Raising the profile of science

How can young people be encouraged to take up a career in science?  I went to last week’s Westminster Education Forum seminar to find out what’s being done.

Diana Garnham, Group Chair of the Science for Careers Expert Group, talked about how demand for technician-level careers in science and engineering isn’t being met.  STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers advice can focus too narrowly on graduate careers, neglecting people who might otherwise be inspired to get involved at technician-level.

One of the Group’s key goals in its ‘Science for Careers’ report is to increase entry to technician careers.  It’s important, in the spirit of science for all, that advice and guidance addresses the possibilities that exist at all progression points.

There are now around 26,000 STEM ambassadors who will visit schools with the aim of engaging young people.  Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, and co-ordinated by STEMNET, the scheme looks like an excellent opportunity to inspire pupils.  The ambassadors should challenge stereotypes – 43% of them are women, and STEMNET says that black and minority ethnic groups are well represented.

I hope that visits take place in the context of planned IAG that’s embedded in the science curriculum; one-off visits, even once a term, will struggle to introduce pupils to the wide range of available careers.

One thought on “Raising the profile of science

  1. As a former science teacher and current research scientist at Leeds University, I agree wholeheartedly that more should be done to encourage and inspire people to pursue science as a career, at any level. The research being done in the laboratory where I work is concerned with trying to understand diseases including Alzheimer’s and BSE. Great research depends on a great technician and we are lucky to have a fantastic technician called Paul in our lab. Paul makes sure that all of the correct chemicals and lab equipment are safe, sterile and ready to use; we could not do our job without him. It’s vital that young people are encouraged to take up such valuable roles.

    My funding body, the Wellcome Trust, supports various initiatives to do just this. For instance, the Researchers in Residence scheme allows (usually young, early-stage) scientists to get out into schools and work with a class, say, once a month for a whole year. Like the STEMNET ambassador scheme, this is likely to be much more effective than a one-off visit.

    Similarly, the Junior Café Scientifique scheme, in which I have been involved as a speaker, allows secondary school children to choose their own exciting science topics – anything from face transplants to space exploration – and a suitable scientist is found to come to the school and chat about the topic in an engaging and informal way. Young people of a variety of ages attend and, crucially, they are not necessarily studying science at A level or equivalent. This may help young people who are not planning to study science at degree level to consider pursuing a scientific career, as a technician for example.

    The Wellcome Trust also supports online initiatives, such as the forthcoming “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here” event. This X-Factor style contest will see a panel of scientists explain and defend their research to school children, through live online chat, who will decide to whom a virtual pot of prize money should be awarded. This event will run over two weeks, giving the youngsters the chance to engage with real scientists and to find out what a career in their field is really like.

    More information about the three schemes that I have mentioned is available online.

    Thank you for a great blog – I hope that it helps to raise the profile of science careers.



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