Targeted approach to science as career

 

Sir, – Further to Michael Duffy’s article “Stem education critical for country’s future” (November 15th), the very use of the term Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths), although commonplace, is actually not very informative and may in fact be confusing for school-leavers.

In lumping together disciplines like the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics and computing, and claiming that our future as a country lies in Stem, we are ignoring some very significant differences between the disciplines that fall under the Stem umbrella. There is no doubt, for example, that the country needs more civil engineers at the moment, but does it need more zoologists?

There is clearly a pressing need for us to adopt a much more targeted approach to encouraging students into particular disciplines. The current, almost obsessive, emphasis on Stem has an ideological air about it.

We also need to be absolutely transparent in how we represent the typical career path that a school-leaver can expect to follow if they study one of the Stem disciplines. For example, the recent Higher Education Authority (HEA) report What Do Graduates Do?, which is based on 2014 data, indicates that about 42 per cent of science graduates, 25 per cent of engineering graduates and 13 per cent of information and communications technology graduates will pursue further study. When I talk to school-leavers at careers fairs, it becomes quite clear to me that they do not understand these subtleties.

If the future prosperity of the country is to be based on science and technology, then we need to make sure that those students who do embark on science and related courses at third level do so for all the right reasons. We want intelligent, motivated and, ultimately, happy students who will have the motivation and work ethic to become the sort of graduates that we need. This will only happen if second-level students are taught by inspiring science and mathematics teachers, and if those same students make informed choices come CAO time. Marketing campaigns based on an overuse of the term Stem will ultimately benefit no one. – Yours, etc,

GREG FOLEY, PhD

Senior Lecturer

in Bioprocess Engineering,

School of Biotechnology,

Dublin City University.