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What do people who work in STEM actually do?

Tuesday 15th November 2022

Thanks to Science Oxford, a group of year 10s from local Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire secondary schools who participated in the October half-term STEM Insight Week discovered what working in STEM really entails.

While many 14-year-olds think about careers as something in their distant future, this group of lucky students know their journey into future working life has already begun as they start to navigate their way through a multitude of possibilities that will shape their future world of work.

Engaging with people ‘on the ground’

To help guide them on this journey, Science Oxford, through our STEM Careers Programme, aims to show young people the varied roles available in STEM industries and, by engaging with people ‘on the ground’, help them gain insight into many of the possible careers and roles that make up the working world in STEM.

Our STEM career-focused activities, like the STEM Insight Week, have valuable impact in improving young people’s perceptions of and encouraging them to consider STEM careers. These activities also aim to improve diversity and equity in STEM fields (read more from Engineering UK and British Science Association).

Diverse partners and experiences

STEM Insight Week includes a number of visits and experiences inside the laboratories and facilities of different STEM industries. Students interact with people fulfilling varied roles in STEM – such as apprentices, scientists, operations teams, managers, and CEOs – who voluntarily offer insightful career advice and a taste of what future work might be like.

Workshops are also offered to students during the week to develop skills needed during higher education and the broader world of work. These include how to prepare engaging CVs, how to find out about particular jobs and methods of work, and tools to manage stress.

Activities like these are only possible with the support of people, companies and organisations who work with us to provide engaging, informative and inspiring experiences. Science Oxford was fortunate to partner with and have the support of a number of businesses across a diverse range of STEM fields, who share a passion for engaging with and inspiring young people.

John Blackwood, Vice President Biology at Samsara Therapeutics said, “We are passionate about engaging with the next generation of scientists, ensuring they have the best chance of success in pursuing a career in science. That new scientist may make a breakthrough, impacting millions of lives.”

Madelaine Swift, Science Oxford STEM Projects Officer and coordinator of STEM Insight Week, remarked, “Students were happy that they were able to speak to different people within the companies, including members of operations teams in addition to researchers and scientists. This gave them a broad view of opportunities within the STEM industry.”

Scientists at Samsara Therapeutics guide students through some laboratory techniques

Here are some of the opportunities students had access to:

Discovering new treatments with innovative life science companies

Life science innovation companies from our home base at the Wood Centre for Innovation, Samsara Therapeutics and Human Centric Drug Discovery, each developing and discovering new drugs and treatments for different diseases, gave students practical experiences into their day-to-day work in the laboratory. “This is what I want to do!” exclaimed one of the students while getting hands-on with the delicacies of cell culture techniques.

Antigoni Katsikoudi, research scientist in the team at Human Centric Drug Discovery, remarked on how she benefitted from the engagement. “I enjoyed the questions from students and their thinking outside the box, which ultimately promotes creativity.” She also said, “It was great to engage with the students and give them the opportunity to interact with professionals involved in the biotechnology sector. The younger me would have appreciated this opportunity, particularly when deciding on a future career path.”

Exploring life under the microscope

A visit from the team from Nikon Instruments helped students understand the many uses of microscopy technologies, from health research and diagnostics, to ecology, to material sciences. Using samples collected in our very own woodland, they were able to uncover some of the ‘secrets’ hidden beyond what the naked eye can see.

Year 10 students learn more about Science Oxford's woodland, collecting samples for a practical microscopy activity

Investigating the ‘ancient’ with modern technology

Turning to the ‘ancient’, during a visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, students found out more about the extinct dodo and the genetic technologies that are helping researchers find out more about extinct and present-day organisms. They also got to know themselves a little better, as the focus of the day was an amazing practical experience in which students extracted and analysed their own DNA, from start to finish.

Extracting and analysing DNA at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Using the grand to understand the tiny

Heading off to the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, students learned about how researchers there are working with the giant microscope of the synchrotron light source, using light that is 10 billion times brighter than the sun, to find out more about the structure and composition of all kinds of matter, like the tiny world in nanotechnology.

Visiting the synchrotron at Diamond Light Source

Diving into the elusive cyber world

Students spent time are cybersecurity experts, Sophos, to find out more about what it takes for businesses to be secure online. The company started in Oxford in 1985 and was one of the first companies in the world to market anti-virus software. They help others to combat cybercriminal tactics, including ransomware, malware, phishing and breaches.

Lucky year 10 students to gain insight into all these STEM businesses and possible professions!

Our next STEM Insight Week

Do you know any year 10 students who could benefit from these experiences? Science Oxford runs STEM Insight Weeks every half term; the next will be held over February half-term from 13 to 17 February 2023.

Find out more at:

Keep an eye on our social media for information about how to register.

Partner with us

Do you work with a STEM business who could partner with us and provide an inspiring experience for students? Please find out more about how to become a business partner:

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