Mentors needed for disadvantaged young people in STEM

17th February 2021
Alex Lynn

In2ScienceUK, a social mobility charity which helps young people from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds gain practical insight into the STEM sector, is calling for academics and professionals to enrol in its mentoring scheme  after it was awarded a £96,745 grant from the Cadent Foundation to expand its programme.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face significant barriers to their progression in STEM degrees and careers. In fact, only ten percent of life science professionals, 15% of academics and six percent of doctors come from low socio-economic groups. In2scienceUK leverages the passion of STEM experts and engineering professionals to support young people to achieve their potential through life-changing work-placements, skills days and workshops.

The In2scienceUK Programme has a significantly positive impact with independent evaluation proving that 58% of young people taking part progress to top tier universities. Nationally, just 11% of disadvantaged students progress to top universities. In 2020, In2scienceUK transformed its programme to be delivered online through a high-quality virtual STEM learning portal, this year the charity is determined to support more young people to reach their potential.

The new funding will support 160 young people across North London, East of England and the North West, who will become the first Cadent Foundation Scholars. Each student will participate in an innovative three step programme that includes mentorship and placements with top STEM professionals, online research modules with interactive activities and lectures, together with workshops on careers and employability skills.

The charity is now looking to work with academics, researchers and STEM professionals who can share their insights and expertise with disadvantaged students through online mentoring and in-person visit days. Volunteers will share their knowledge through live webinars, small group mentoring sessions and one-day work placements throughout August. Working closely with the In2scienceUK team, volunteers will help to develop and deliver engaging sessions, enabling students of all abilities to explore STEM beyond the classroom, develop key skills and boost their applications for further education.

Rebecca McKelvey, Founder and CEO of In2scienceUK, said: “Poverty and social background are huge barriers to progressing to careers within STEM. If students don’t receive the right guidance and support through their schools and personal networks, they may never consider pursuing a career within this sector. By giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds high-quality opportunities and support at the start of their career journey, In2scienceUK empowers them to achieve their potential and become the next generation of researchers, innovators and pioneers.

“Our mission, to increase diversity and equal opportunity in STEM, has never been so relevant as it is today. COVID-19 has only highlighted and added to the disparity of opportunity between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are more affluent. Now, more than ever, we must encourage all young people to achieve their potential in STEM, regardless of their background.

“If you are a researcher, PhD student or professional in the STEM field we want you to share your experiences with underrepresented students through signing up as a mentor. Help our young people kickstart their pathway to a career in the sector and achieve their potential in STEM.”

Alice Robinson, PhD student in Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the University of Oxford, was a mentor on the 2020 In2scienceUK programme.  She said: “When I was at school, hearing anecdotes and experiences from those engaged in scientific research was what truly brought the words in textbooks alive, and this formed the basis of my desire to study Biomedical Science at university. 

“I strongly believe great science stems from diverse collaborations and feel incredibly sad and frustrated knowing how many barriers still exist. It was a privilege and great fun to be a mentor to a group of aspiring scientists who were eager to learn, while also bringing their own creative take.

“Our sessions ranged from an insight into my own scientific journey (from GCSE’s to Ph.D.), covered some key study skills, such as setting smart goals, and the most fun part of all, informally interacting with the students; answering specific questions about university life and hearing their aspirations and excitement for the future! The students turning up with such resilience and enthusiasm for their future in science despite all the challenges COVID19 has introduced to education was a breath of fresh air too!

“The programme was very flexible and a lot of support material was provided if you so wished to use it; so if it’s something you think you might like to do but are not sure if you’d have the time, I’d certainly say to go for it! The students were a huge boost and great motivator for myself personally, and it’s a highly rewarding challenge to engage on different levels, and through different means!”

Julia Dwyer, Director of the Cadent Foundation, added: “We are delighted to be able to support In2ScienceUK to expand its fantastic programmes across our networks.  Through the Cadent Foundation Scholars Programme young people will have the opportunity to build lasting connections and gain valuable insight that will help them to become the next generation of STEM professionals – with access to cutting edge research, inspiring mentors, as well as careers and university access support and advice.

“These programmes are not only life changing for the young people directly involved, they also benefit multiple organisations within each community.  Schools gain free careers workshops and advice, and for industries, they boost diversity and inclusion in the STEM sector as well as providing a pipeline of skilled workers for the future, supporting the growth of the UK economy.”

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