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Don’t let exams define you, let real people help refine you

Published: Sep 14, 2020 4 min read

STEM learning

How hearing from and meeting STEM Ambassadors can send a truly positive message to young people right now.

Female student opening exam results envelope

“My mom always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” 

This famous quote from the film Forrest Gump attempts to dispense fortune-cookie wisdom about the uncertainties of life, without any real regard for the anguish and stress that young people at school can feel post-results.
This has never been more evident than on this year’s results days. It has been an uncertain time with the cancellation of exams and results being calculated differently, but what is clear is that some students who didn’t achieve the results they had hoped for are now left feeling disillusioned. They may be feeling lost, and may be at risk of missing out on many opportunities that are not currently obvious to them.
Hearing from role models in the workplace about some of the experiences they have had from their school days to the working world can be incredibly valuable. Paths are not always as straightforward for other people as it seems. They can be full of challenges but can still often lead to joy, excitement and fulfilment.

That’s where STEM Ambassadors can help

STEM Learning manages the flagship STEM Ambassadors programme, consisting of volunteers from a wide range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs across the UK. There are over 33,000 STEM Ambassadors offering their time, enthusiasm and experiences to help bring STEM subjects to life through a range of classroom activities, mentoring and inspirational career events.

Messages of support

The STEM Ambassador Hub for the South East has gathered together real stories of inspiration from STEM Ambassadors to support students. These personal journeys reveal that, although there are sometimes challenges and forks in the road, determination and courage is important, and there is always hope even in adversity. The stories encourage students not to define themselves by exam results, and to embrace the opportunity to explore other paths that are not always obvious. Here are just two of the stories…

Not the end of the world

“I hope this can help to reassure a few students that disappointing exam results are not the end of the world… I’m a member of a team of experts at a private company who deliver laboratory testing services and science/engineering consultancy to various government organisations. I’ve known people who joined the company as apprentices, with zero qualifications, who have gone on to become senior engineers and leaders in their fields. Conversely, I’ve seen people with master’s degrees and PhDs flounder and fail. Exam results can sometimes help you get your foot in the door, but they are far from being the be-all and end-all of your career.”

 What I would tell my younger self

“If I could talk to my 17 year-old self, who has just done rather badly in his A Levels, I would say: “It will be alright. Your family love you no matter what. ‘Success’ is not real. Work and money matter but they are NOT all. And work is NOT like exams. You do not have to remember everything, you get time to: explore, do research, google things, try different approaches. Often it is your failures that give you the best experience and understanding. Now, when I sift CVs for interview, it is the triers, the not ‘giving-uppers’ that I want.”
By reading such inspirational stories and messages reflecting on the world of opportunities, hopefully students will see that exams are one step of a winding staircase which will help define their future. Meeting and hearing from real role models from industry sheds light on the different journeys people can take after school, irrespective of the exam result, which can lead to career success and fulfilment. 
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