A survey carried out by Science Foundation Ireland last year found that 62% of third-level students cited ‘fitting in’ as being the biggest factor influencing how they chose their course of study. With ‘fitting in’ rated as more important than course requirements (28%) or career prospects (56%), it follows that students with negative perceptions about science or people working in an area like engineering (such as it being too geeky, too difficult or only about working in a lab) they are unlikely to see themselves ‘fitting in’ and likely to discount such pathways.
Given the ever growing need for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates in Ireland, where well paid, dynamic and fulfilling roles are available to students of different capabilities, it is vital that we inform students about STEM careers and challenge negative stereotypes. This is particularly important in encouraging young females, where engagement with female role models can greatly increase their participation. Making a difference Smart Futures was set up as a collaborative programme between government, industry and education to address this issue. It is managed by Science Foundation Ireland in partnership with Engineers Ireland and other bodies.
Giving students a head start for the jobs of the future The website www.SmartFutures.ie provides students with real-life examples of STEM careers in Ireland, video interviews and career profiles and gives students access to role models through its volunteer programme. Secondary school teachers, TY coordinators or guidance counsellors can register their school for free career talks at any time over the school year. With over 700 volunteers with all kinds of STEM-related backgrounds, from pharmaceuticals to food science, energy to software engineering, students can learn firsthand about what a career in STEM is really all about, discover what sectors are thriving and have their stereotypes challenged. This can be a huge help to students getting ready to make CAO choices. Over 50 partners including SAP, IBM, Abbott Ireland and Teagasc are providing volunteers for school visits, and the programme has engaged with over 75,000 secondary school students to-date.
What can I do? While schools can access free career talks, parents can also help. Students can be encouraged to get involved in STEM-related activities such as Coder Dojo or Mathletes and attend events and festivals like Science Week, Engineers Week etc. for some interactive fun.
Check out www.Smartfutures.ie for more information.