What’s your STEM relationship status?

February 11th 2019 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  The S4TP team shared a lot on social media about women and girls, historically and currently, who have had a big impact in the field of Science, and about the importance of role models and mentors to encourage more girls into STEM careers.  We have found that there are a lot of misconceptions about STEM skills and STEM subjects, and we actively encourage our students to recognise that they all have elements of a scientist or an engineer within them.  In the following article our programme coordinators have reflected on their relationship with STEM at school as well as currently:

Claire Fitton – Programme Coordinator, North England:

“My relationship with science at school was complex and, in the end, proved to be the guiding force for my career.  We were taught the distinct subjects of chemistry, biology and physics and my success or failure in each subject was determined overall by whether I liked the teacher or not.   I did well in physics and loved biology and my dream had always been to become a vet.  However, a particularly unhelpful teacher of chemistry told me that I would never be clever enough to be a vet and was more ‘arty’ (this nugget was presumably gained by looking at my science diagrams) and instructed me to drastically rethink!  In the end my passion for politics, the planet and animals won through and although I never became a vet, I did end up working to help save the planet’s resources.”

Kate Kirkwood – Programme Coordinator, Scotland:

“I loved science subjects in high school and went on to study them at university. The one thing I always struggled with was mathematics; I was okay at it, but I was never great. My biggest barrier was trying to understand why I needed to bother with it. I knew I needed it for applying for university courses but I wanted to know when I was ever going to need to calculate the area under a graph*, for example. That was until I discovered statistics and statistical analysis; how you work out whether an event has happened because of chance or because it has been caused by ‘something else’. Now this made sense to me – I’m not completely sure why, but it did, so I stuck with it. These skills in mathematics that I learned as a 16-year-old have stayed with me and developed throughout my university studies, helping me to understand, for example, whether I needed to repeat an experiment (that only took me a week to set up!!) again, or whether the new teaching methods I was trialling were having an impact on my students’ grades.  They continue to help me understand the work of other educators and academics in my current field of Learning for Sustainability. STEM skills definitely stay with you for life.

*My Higher maths teacher will be delighted to know that I remember it’s used for working out what shape plane wings should be for optimal lift … not that I’ve designed any planes recently!”

South East Programme Coordinator S4TPCharlotte Hosier – Programme Coordinator, South East:

“Reflecting back on my own education and in particular STEM subjects (which wasn’t a term I ever heard used at school ), at a young age I had to narrow down my choice of science to single or double award . In order to cover the other subjects I wanted to do, single science seemed to be the obvious choice as it gave me me more capacity . That meant down the line  I couldn’t do any science-related subjects at A Level .  From then on I never saw myself as a scientist ( I still don’t class myself as one ) and when I became more familiar with the term STEM, I struggled to see how I used those skills.

However, upon reflecting and considering how at S4TP we concentrate on the wider STEM skills (such as designing solutions for complex problems, using critical thinking and team working skills), I realised I have used or am using this skill set constantly .

In a previous job, I was a policy advisor in central government. I looked at complex problems, identified solutions by analysing them for economic and social impacts, before making recommendations and designing their implementation: exactly the STEM skills we talk about to the students we work with .”

Sarah Milburn, Programme Coordinator, West Midlands:

“I never considered myself ‘science-y’ at school – I did take Maths (I could do it, but it didn’t come easily), Physics and Chemistry at GCSE level, but as soon as I could I chose ‘Arts’ subjects (‘A’ Level French, English and Classical Civilisation).  So I kind of labled myself as an arts student and not a science student – but who’s to say now, if I’d had different teachers who engaged me more in those subjects, or broke them down so I understood them better, that I wouldn’t have pursued a STEM career?  Funnily enough, I ended up getting a Bachelor of Science degree, but as it was in Archaeology, and I’d opted for the Archaeology path and not the Archaeological Sciences path, again, I did not consider myself remotely scientific.

What I find now is, in explaining STEM skills to the young people we work with, I’ve come to realise that I have those skills, and have used them throughout my life.  All the jobs I’ve had, although I was never a ‘scientist’ or an ‘engineer’ by job title, have utilised STEM skills and knowledge.  For someone who claims she hated maths at school, I realise I have done a lot of jobs that work with numbers and data.  For someone who doesn’t consider herself an engineer, I realise that I am always problem-solving, be it in jobs or in personal projects – I research, analyse, question and collaborate all the time!  

It’s true, I am not a Scientist or an Engineer or a Mathematician by profession – however, the STEM skills that they use and the STEM skills that I use are the same, it is only the knowledge and application of them that differs.”


Contributions from all members of the Solutions for the Planet team.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd.