Astrophysicist Brian May shows how it’s done
By Hamish Johnston
…or dance or act, if they want to succeed.
If you are a British teenager aspiring to a career in physics, you could be better off at a “School of Rock” or “Fame Academy” than a school that specializes in science — at least according to a study by researchers at the University of Buckingham.
The work, which was reported today by the BBC, reveals that students who attend schools that focus on the arts do better on physics exams than those at schools that were set up to encourage the sciences.
In 2007, for example, about 24% of students at specialist science schools who wrote the “A-level” physics exam achieved an A grade. Compare this to the 36% of pupils who achieved a physics A grade at music schools.
This is a big difference — but you must keep in mind that 124 science schools were polled, whereas only seven music schools were looked at — so I’m not sure of the statistical significance of the 36% figure.
When the team looked at 34 schools that specialized in languages, they found that 26% of students bagged an A in physics. Meanwhile, aspiring physicists enrolled at specialist maths and computing schools managed 24%.
The study focussed on physics and didn’t look at other science exams such as chemistry or biology.
Why do students at music schools do better?
My personal opinion is that it has nothing to do with music, but rather that the music schools simply attract better students than science schools. One hint is that the science schools polled do not select incoming pupils on the basis of academic achievement, whereas there is apparently some degree of selection (based on musical ability) at music schools. And if you have the patience and drive to master a musical instrument, you’ll probably apply the same discipline to your physics studies.
So if you want to succeed at physics don’t moan too much about those piano lessons — they could just further your career.