both female and male students. By networking closely with gender groups at research institutes, universities and within organisations, the UA programme aimed to make lead players in higher education and research institutes aware of 'the insidious quasi-institutionalised sexism in science ... where there is an unspoken tendency to undervalue women's responsibilities in science'. (Baroness Susan Greenfield).

The interest in the programme has been enormous, from interest in becoming an ambassador to participating in the events. Above all expectation, SET-ROUTES recruited 65 university ambassadors. This is remarkable considering the numerous commitments and responsibilities that fall on scientists in higher positions. In order to take advantage of this unprecedented pool of ambassadors, the UA programme was redesigned as a series of panel events throughout the university academic year. This model, which allowed for comprehensive events and networking, has found particular resonance among the UAs as illustrated by the success of the university events that have been organised throughout the active phase of the programme. The events are listed in the SET-ROUTES events calendar at