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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Published: Nov 2, 2014 4 min read

Gemma Taylor

Technology CPD Lead

National STEM Learning Centre

What do you want to be when you grow up?




“Fashion designer”

Sound familiar?

When asked at the age of 14 what I wanted to do when I grew up, I answered “football player or coach.” Maybe I was still riding the high of watching Leicester City beat Tranmere Rovers in the FA League Cup. Maybe it was the years of playing football and my love of PE that let me imagine it was the only career that ever existed. At the age of 19 I found myself at university, about to start a mechanical engineering and design degree, so you may ask – what made me change my mind?

Life is about answering questions – both big and small

We seek evidence from the world around us, we consider our own experiences and we act to make the best decisions that we can. As an engineer, I used my education and training to answer business questions every day. However, life became a little more complicated when I started my role as a secondary school design and technology teacher. A typical day of questions starts with the obvious, “Do you have a pen I can borrow miss?” From then on, don’t be surprised if the topics vary from what you have watched on television over the past 24 hours to personal health and the top speed of a Bugatti Veyron. We are seen by students as a complete source of knowledge, but “with great power, comes great responsibility” and when a student is asking you for advice on what they should do with their life, never is this responsibility felt more.

With great power, comes great responsibility

As a teacher of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subject I always try to encourage my students to achieve their best in all the areas of STEM, giving themselves the best chance for the future. But what futures are available to them? Students need real world examples of the careers their favourite subjects can lead to and what the next steps are to achieve them. A great example of this is given in the recent collaborative report by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, together with Mindshare. The report is titled Project STEM: A Book of Insights and discusses the findings of research conducted into the views of a selection of Year 9, 11 and 12 students. The report’s findings on the negative perceptions of STEM subjects’ makes for tough reading but rings familiar with the students I have met in my classroom. Mathematics “It’s not relevant”, technology “Lacks social kudos” and science is “difficult beyond GCSE”. Our job as STEM teachers is to bring the reality of our subject into the classroom and break these perceptions apart. We need to show our students the variety of career options that are available to them, the diverse range of careers that use the STEM subjects and the different entry routes that they can take to start their career. My dream is to have a school of students that never need to ask the question. “What should I do when I leave school?” because they will already know the answer from their years of studying.

So, if you agree with the above and you want to incorporate more STEM relevant careers information into your lessons, what is there to help?

  • The National STEM Centre has a library of online careers resources that are available for you to download.
  • The STEM ambassador programme will support your school to engage students in STEM careers through visiting STEM professionals.
  • The National Science Learning Centre has courses running throughout the year that include careers specific learning for STEM. They are also running a two-week teacher placement scheme in partnership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute of Engineering and Technology. Placing teachers of STEM subjects with engineering and technology employers for a ten day hands on experience of what it is like to work in the engineering and technology sector.

Finally, if you were wondering what it was that changed my mind from pursuing a football career to becoming an engineer, simple, my physics teacher.


P.S. You may also be interested in reading Jo Cox’s blog about her experience on the Teacher Industrial Partners' Scheme.