Why Choose Physics and Chemistry? The influences on physics and chemistry subject choices of BME students

Anne Wilkin, Jennie Harland, Iain Springate, Pippa Lord

01 November 2008

In 2006, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Physics (IOP) found that certain black and ethnic minority (BME) students are disproportionately lost from physics and chemistry to alternative subjects and career paths (Elias et al., 2006). The RSC and the IoP commissioned NFER to investigate the influences on BME students’ subject and career choices with regard to chemistry and physics through a qualitative study.

The study revealed a need to: increase BME students’ (especially females) enjoyment of studying physics and chemistry at school, and to illustrate the relevance of the subjects to everyday life; provide comprehensive information to BME young people and their families regarding the range of options available to physics and chemistry graduates, the quality of such career options; highlight role models that show ethnic diversity amongst those people employed in physics and chemistry-related careers.

This is the summary report from the study

See also:


Elias, P., Jones, P. and McWhinnie, S. (2006). Representation of Ethnic Groups in Chemistry and Physics: a Report Prepared for the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics . Available: http://www.ioppublishing.co.uk/activity/policy/Publications/file_8863.pdf <10 April, 2007>.


Key Findings

There was a clear hierarchy of influences acting on students’ decisions to study physics and chemistry:

  • high influence factors: enjoyment of physics and chemistry, future ambitions, perceptions of careers with a physics or chemistry degree, and the relevance of physics/chemistry study to life
  • medium influence factors: the way physics and chemistry are taught, physics and chemistry teachers, images of scientists and the work they do, and family influences
  • low influence factors: the difficulty of physics/chemistry, role models, careers advisors and peers.