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Inspiring young people about science
  1. Simon Doherty

Abstract

Simon Doherty describes his motivation for becoming a STEM ambassador – helping future generations appreciate and understand the roles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the workplace

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I HAVE been actively involved in supporting veterinary school applicants in the UK and Ireland since I was a relatively recent graduate myself. Initially, this was based on my own experience of taking a somewhat circuitous route to gaining a place at veterinary school and then, a few years later, becoming involved with the admissions process at one of the UK vet schools. Over the years, I met many school-leavers who, like me, had wanted to be a vet since they were young. I also met applicants who'd made a relatively recent decision, often based on a positive interaction with their family vet or vet nurse. All were full of passion and determination for their chosen career.

I was, however, taken aback by the variability in the quality of careers advice that many applicants had been given, including urban myths of what you needed to do to get an offer from one university or another. While most veterinary graduates go on to develop careers in general practice, few applicants had even considered other career paths that might be open to them as veterinary graduates.

In 2014, BVA's Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey asked the question ‘Knowing what you know now, would you choose to pursue a career as a vet again?’; 21 per cent of the recent graduates who responded said that they wouldn't now choose to be a vet and a further 32 per cent said that they were uncertain if they would still choose to be a vet.

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The finger often gets pointed at the veterinary schools for creating cohorts of graduates with unrealistic expectations or even for selecting the wrong type of candidates in the first place. These, apparently, are the reasons for such discontent a few years after leaving some of the world's best veterinary schools.

Reach of the STEM network

There are:

▪ 30,000 STEM ambassadors in the UK

In 2014-15:

▪ 93 per cent of primary, secondary and further education colleges accessed STEM ambassadors

▪ Activities involved 630,000 pupils and 21,000 teachers

The Vet Futures project raised several recommendations around the careers of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses. ‘Communicating the realities and opportunities of a veterinary career’ included creating a one-stop shop for careers advice and promoting diverse and rewarding careers, as well as improving outreach and careers advice for schoolchildren.

‘It's been great to be part of the STEM network. It provides a great opportunity to meet interesting people working in related sectors’

Many vets and vet nurses across the UK are invited in to local schools, usually on an ad hoc basis, to do a ‘vet visit’ to a primary school class or to deliver a careers talk or do a few practice interviews in a secondary school or college. These are valuable in improving the public perception of the veterinary professions.

The STEM Ambassador Programme works to ensure that future generations can appreciate and understand the role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers in the world around them and that more young people enter careers in these areas.

STEM ambassadors use their enthusiasm and commitment to encourage young people to enjoy STEM subjects, and they open the doors to a world of opportunities and possibilities. Ambassadors not only inspire young people; they also support teachers in the classroom by explaining current applications of STEM subjects in industry or research. Ambassadors include apprentices, zoologists, climate change scientists, engineers of all disciplines, farmers, designers, geologists, nuclear physicists, architects, physicists, chemistry technicians, pharmacists, energy analysts . . . as well as vets and veterinary nurses.

Becoming a STEM ambassador

Ambassadors initially undergo an enhanced disclosure (DBS/CRB) check and attend two to three hours of familiarisation training before becoming registered and being issued with their identification card. Beyond that, the baseline commitment is to attend and help at just one STEM-related activity each year. Activities can include:

▪ Giving careers talks or helping at careers fairs;

▪ Providing technical advice or practical support to STEM classroom projects;

▪ Supporting projects in after-school clubs;

▪ Judging school STEM competitions;

▪ Speed networking with pupils, parents and teachers;

▪ Devising or delivering practical STEM experiments or demonstrations;

▪ Helping students with mock job interviews.

While I try to get to one or two speed networking events each year, I tend to use my registration as a framework to deliver careers advice to pupils at around 10 schools in my region – Northern Ireland.

While focusing on veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing, I also try to provide information on allied careers such as veterinary biosciences, agriculture and animal care.

It's great to be part of the wider STEM network. It provides a great opportunity to meet interesting people working in STEM-related sectors in your region – in academia and in commercial companies.

Further information can be found on the STEM Ambassador Programme website – www.stemnet.org – please join me.

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