Doctoral student in Physics Education Research: The role of interesting topics and contexts in physics education (PER-ITCPE)


Despite various efforts of making physics more interesting for students, only very few decide to study physics in advanced courses in high school. Furthermore, a high percentage of female students drop out of physics during their school time. Therefore, it is no surprise that less than 20% of the physicists currently working at CERN are female. One of the reasons for this development is that students perceive physics as a “male” subject, probably caused by numerous male role models and stereotypic scientists used in physics education. In addition, physics concepts are rarely taught in real-world contexts, which relate to the everyday day of (female) students.

Indeed, previous studies show that students’ interests differ across physics contents such as astronomy, electricity, or mechanics, as well as different contexts in which these topics are taught. In particular, researchers observed gender differences in students’ interest: Whereas female students show higher interests in physics contexts such as health and medicine, their male classmates prefer technical contexts. However, there are a few topics, which are extremely interesting for all students such as the possibility of life outside Earth (Sjøberg & Schreiner, 2010). Adapting the physics curriculum to the interest of girls by teaching medical applications in physics can have positive effects on both, female and male students (Häussler & Hoffmann, 2002).

However, these studies are relatively old, and students’ everyday lives have changed over the past years. For example, mobile phones and their applications play a more important role in students’ lives, more medical applications of physics are used in hospitals, and discoveries of fundamental research i.e. in particle physics are more present in the media. Therefore, the contexts students are interested in might have changed as well. Furthermore, previous studies did not include modern physics topics, although especially open questions of current research might be able to spark students’ interest.

The goal of this project is to find out which physics contents and contexts are interesting for today’s students. In addition to comparing different countries and age groups, the selected candidate will study differences between girls and boys to identify promising contexts, which can narrow the gender gap. The selected candidate will develop, adapt, and test suitable questionnaires and interview guidelines, and collect data from students of different age groups and countries. The outcomes of these investigations and developments shall be published in open access journals.

Häussler, P., & Hoffmann, L. (2002). An intervention study to enhance girls' interest, self‐concept, and achievement in physics classes. Journal of research in science teaching, 39(9), 870-888.

Sjøberg, S. & Schreiner, C. (2010). The ROSE project. An overview and key findings. University of Oslo.

Training Value

The successful candidate will develop a test to measure interest in different contents and contexts while improving their skills in physics education research, international curricula, particle physics, and context-based education.

Duration & Application

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