STEM outreach

Tomorrow I’m going to Westminster Kingsway College in central London to talk to 11-18 year olds about careers in science, technology engineering and maths (STEM). The organisers have given us some questions the kids might ask and I thought that working through a few on here would help me get my thoughts together.

I’m not quite sure what question I would give this response to, but something that I really want to say is…

Science the job is not really anything like science the subject. At school you are taught science as a series of established facts. Even if you are taught about the different theories that held sway as we progressed toward our current understanding, that doesn’t capture the uncertainty of the field in progress. Solving problems under these circumstances requires creativity and determination, as well as a thorough grasp of the work that has come before you.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The freedom to pursue problems that I find interesting.

What formal qualifications are available for a worthwhile progressive career path?

I think one of the most valuable things you can gain is practical experience. Join different societies, the fees are usually nominal for school kids, and see what schemes they have for gaining experience in the school holidays etc.

Are you satisfied with your career position now and what changes would you make if that were possible?

Bioinformatics is undergoing a bit of an upsurge now and my gut instinct is that there is a decent chance of it staying that way for the next 5-10 years. More generally, I certainly had a few false ideas about the earning potential in science, however I probably didn’t know about the breadth of jobs available in STEM.

Most of these might be aiming more toward the higher end of 11-18 end spectrum. I guess with the younger ones I will just talk about poo and the microbiota. The ones in the middle will be the biggest challenge I think.

Resources that might be of interest:

A passionate critique of what is wrong with maths teaching

http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

What is a PhD?

http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/

The best pop-sci blogger

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/not-exactly-rocket-science/

EDIT: we were supposed to take a prop to engage the kids, i forgot so had to take advantage of the fact I could see a tree out the window to lead onto this story by Richard Feynman, hopefully I haven’t unleashed any pyromaniacs!

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