August 2013: Hello and welcome to my first blog


01 / 8 / 2013 10.42am

I hope you enjoy what you read and come back for more! Maybe you will be inspired a touch? Do let me know.

My name is Sandra and I am a chartered biomedical scientist for the NHS in cytopathology (recently changed from histopathology). I have been in biomedical sciences for just over 11 years. I am a NHS healthcare STEM ambassador and also sit on the National Council of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS). I am a 'new' 40 and I have two sons.

I had wanted to become a scientist since I was a small child - my father bought me a microscope set with slides and I loved it. One day I thought I'd play 'boats' with the family goldfish. I placed the goldfish on a flip flop in a bucket of water and swooshed it about, and didn't quite understand why it died very quickly. I thought 'Hmm, now what?' I decided to cut it in half (on my mum's clean kitchen table, of course) and put it on the microscope slide to look through it. Of course I had no idea about histological techniques! I just knew it was jolly tough to slice. Without knowing I had just taken baby steps into histology!

Quite frankly I had been told 'no Sandra I don't think so' a few too many times at school when talking about my future, and so I wanted to go to other school children and let them know that you don't have to be a super-duper brain box to become a biomedical scientist and have all sorts of PhD's tucked away. This kind of attitude can really prevent a child from daring to dream big, it keeps them down and doesn't bolster their self-esteem.

I believe the STEM ambassadors programme has huge value and can help children to understand more about sciences, and indeed the other areas of STEM (technology, engineering, and mathematics). It can show how it is relevant in the real world, it can help them to see their career path more clearly. It also supports the curriculum, and some STEM ambassadors work in schools and support teachers. And of course there is a great amount of value to the individual STEM ambassador. It is invigorating to carry out an event, it renews your glow for the profession you’re in, it’s just so very rewarding personally. I like to spend time with teenagers, who are facing their GCSE choices and thinking about their future careers. I particularly like to spend time with the kids that are less academic and perhaps a bit cheesed off with school. These are the kids who need the most encouragement and support. I find most of them generally like science, but don't always see its relevance with the real world and therefore don't consider it as a career option. They also don't believe they are clever enough - this is still being bandied around to some children in this day and age!

I have been involved with three Big Bang fairs now, twice as a careers advisor, and I was also a science competition judge. I had never judged before but wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.  A new judge is usually partnered up with an experienced judge, but this didn’t happen, I was paired with a Scientific Training Programme student who hadn’t judged before either. So to begin with we were a little unsure of what to do, but we quickly got into the role and found we were enjoying it greatly, and we were consistent and fair with each of the entrants. We found winners! We put forward three students for entry into the national finals. It was a very enjoyable day and I am looking forward to judging again.

For careers' events I always make sure I take props with me – teaching blocks and slides, a microscope, and other items from the lab that are safe, but not nailed down, leaflets on how to become a biomedical scientist, and goodies from the IBMS, who support me greatly, such as note pads, pencils, pens, lanyards, etc. I lay out a table with all my props, and the children are naturally curious and over they come. There are times when they will not leave and have pushed other children away from the microscope, so sometimes you need to put your sheriff's hat on and keep order.

These events are very popular and are often very large in numbers. There is a main Big Bang event and this year it was in London’s Excel. Last year it was in Birmingham’s NEC. As well as lots more smaller venues for local Big Bang events. There are often tens of thousands of school children and teachers booked to come each day. They will usually have an idea of what they would like to see ahead of time, and thus will be booked onto events. Careers networker, for example, is a pre-booked event.

I’d like to spend more time judging competitions and teasing out the ‘born’ scientists, as there are some great young scientists out there, they just need to be found. I’m certainly looking forward to the next Big Bang fair too. I’m often personally invited to speak at events or to give a talk to students, most recently I was invited to give a subject talk at Imperial College London. 

So, if after reading this blog you feel inspired to share your knowledge and excitement with young people, then have a look on the STEMNET website and sign up.

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