Forgotten children: missed opportunities in science

Mike Hughes, University of Manchester.

Are we forgetting about children who show great practical skills but don’t shine in exams?

I’ve recently been given the scope to change the work experience I offer in my labs, normally year 12 chemistry students apply to come in for a week in the summer through the outreach team.

As you can imagine, the young people who apply already have a career in science already mapped out. I found myself asking “What impact does this have?” – In reality very little.

There was something bothering me in the back of my mind, are some children put off a career as a technician just because they don’t score highly in written exams, but have practical skills that would be perfect for a career as a technician?

This then went one step further; who and what do school children think technicians are, what do they do? Ultimately, would they consider a job as a technician?

They are exposed to various types of technicians at school without whom their learning experience would be much poorer. But do we make them aware of what we do and how much we enjoy our jobs? I am currently designing some research with the help of a few colleges’ looking into attitudes of school children towards a career as a science technician, wondering what I will uncover.

I also received an email asking if I wanted to apply to a fund aimed at improving equality and diversity in the chemical sciences. An email or two later I had the idea of targeting the work experience programme at a specific group of year ten children that are underrepresented in science.

The programme would take into account the socio-economic backgrounds of the students, their ethnicity and importantly, practical abilities over exam grades. Each would spend two weeks in my labs – one before Christmas and one after, and I would keep in touch over the next couple of years offering any advice I could on a career as a technician. At the end of the year, we would hold a final event for their parents and teachers to attend.

This will hopefully keep the idea that they could have a career as a technician firmly in their mind, showing them that anyone can have a career in science!

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash