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Making school children excited about science


Dr Tatiana McHardy shares her experiences on a recent school's career day she attended in which she engaged young girls with her scientific career.

Posted on 16 April, 2015 by Dr Tatiana McHardy

When I woke up on Thursday 26 March, I was excited for a day away from my usual routine in the lab. Once more, I was going to a Science Career Speed Networking Event at a local school for girls to explain what I do as a chemist at The Institute of Cancer Research in London.

Every March as part of its Science Week , Waldegrave Secondary School for Girls in Twickenham organises this event to give girls in Years 10 and 11 the opportunity to discover a bit more about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I have attended this event a few times already and I always look forward to it!

I have an important role, showing these girls that there are young women making important contributions to the development of new drugs for cancer treatment.

This time, there are several ambassadors talking about their jobs as a GP, a PhD student in biology, a physicist at the National Physical Laboratory, a biologist from Kew Gardens, and scientists that followed alternative pathways to a career in research and who currently work in marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies.

There is always a buzz when the students arrive and today is no different. Year 10 lead the way on the first session, taking place in the morning. In groups of three or four, they sit around a table with one of the ambassadors and start questioning them about their career, during a period of 5 to 10 minutes.

The questions vary and I am asked what A-levels I did, what a normal working day is for me, what university degree I have, my motivations and what my biggest challenge has been. I am usually asked if we have discovered a cure for cancer and it is encouraging to see the enthusiasm in these girls’ faces when they talk to me.

After five minutes the bell rings and we are presented with a new group of students, who have similar questions. We talk for approximately one hour with the Year 10 students and time does go by quickly.

It is time for lunch and the ambassadors can then socialise and network among themselves. Because I have attended this event a few times, there are familiar faces. Everybody is pleased to be there and that is why we come back again and again!

Following some fueling with the kindly offered sandwiches, fruit and coffee, we are ready for the next round of students from Year 11. They tend to be quieter than the younger ones and there is clear evidence from their questions of which ones are keen on a scientific career or not.

Answering questions in the school science labs, I remember how uncertain I was when I was the age of these girls! ‘Shall I do chemistry or shall I choose biology?’ My poor mother at the time listening to me every day about my dilemmas in choosing a degree!

While I’m sitting at the table I see a poster in the school science lab saying: “Dare to dream it and work hard to achieve it”. I hope that with these school visits I can help some of these students to dream about a career in science and work hard to achieve it!

Dr Tatiana McHardy is a Higher Scientific Officer in the Division of Cancer Therapeutics at the ICR.

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