You’re passionate about chemical engineering, but can you help convey that passion to inspire others?
AIMING to bridge the gap between students and role models (Figure 1), IChemE Young Members Forum for London & South East Coast (YMF LSEC) organised a series of career school talks. The second event, Inspiring Women in Chemical Engineering, took place online as part of the Virtual STEAM club at Ashcroft Technology Academy.
Three speakers from the energy, water, and academic sectors participated, with the importance of diversity, inclusion, and work/life balance underlined, as well as an individual’s power to shape their career path (Figure 2).
It followed on from an in-person career talk at Kensington Aldridge Academy which was targeted at Year 11 students (Figure 3).
Most UK schools finish around 4pm, which means you will be asking speakers to take time off work, especially if additional travel time is required.
Another option, therefore, is to run a virtual event over lunchtime. Whichever option you choose, contact speakers well in advance. Four months is a good guide.
If speakers are talking to students for the first time, share a successful talk example with them prior to the event.
Keep the background of the speakers diverse: eg industry/academia/startups, from different functions and roles and even from different countries. That way you keep the students’ options open and provide a wide range of perspectives on how they can benefit from their degrees.
Don’t be afraid to make it personal. Talk about your passions and how you translated them into finding a job that was the perfect fit for you.
Arrive early at the school and allow time for you and the teachers to set up, especially if you are running an in-person or hybrid event. Have frequent discussions with the teacher who will be helping on the day and don’t be afraid to ask for a school technician or another volunteer from the committee to provide technical assistance.
Be open and don’t limit your target audience.
Think back to your student self. What did you think chemical engineering was before applying and how has it changed? What would you do differently at university or in your career? These insights will help shape your talk.
Think back to your student self. What did you think chemical engineering was before applying and how has it changed? What would you do differently at university or in your career? These insights will help shape your talk
Reassure students that they don’t need to know everything straight away. Realising what you like and what you are good at is an ongoing learning process. The upshot is that they shouldn’t be scared to try new things.
Make it specific and mention personal events. This will help students connect with your experiences – the beauty of such events is that they are as safe as a career talk can be.
Use conversations instead of one-way communication. Committee members Claudia Boschin and Febha Shibu attended SheCanEngineer this year and interacted with Year 7-9 students. They reported back that there is some confusion on different disciplines within engineering and bias about engineering courses being particularly hard. By communicating effectively, they kept the students engaged for longer. Some practical examples include, asking the students questions instead of “lecturing” them throughout the session, redirecting the emphasis of the conversation on their personal experience and pausing to make sure they are following your message. Relating the discipline to a student’s current studies (eg basic concepts of maths and science) also helped clarify confusion around chemical engineering.
It is important to give students the time to express their thoughts and concerns as such events can not only provide advice on their specific experiences, but also help them further improve their networking skills.
Such events can not only provide advice on their specific experiences, but also help them further improve their networking skills
Having exposure to real-life engineers, whether virtually or in-person, is hugely impactful for school students. They get to see that what they are learning in school in their STEM subjects has applications in real life. Their knowledge of STEM careers improves, and they are more likely to choose the STEM subjects for their GCSEs or A-levels. In the classroom, the students are subsequently more engaged and more excited about the STEM subjects, with more confidence demonstrated in their higher education and career choices made.
It can feel daunting going into a school and delivering a workshop to a young audience, but I can assure you it is highly rewarding all round. Following on from a two-hour immersive Energy Quest workshop held to coincide with British Science Week, here are some tips for chemical engineers looking to excite secondary school students about studying engineering.
Communicate well and communicate regularly with your school contact so that your workshop is properly facilitated. Let them know how many students and what age range you can cater for, what equipment you will need, what equipment you will bring and of any print resources you require. If you need staffing support, the school can organise additional teachers to help. Alternatively, let them know if you will be bringing any additional staff and if you require a parking facility. Technology requirements should also be covered, including whether you need a laptop/interactive screen/sound/microphone, and how you need the venue to be set out in terms of tables, chairs and equipment setup.
It’s helpful to liaise with the school contact regarding your workshop plan also, as they can advise on what will work and what might need some adjusting depending on their school’s requirements. If your school contact is organising lunch or refreshments for you, let them know your dietary requirements.
In planning your workshop activity, include some flexibility in case students need more time on something or are ready to move on to the next task quicker than anticipated.
Allow the students to ask questions and get them “doing” fairly quickly, circulate a lot to check on their progress...and offer lots of praise
Arrive at the school around half an hour before your workshop to set up. This will also allow for the time it takes for reception to prepare visitor passes. Your school contact will meet and greet you upon arrival.
In the workshop, allow time for the students to be seated (another top tip is to ask the school contact to prepare a seating plan ahead of the session so that students know where to sit as soon as they arrive), introduce yourself and the theme for your workshop. Grade your language according to the age range of the students and avoid lengthy talk-time where the students are passively listening to you speak. Allow the students to ask questions and get them “doing” fairly quickly, circulate a lot to check on their progress, further engage and support the students, and offer lots of praise.
There shouldn’t be any behavioural issues and teachers will ensure this too, but if you do spot something that looks like a behavioural issue, inform a teacher straight away.
Students love prizes, so if you can offer one it is always a good touch to any in-person workshop at a school. It doesn’t need to be a big prize and can be something as simple as a bookmark or pencil with your company logo on it. Something they can later “show & tell”.
Stay in touch with your school contact beyond the workshop. The school will likely want to invite you back again in future. And, finally, if you leave your role, be sure to send your school contact an email introduction handover to your successor.
If you are a young chemical engineer, an undergraduate, master or postgraduate chemical engineering student based in the London and Southeast area, please join our group to receive more information about our next events and boost your network. Follow us for more on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
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