Leaving Certificate students may feel confused about what they want to do in life, but for those who choose to study STEM subjects, the world is their oyster.
We’re right in the middle of the Leaving Certificate and, once again, we are discussing the importance of STEM subjects.
Last week, data showed that only 330 girls sat the Leaving Certificate exam for engineering, compared to more than 5,000 boys.
Aside from the growing need to provide young girls with the opportunity and encouragement to study STEM subjects, there is also a need to shed more light on the value of pursuing these disciplines beyond secondary school for all young students.
That’s where the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) comes in. Its current campaign ahead of next year’s exhibition is about showing young people that STEM subjects can be extremely valuable, even for those who don’t know what they want to do in life.
Snapchat star James Kavanagh is one of the participants of the campaign, joining Clare Balding, Will Goodbody and other people working in science and tech.
Mari Cahalane, head of BTYSTE, believes that Kavanagh’s unusual career path will resonate with students. “We just thought his story was really interesting because he didn’t have a career path as such, as many young people don’t have these days, and, as he says himself, his career was not there 10 years ago.”
When it comes to students who don’t know what they want to do when they finish school, pursuing a further education in STEM is often sidelined in favour of more general disciplines such as arts.
Cahalane believes it’s important to show young people that pursing STEM at any level doesn’t mean you have to set out on a rigid career path.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a definite career path anymore,” she said. “In a lot of cases, you’ll see people who have done something maybe unrelated to STEM and suddenly end up in STEM.”
The same can work the other way, too. Those who study STEM subjects both at second and third level don’t have to pursue careers in the same industry, but science and technology disciplines can give students a strong groundwork for many industries outside of the STEM spectrum.
Speaking about the various skills that students can learn in STEM, Cahalane said: “I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is working on projects. It’s collaboration, it’s communication, it’s all of those things that you learn,” she said. “That’s very valuable in life and in business for everybody.”
While science and tech disciplines can prepare students for any number of industries, Cahalane emphasised the growing STEM field in Ireland.
“There are more than 170,000 people working in the science, technology and engineering sector in Ireland,” she said. “We’ve got ten top tech companies in the world in Ireland for a reason.”
Indeed, Cahalane spoke about the various careers that are available to graduates now that weren’t around in the past, from video games and app design to food and sport science. These opportunities can entice more students to pursue STEM beyond secondary school.
Cahalane also believes that when it comes to STEM subjects, degrees and careers, you learn something new every day. “Learning never stops.”