Graduate Interns reflect on the science of learning
The University of Wolverhampton STEM Response Team was one of the first teams to develop an online catalogue of learning in order to continue with their outreach support.
The team, which is part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, is made up of three graduate interns led by Dr Martin Khechara, offering hands-on interactive sessions for local schools and colleges and attending STEM events to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
When the pandemic affected face to face teaching, and lockdown restrictions were put into place, the team quickly offered a downloadable ‘STEM at Home’ booklet for parents who would be home teaching; they devised a weekly social media schedule to continue with outreach activities focusing on microbiology (Micro Mondays), wildlife (Wild Wednesdays) and the mystery of crime, death and (Forensic Fridays) – these online events were led by three graduate interns offering fun facts, research, remote learning sessions and experiments that can all be done at home.
The team also introduced a daily ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on Twitter.
Dr Martin Khechara, Associate Professor for Engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “Without a doubt, engagement on all of our channels throughout this very challenging time has been phenomenal, with young people around the region continuing to learn about STEM because of the commitment, creativity and determination of our small team of graduate interns.
“I asked them to think about their journey and share their thoughts about how they got to where they are today and what they have been doing during the pandemic and their reflections really show the value of learning and the impact that can have in the workplace and on a person’s life.”
Ellesse Janda, 25 from Wolverhampton, Getting creative with her study choices
Animal Behaviour & Wildlife Conservation graduate
I joined the STEM Response Team as an intern in Outreach and Public Engagement in September 2019, and I was excited and nervous at the same time. Whilst academically capable, I often view my expertise as being somewhat removed from the “normal” sciences, and did for a moment question my ability for this post.
My journey through the younger years of learning was, for a start, quite different compared to the majority of people. At the age of eight I was taken out of public school to be taught by my parents at home. I later returned to secondary school, and upon leaving in year 11, I made the decision to continue my studies at college in creative arts. I had no idea what career I was aiming for, but coming from an artistic family, it seemed the right thing to do. However, I quickly realised that art was not my passion. So that is when I made the decision to change.
Throughout the next two years, I had gained a paid position at a zoological establishment and completed an Extended Diploma in Animal Management. I was also preparing to study at the University of Wolverhampton, and would be the first in my family to do so. I later graduated with a First Class degree in Animal Behaviour & Wildlife Conservation, now alongside five years’ experience working within a captive management setting where my role had shifted to education officer.
Through my Undergraduate and Master’s degree in Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University I had accrued a large amount of experience in the field; working on projects in the UK, Europe, South Africa, and Madagascar. I quickly learnt, however, that conservation only works when it involves people. Those that have never seen or heard of a certain animal will be less likely to take action in saving it. That is when I developed a clear direction in my career – to conserve animals by means of environmental education.
Although working for many years already within a zoological education role, I had no real guidance to ensure I was providing effective learning. An opportunity arose to join the STEM Response Team, and I took it. Returning to my first university felt like a welcome home, and I instantly felt as though I was exactly where I needed to be. The doubts of my abilities soon diminished as I was met with a plethora of Continuous Professional Development opportunities to rekindle my knowledge.
I applied for this post to enhance my teaching ability, thinking I would only be educating students on the core principles of STEM. Instead, I was encouraged to bring my own expertise into the team. This position has allowed me to build upon my academic abilities; writing reports, analysing data, and creating targeted outreach activities, and I feel as though my presenting skills are enhanced with each session. Importantly, I am more confident in both my teachings and within my subject area, which I accredit to my line manager for encouraging and trusting me to bring environmental education into the team’s scope.
I feel a tremendous wealth of self-worth and job satisfaction in this role. We are targeting young people and we can have a direct impact on their future careers, and hopefully we can guide them into a career which they truly love and where they can really make a difference.
Phoebe Hinton-Sheley, 23 from Wednesbury, Science is breathtakingly complex
I have always enjoyed talking about science – from the moment I knew what science was, I’ve scientifically harassed anyone and everyone who will listen about topics ranging from black holes and solar systems, to biochemistry and how life came to be.
As I grew, so did my love for science and talking to others about why a subject that everyone else compartmentalised as simply another class at school was so breathtakingly complex and real. My communication of science changed from discussions with friends and family, to coming across false news articles online and leaving scientific sources in my wake.
Once I started studying for a degree in Microbiology at the University of Wolverhampton, I found a way to spread this love for science on a scale larger than my friends and complacent strangers on the internet. I became a STEM Ambassador in late 2017 and started volunteering for talks in secondary schools on the topics of STEM careers, women in STEM, and progression to STEM courses at University.
