How do we breakdown the stereotypes and increase the attractiveness of STEM?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) organisations are focused on promoting these subjects to everyone from primary school children to degree level students, with the aim of producing more STEM graduates who will go on to have a positive impact on our planet. What do we mean by a positive impact? PCS’ Managing Director summed it up in one succinct, clear quote for us;

‘If you look at the world around you, every single man-made object depends on the skills and ingenuity of engineers and scientists.  These are the professions that build and transform the modern world upon which we all depend.’ – Dr John Hutchinson, Managing Director, PCS Instruments.

To put this into context, doctors couldn’t perform their jobs without the tools designed by engineers, and we would all be living in darkness without electricity. Scientists and engineers are continuously inventing new products and discovering new phenomena to help us combat climate change, improve our quality and longevity of life and explore new corners of the universe.

As a company, PCS Instruments is made up of more than 50% STEM graduates, so it’s fair to say we are passionate about these subjects. Currently, we are in partnership with the EDT Headstart programme and the National Mentoring Awards for STEM to help promote the cause.

In the UK last year, 7% of university entrants undertook a degree in engineering or technology (1). In 2016 only 24% of engineering graduates were reported to be working in a STEM related job 6 months after graduating (2). A large proportion of the remainder were reported to be pursuing a career in finance.

So, what is so appealing about the finance industry?

As a 20-something new graduate, the bright city lights, smart business attire and client entertainment makes finance seem an attractive career, an image bolstered by blockbusters such as Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short.

In comparison, the perception of the science and engineering industries is of hard hats, safety glasses and introverts working in labs or dirty machine shops. This couldn’t be further from the truth with many skilled engineers working on Olympic sports equipment, NASA projects, in top recording studios, Hollywood film sets and developing new food, drink and beauty products.

What can we do to breakdown this stereotype? Inspire children at a young age to be makers and inventors and ensure that they are aware of all the opportunities that studying a STEM subject can bring.

The list is endless, but the point is simple; raising awareness of all the opportunities a STEM-related career can offer to today’s younger generation is critical to shaping tomorrow’s world.

Tribology is one of the many areas of engineering which is often overlooked. It is estimated that advances from tribology research could offer the UK economy a potential saving of over £20 billion per annum (3). Disappointingly, only a handful of UK universities include it in their undergraduate degree curriculum.

What is tribology?

It is the study of friction and wear and it touches every part of our daily lives; from the softness of your bed sheets and effectiveness of your toothbrush to the silky texture of your yogurt and the luxury feel of your moisturiser. These are four examples before you’ve even left your house. Of course, there are more critical applications, such as ensuring moving parts within planes, trains and automobiles are well lubricated and that there is no excessive wear, which could lead to a catastrophic failure.

A recent area of increased interest is biotribology applications, which include research into reducing wear of artificial joints to increase their longevity and ensuring tennis shoes, rugby balls, rock climbers’ chalk and skis have the correct grip to enhance performance.

The list is endless, but the point is simple; raising awareness of all the opportunities a STEM-related career can offer to today’s younger generation is critical to shaping tomorrow’s world.

(1) EngineeringUK Report 2018, page 140
(2) Delivering STEM skills to for the economy, page 4
(3) UK Tribology, tribology benefits