I am a firm believer that we have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of British scientists.
Alongside my day job, I have spent many years as an Ambassador for STEMNET, the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics Network. There are over 30,000 of us now; we go into secondary schools and colleges to engage with pupils, parents and teachers to show them a world outside the classroom. Unconstrained by a curriculum, we can show young people the myriad of possibilities and excitements which STEM subjects reveal. The aim is to inspire and set off a spark of enthusiasm which stays with a child throughout their academic career and beyond.
This is exactly how I discovered my passion for harnessing science to do good. I was given an insight into the world of technology when my school took part in the Engineering Education Scheme, run by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The experience shone a light on a whole host of careers I had never considered, and the opportunities it meant for me and the world we live in. For that I will be eternally grateful.
Far too often there exists a disconnect between education and people's real world experience. Young children still draw the mad, bushy haired man in a white coat when they are asked to think about what a scientist looks like. It is our responsibility to cross the divide between education and the real world, eradicate these stereotypes and inspire the next generation of British scientists and engineers.
The most effective way to address this problem is to talk to pupils directly, bridge the gap between education and the real world and show them the fascinating opportunities which go hand in hand with studying the sciences, maths and ICT. Kids need to know that if they want to analyse the performance characteristics of different snowboards, make millions of doses of a life-saving vaccine or build giant gearboxes for ships, an understanding of STEM fundamentals is essential.
Current uptake of triple-science at GSCE and applications to study STEM subjects beyond school is not increasing rapidly enough. More children are engaging with science subjects at a younger level, but not enough are starting down the path to becoming specialists. The number of students taking core science subjects at A-Level fell, excluding them from studying many applied science and engineering subjects at University.
Many of the people I speak to are not aware that going to university is not the only way to achieve a successful career in STEM; apprenticeships are on the increase, and will provide those who may not be good at exams, but have brilliant problem-solving or practical skills, another route to a high-flying job.
I would encourage people with STEM backgrounds, at whatever level, to consider becoming a STEMNET Ambassador. It has never failed to be an incredibly rewarding experience, providing an opportunity to hone communication skills, remind yourself what you love about your career and why a basic level of understanding of STEM is vital to society. Young people are engaged and enthusiastic when you take the time to communicate with them about something you care about; and you really can change somebody's future by helping them discover what they are passionate about.
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