Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Gender and studying physics

Understanding the influence of gender on academic achievement in physics.

Principal applicant: Dr Cait MacPhee

Additional team members:

  • Professor Simon Bates, Physics & Astronomy
  • Robyn Donnelly


There is a significant gender gap in university physics. In Edinburgh women make up approximately 25% of the student cohort studying physics at undergraduate level, but our understanding of the influence of gender on the university experience is incomplete. The School of Physics and Astronomy does not have data, for example, to enable us to judge whether female students perform as well as, better or worse than their male colleagues in exams, coursework, and routine assessments of conceptual understanding.

Recent studies in the Physics Education Research group have suggested a possible gender gap in attitudes and beliefs, with female students consistently scoring marginally lower in an estimation of "expert-like" thinking assessed using the "Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey".

We therefore propose to examine whether there is a gender gap in academic achievement. We also do not have data to assess whether woman are more likely than men to leave the physics programme during their time at Edinburgh, or whether the qualifications students enter the university with influence their overall degree performance. Are we catering for the varied needs of our undergraduate cohort? Acquiring these data will inform our reforms of the physics undergraduate programme to ensure that our curriculum contains elements suited to all students, regardless of gender or educational background.

Final Project Report

The final project report may be downloaded from the link below.

Further Project Outcomes