If the modern economy requires scientific thinking and work placements enable informed study and career choices, how might we combine them to empower young people?

If the modern economy requires scientific thinking and work placements enable informed study and career choices, how might we combine them to empower young people?

Here at CASCAID we are committed to continuously provide careers guidance to help support young people in identifying their future, education, training and career goals.

Statistics from CASCAID’s most recent careers report identifies that STEM knowledge and skills are becoming increasingly important in order to pursue that dream career. To help young people on the path of career exploration, CASCAID are pleased to introduce The Nuffield Foundation’s Research Placements to help students gain valuable experience boosting their opportunity and skills.

Make the numbers work!

Few things in life are as predictable as articles and headlines that tell us the world of work and jobs is changing. A recent article in the New York Times noted that ‘jobs that require a combination of math and social skills — like computer science, financial management and nursing — have fared best in the modern economy’.

In addition, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has stated that ‘in the context of massive info flows and rapid change, everyone needs to be able to “think like a scientist’. The Scottish Government has also been setting out its view that ‘all of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is underpinned by Mathematics, which includes numeracy’ against a backdrop that regularly reflects the UK’s need to improve the numeracy levels of its graduates and citizens more generally.

So if the modern economy requires scientific thinking (for which numerical skills are essential), and work placements enable informed study and career choices, how might we combine them to empower young people? This is a question the Nuffield Foundation has been addressing through its student programmes – Nuffield Research Placements and Q-Step.

Shaping and stretching research skills

Nuffield Research Placements are 4-6 week summer placements for school or college students who have just completed the first year (or are in S5/6 in Scotland) of a post-16 STEM qualification. Students need good GCSEs/National 5’s (or equivalent) to apply (grade B/new grade 6 or above), including mathematics, English and a science. We award bursaries to eligible students from lower-income families, as well as reimbursing travel costs for all students.

Our students tell us that the opportunity to participate in a placement really helped them to feel they had made a good choice about what to study at university and in some cases really made them re-think their choices. They also say that it gave them a chance to test out their skills and interests, meet amazing people carrying out real research projects and, in some cases, helped them review what subjects to aim for.

My placement provided me with more than I could ever have expected. I am now certain on pursuing a career in science, and I feel much more confident in my ability to study my chosen subject at a higher level.” – Nuffield Research Placement student Megan Jack.

Placements are available in universities, laboratories, research institutes, businesses and more – anywhere, in fact, where robust and insightful research and development is carried out. Here are two more examples of student projects that demonstrate the range of placements available:

STEM skills are not just for ‘traditional’ STEM careers

Nuffield students sometimes take up their placement with a clear idea of ‘what next’. However, students who enjoy science and maths aren’t always aware of the options available to them beyond ‘traditional’ STEM subjects. For these students, Q-Step social science degrees offer an ideal opportunity to develop their scientific inquiry and quantitative skills and use them to answer the big questions about society.

Q-Step degrees are offered in social science subjects ranging from area studies to political science to sociology in ‘Q-Step Centres’ at 18 of universities across the UK. All of them place a strong emphasis on developing quantitative skills and enabling students to analyse complex data – skills that are invaluable in today’s job market – and work experience is a highly prized element of the degrees. In the words of one student:

The work placement is an opportunity like no other. I learnt many new skills in just a few days, such as writing syntax commands to compute, recode and de-bug variables.”

You can read more feedback from students in our Q-Step prospectus, which also features insights from employers who talk about the benefits to them of working with quantitatively trained social science students. You can also watch Q-Step students at the University of Edinburgh reflect on their experience, and read about how one student picked up the prestigious UK Data Service Prize this year.

Our response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out in more detail how Q-Step (and other programmes like it) can make a valuable contribution to addressing STEM skill shortages. We are also excited by emerging inter-disciplinary research ideas – for example, biosocial research – where the links between biological scientists and social scientists are highlighting the need for creative and open-minded research collaborations to tackle the big questions in society.

Would you like to get involved?

Of course you would!

  • If you’re at school at college and want to know more about applying for a Nuffield Research Placement, go to nuffieldfoundation.org/nrp
  • Wondering what to study at university? Find out how getting to grips with data and how a social science on a Q-Step degree can be the first step towards a rewarding career by downloading the Q-Step prospectus
  • Do you work in research, or for a company, organisation or institution that has a research component? Then contact me to find out how hosting one or more (preferably more…) post-16 students or undergraduates could benefit your business.

Guest blog by Dr Simon Gallacher, Head of Student Programmes, the Nuffield Foundation (sgallacher@nuffieldfoundation.org).


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