Yesterday I participated in my first event as a STEM Ambassador. I actually signed up as an Ambassador over a year ago, but I never got round to getting involved as there was never time; the lab came before all else! An event came up at my high school so it seemed like a sensible enough place to start.
I was oddly nervous when I arrived; I actually queued up shiftily with all the students who were late for school – old habits and all that – until the receptionist noticed me and asked if I needed help. I headed off to the assembly hall (so weird wandering around my old school) and met the people running the event as well as the school’s careers advisor, who had been my form teacher. It amazes me how teachers always seem to recognise past pupils even though thousands of us pass through; I’m fairly sure my memory wouldn’t stand up to that test.
I was impressed to see how the careers advice given to the students had progressed since ‘my day’ (just under 10 years ago – is that long enough for me to speak in this sort of nostalgic fashion?). I was pretty much told I had the option of being a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer or something-else-unimportant (I obviously chose the latter; what a rebel). The careers advisor was so enthusiastic about helping the kids and making sure they have as much information as possible.
The day was set up as an application process for a job. There were around 200 students (16–17 yo) and they would compete in various stages after which 5 of them would be offered a (fictional) job. The stages went like this:
1. Fill in an application form
2. Take an aptitude test
3. Assessed group problem-solving
We actually weeded out 75% of the “applicants” at the form filling / aptitude test stage. They needed to get above 13/25 in their aptitude test and have filled in the application form properly. The aptitude test was actually really hard – I did it for a laugh and only got 18! You’d be surprised how many very clever students were rejected because they failed to write their name or write the answers in the correct place etc. Part of it was teaching them the importance of this attention to detail – seemingly insignificant mistakes could lose you a job because no one wants to employ someone who can’t even be bothered to fill in their application properly.
At the 3rd stage we split them up into groups of 6 and gave them problem solving tasks (desert island survival etc.). My job was to observe them and give each student a mark based on skills such as participation, teamwork and leadership. At the end of this I had to pick two students to progress to interview stage. I was extraordinarily impressed with all of them and found it extremely difficult to pick just two. Even for an imaginary job opportunity I found it difficult not to try and recruit them all! It brought home the reality of the job market actually, giving me more appreciation that, even if you are well qualified for a job, the competition is astronomical and you really need to be on top of your game in order to stand out. I picked my two best students anyway and next up were the interviews.
I interviewed 3 students for around 10 minutes each and was amazed by the standard. If these were phone interviews you could easily mistake them for graduates. They presented themselves as relaxed, capable and confident in their abilities, yet in no way arrogant – a fantastic combination in my opinion. Two of my interviewees were really outstanding but I had to pick and champion just one. With 9 interviewers and only 5 spaces I had to do my best to convince them that my student was deserving of a place. My argument: “I feel like he should be giving me a job!”. Fortunately my rationale was compelling enough and he took his place with 4 other outstanding young students to receive much coveted kudos and a box of chocolates.
The day was great fun and it was really encouraging to see how talented and enthusiastic these kids are. The careers advisor asked me to come back and give a talk to the kids about careers in science. So if any of you guys have ideas on how to keep a bunch of 16 year-olds entertained whilst telling them how awesome science is – please let me know!