Volunteering to Inspire STEM
What is it really like to walk into a classroom and aim to 'inspire STEM'?
One thing I remain as passionate about today as when I started my PhD is the joy of communicating science to those who might not see immediately why it matters, how it impacts our everyday lives and what it can possibly lead to.
During recent years I have started working with both InToUniversity and STEM Ambassadors and regularly head into schools (both primary and secondary) to try and get groups of young people engaged with why science matters and how scientific thinking can help them in their future careers.
InToUniversity works hard to showcase the impact of university to groups of secondary school children within inner cities and aims to show what careers are open if you study certain subjects.
Many young people assume that studying science means you will be in a lab 'doing science' (which they often view as quite dull...) so I aim to show what else you can do and how science impacts their life everyday from what they eat (food scientists working to create all those new cereals), to how they got to school (hybrid buses) and how they communicate with their peers (what would a teenager do without their phone?).
As part of my InToUniversity volunteer life I often give talks about science publishing and how the press can sometimes present the science inaccurately which can lead to sensational headlines. I then sit back and see what the school children can come up with based on some ‘pretend stories’.
I am always amazed by their creativity and passion when the stories are announced, especially from those who up until now have appeared bored and disengaged from the moment the word 'science' was mentioned – these stories usually range from cars being banned, allowing gender selection of babies, cloned cow meat at their favourite fast food restaurant and the government banning more fizzy drinks.
The newspaper front pages, podcast scrips or TV interviews they come up with show that once science is put into context the young people 'get it', and become passionate champions for either the science or for the moral and ethical debates that come along with most of these topics.
Recently published work shows that these slightly scary hypothetical stories are edging closer to reality and entering the mainstream press. Therefore the ability for the press to communicate these stories to the public needs to be strongly supported by the scientists themselves explaining their work and pointing out when reports have got things wrong.
Scientists and the press can sometimes work from a different side of the debate – and as most journalists aren't trained scientists we in the world of 'science' need to ensure we are supporting the reporting and communication of published work as much as we can. We can all name some stories that haven’t quite made the transition into the mainstream press as we would like.
Being able to critically analyse science stories is all part of ‘science’ and a key thinking skill we shouldn’t let our young people forget – science isn’t just about ‘doing the lab work’, it’s about creating a critically thinking population who are prepared to analyse data and information before reaching a conclusion.
However, one thing is clear that the school children I’ve interacted with not only understand the potential impact of these stories but will also be passionate voices in driving the scientific debate over the decades to come. They are also all patiently waiting for the Harry Potter invisibility cloaks to arrive – which can’t be that far away now surely….!