Frequently Asked Questions


Why do we need special lesson plans to encourage women?

Female students are just as interested in physics as male students but may not consider a career in physics for a variety of reasons. [citation] The Careers in Physics lesson is meant to introduce students to the many career options available with a physics degree. The Women in Physics lesson is meant to recognize the often unknown contributions of women to the field of physics and start a productive conversation with all students about how to support more women studying physics.

How will these lessons help my students?

Students will benefit from exposure to & understanding of the contributions of traditionally marginalized groups to science. By learning about successful people with a background in physics from around the world, students will expand their ability to communicate about both scientific and cultural topics. Further, they will recognize that their ability to think globally will be valuable to future employers.

I am less knowledgeable about women’s issues in physics; where can I find out more?

There are references provided at the end of each lesson plan where you can learn more about experiences of women in physics. In addition, you can check out APS Women in Physics programs and learn more about statistics of women in physics and astronomy from the APS statistics and the American Institute of Physics websites.

I don’t have a physics degree even though I teach physics. Am I still qualified?

Yes! All it takes to be involved is a desire to help change the culture in physics and encourage more women to become physics majors.

If I live outside the US, can I still participate?

You are welcome to sign up to take part and gain access to the lesson plans and Everyday Actions guide. The materials do focus on US physicists statistics though and other areas of concern for international physicists are not specifically addressed.

I am uncomfortable talking about these issues; how can I handle this?

Acknowledging this is a good start. Use the classroom discussion guidelines to help facilitate productive conversations. Having this common set of ground rules helps establish a safe environment.

A female student shared an experience in which she was discouraged to study science. How do I deal with this?

If a student shares with you that she was discouraged from pursuing science try asking her what she wants to study and learn about. Encourage her to continue to study science if she is interested and remind her that her future is in her hands and no one else’s. If you feel comfortable addressing the specific discouragement, you can. Be mindful of condescending the discouraging person rather than their action as they may be a family member, colleague or someone else the student respects.

If I am an untenured teacher, am I going to get in trouble for this?

These are NGSS-supported reflective activities that engage student discussion and introduce successful people with a background in physics. If you have concerns about your specific school climate you can contact us to connect with one of our STEP UP Ambassadors or a teacher who has done the lessons.

How does this affect male students in the class?

Positively! Our research shows benefits to all students who take part in the lessons. Everyone learns more about possible careers and cultural concerns in physics, which can increase their potential future physics intentions.

I have a student expressing interest in studying physics, what else can I do to help?

Great! You can offer to write her a letter of recommendation for college, and if you know of any, you can direct her to opportunities such as local STEM or Physics clubs, or scholarships. There are more ideas in the Everyday Actions guide.

Does this program address issues of underrepresented races/ethnicities in physics?

STEP UP was created to increase the number of women pursuing the study of physics, which includes considering their race/ethnicity. The lessons were designed to challenge unconscious bias and cultural norms to make physics a more inclusive field.

APS has several other concurrent programs that address the issue of recruiting underrepresented minorities in physics and can provide resources to help, such as the APS National Mentoring Community and APS Bridge Program.

Does STEP UP include non-binary genders?

STEP UP supports and welcomes the inclusion of all people in physics. In our pursuit to increase the number of women in physics, we hope to enact cultural change that will make physics more welcoming for all marginalized groups, including those with non-binary genders as well as others in the LGBT+ community. If you would like to add LGBT+ profiles to the Careers in Physics lesson, a couple of resources are www.500queerscientists.com and https://lgbtphysicists.org/outlist.html.

How do I justify this to parents and administrators?

Parents may be interested to learn about the variety of careers that a physics degree opens up to their child, and that physics majors score highly on the LSAT and MCAT tests. More importantly, however, is the fact that these lessons are physics-–the culture, the current issues facing physics, and generating solutions to move forward. The field of physics is not static and continues to advance because of the people, of all backgrounds, that study and teach it.

How can I get more involved in the movement?

There are many ways that high school teachers or those who care about physics education can Get Involved and contribute to this community. We invite you to register under one of our community sections (High School Teacher, Faculty/Professor, Undergraduate Student, Other) to be kept up to date on developments, help recruit additional teachers and to connect with others in the STEP UP community [online engagement portal coming soon!]. See our Ambassador and Student Outreach pages, or contact us to share your ideas and requests. Thanks for contributing to the positive shift of culture for women in physics!