University of Limerick
A.Lynch et al. 2023 Effects of SOPHia CASI2023 poster.pdf (1.61 MB)

Effects of SOPHia Project Workshops on Secondary School Girls’ Opinions about Physics

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posted on 2023-06-20, 06:27 authored by Agata LynchAgata Lynch, Michael Cauchi, Marie Bochet, Gráinne Walshe


This poster was presented at the 43rd Conference on Applied Statistics in Ireland (CASI) in Killarney, Ireland, 15-17 May 2023. 

In this poster, we demonstrate the evaluation of the initial impact of an outreach intervention aimed at increasing the take-up of physics in second-level schools in the mid-west of Ireland.

In Ireland, the uptake of physics at the matriculation exam, referred to as the Leaving Certificate (LC), is notably low compared to other science subjects and the fraction of pupils studying physics who are girls is small, with only 27.81% of all students studying for the physics LC exam in 2021 being female, compared to 61.91% in biology and 59.26% in chemistry.[1] 

The SOPHia Project[2] aims to improve gender balance in physics at the Leaving Certificate, by positively changing female students’ opinions towards the subject. One of its elements is the school visit program, wherein young, undergraduate students from science education, applied physics and related courses at the University of Limerick deliver a unique, interactive workshop to pupils in secondary schools. For information about the workshop and other elements of the SOPHia Project, please visit

The poster presents the results of an analysis of the data collected with the use of a pre-/post- type questionnaire, measuring how the workshop affected the opinions of the pupils towards several themes such as knowledge of what physics is, the importance of physics, the enjoyment of and confidence in learning and doing physics, accessibility of physics role models and whether it influenced their intention to study physics for the LC. The dataset has been published and can be downloaded from the institutional repository of the University of Limerick, with a Readme file containing a detailed description of the questionnaire and its measures.[3] The QR code embedded in the poster provides a direct link to the dataset. 

In this poster, we present the analysis of the data from female participants only

The workshops were delivered in person to several secondary schools in 2019/2020 and 2022. 

Our analysis included the comparisons of mean scores for questions answered pre- and post-workshop and of trends in change of views/opinions from pre- to post-. The analysis was performed using an interactive web application created in R (version 3.6.3) with the Shiny framework (version for statistical computations. Microsoft Excel was used for the visual representation of the results.

The study employed Wilcoxon signed-rank tests to assess the significance of changes in participants' answers before and after the workshop. All results from the statistical analysis of the main cohort, 2019-20, were found to be statistically significant (p < 0.05). Bar charts and boxplots illustrate participants' transitions from their initial positions before the workshop to their positions after the workshop. 

We examined the differences across participants in different school years and the findings for the question relating to their intention to study physics for the LC are presented in a table. 

Participants’ changes in opinions from pre- to post- were categorized into ‘positive’, ‘no change’, and ‘negative’ categories, depicted as pie charts showing the magnitude and direction of change.

Overall, we found that the workshop appeared to have a substantial positive effect on the participants. Its biggest positive effect appeared to be on the pupils’ knowledge of what Physics is and their awareness of Physics role models. 


Transition Year (TY) is an optional year which students can take after their Junior Cycle (JC, Lower Second Level). During this year pupils focus on developing practical life skills, studying new subjects through project-based learning and gaining work experience. 

Senior Cycle (SC) is the Irish term for the 'Upper Second-Level', taken by pupils after their Junior Cycle or Transition Year, between the ages of 15 and 18. 

Leaving Certificate (LC) is the matriculation exam sat at the end of secondary school. Senior Cycle prepares for the exam.  


Affiliation notes:

Dr Gráinne Walshe, Dr Michael Cauchi and Marie Bochet were affiliated with the University of Limerick at the time of data collection. At the time of data analysis, poster presentation, and publication of the poster Dr Walshe was affiliated with the Irish Research Council, Dr Cauchi with the University of Northampton and Marie Bochet with DecisionBrain. 

Agata Lynch’s research into the effect of the SOPHia school visit program is conducted as part of her PhD studies at the University of Limerick. 


Agata Lynch wishes to acknowledge the continuous support received from her PhD supervisors, Prof. Amanda Haynes, Mary O’Donoghue and Dr Ian Clancy, especially for facilitating work on the SOPHia project and guidance through the research process. Prof. Haynes' invaluable and constructive feedback played a pivotal role in enhancing the quality and impact of the poster. 


[1] Department of Education and Skills. (2021). Leaving Certificate Programme (LCP) Subject Provision and Take Up [Data set]. Central Statistic Office EDA 86.

[2] SOPHia: “Science Outreach to Promote Physics”; “sophia” also means “wisdom” in Greek.

[3] Lynch, A., Cauchi, M., Walshe, G., & Bochet, M. (2022). SOPHia Project School Visits Student Responses 2019-2022 (p. 16468 Bytes) [Data set]. University of Limerick.


Agata Lynch's PhD research is funded by the University of Limerick’s “FAHSS and S&E co-funded Athena Swan PhD scholarship”.

Agata Lynch's attendance at the CASI 2023 Conference was funded by the CASI Travel Grant.

Michael Cauchi's attendance at the CASI 2023 Conference was funded by the University of Northampton.

SOPHia: Science Outreach to Promote Physics to Female Students

Science Foundation Ireland

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SOPHia: Science Outreach to Promote Physics to Female Students

Science Foundation Ireland

Find out more...