In April of 2018 I started a freelance role as a feature writer for NewsMedical.Net - this is where I discovered that my love for talking about science wasn’t limited to a borderline annoying hobby or voluntary pastime. It was a few months into what I thought was a temporary gig that I realised that I wanted to do this as a career: I aspired to become a Science Communicator.
Once I finished University, I put my years of social media experience to use, and worked for a London-based marketing firm as an intern. After this job ended, I sought out a career that was a little more ‘me’. I secured the job of my dreams: STEM Outreach and Public Engagement intern at the University of Wolverhampton. Not only was I doing something I loved while learning about a whole new side to Science Communication, it also felt as though I’d come home to the University I grew to love - learning more and more about what it means to be a Science Communicator online once again.
In my time here at the University of Wolverhampton as a Science Communicator, I feel that not only have I grown and learned a lot about my field of work and what it takes to do the job well, but I also feel as though I have changed a lot as a person. I have become even better at public speaking; gotten my head around talking to groups of primary school children; and have slowly begun to recognise my worth as someone with a Microbiology degree and extensive experience in marketing and communications.
For the years to come, I am looking to improve further upon these skills, and develop even more new ones – as I truly believe that you are never done with learning in this life. I wish to establish myself in the ‘Sci Comm’ community, and however that may come to be, I am excited for what the future holds.
Heather Angell, 25 from West Bromwich, the CSI effect is life changing
Forensic Science Master’s degree graduate
I began my employment in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton as a STEM Outreach and Public Engagement Intern in November 2018.
This role was different to any others I had undertaken previously. My previous employment was self-benefiting, every action was to make profit, whereas this role, whilst still encouraging recruitment, is mainly to encourage others and inspire students to aspire in STEM. Being completely transparent, when accepting this new role, I knew very little of the world of science communication and I did not quite know the depths of what was required of me for this role as I had essentially no experience in this field. However, I wanted to pursue something which was of interest to myself, as I enjoyed learning about and actively taking part in science, so I thought, why not?
I thoroughly enjoyed school as I love to learn. Early on in school I had an interest in forensic science. This was most definitely due to the ‘CSI Effect’. Going to university was never something that did not cross my mind, nor did it feel like a barrier even though I would be the first person in my family to go to university. Whilst early on in my degree course it was evident that real life is not how it is portrayed in the media, I still truly enjoyed most aspects of forensic science. I graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a Master’s degree in Forensic Science.
Being a member of the STEM Response Team has transformed my life and I am not simply saying that because it something that I believe that I should feel or state. This role has truly altered how I look at education, the importance of education especially at Primary School level in terms of STEM, how much of an impact interactive, enjoyable and creative teaching can bring and the lasting impact it leaves behind.
Nonetheless, this role has been challenging at times which I have enjoyed. It has tested my capability to adapt in situations that I had never experienced previously. I have had plenty of experience communicating with both adults and children in a professional sense, but not in a way where I was engaging to teach them.
This role has built my confidence in all aspects of myself. I never particularly enjoyed public speaking even though I thought I had decent oral presentational skills, I had only really presented to peer groups and colleagues normally about topics which were more serious than fun. However, after observing how others presented and interacted with an audience and experiencing that myself, the way I presented and held myself adapted.
Throughout this experience, and continuing now, my presentational skills are ever developing, and I have much more confidence and belief in myself and what I am showcasing. I have realised how rewarding and heart-warming this can be, especially when someone you are teaching is now interested in that area because of what you have done, when before they did not really know it existed.
I can wholeheartedly say that this role has changed from being something which was simply just a job, to something that I love and have a passion for. I want to continue to have an impact on people’s lives and their future.
The STEM Response Team is still offering online learning as follows:
Micro-Monday aims to explore the world of Microbiology, championed by Dr Martin Khechara and Phoebe Hinton-Sheley; graduate in Microbiology. An abundance of topics will be investigated during these sessions, from virus to fungi, and even some microscopy!
During Wild-Wednesdays, viewers will jump in to different biomes and habitats, exploring the amazing wildlife which inhabit them. Led by Master’s conservationist Ellesse, each week aims to focus on a different country or major protected area and will cover facts on biodiversity, threats and conservation efforts, and interviews / tags from scientists working in those locations.
Forensic-Fridays will investigate the mysteries of crime, death, and judgement with Heather Angell; a PhD researcher in Forensic Taphonomy. Each week aims to focus on a different aspect of forensics, such as CSI, microscopy, fingerprint analysis, forensic anthropology, and forensic entomology.
For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.