Question 1: How did you first become interested in STEM as a career? Was there a moment or intervention at school that prompted your career choice? E.g. an experience of work, an inspirational teacher, family member etc
From the first time I tried to remove all the iron filings from the garden with a magnet I found, I knew that science was my future. It was days before my parents found me at the end of the garden with a jam jar of iron rubbish. I then heard these funny grains of material were bits of meteorite and I was unstoppable. The perennially ‘cool’ space and astronomy was living in my garden. My father showed me how to make an electromagnet using a battery, wire and a nail. To this day, my mother’s cutlery still comes out of the drawer en masse. What I would later learn to be ‘physics’ was my new cool tool for interesting stuff.
At junior school I had a fascination for all elements of the natural world, supported by the enthusiasm of my parents who constantly provided opportunity for turning over rocks by the canal, pond dipping or trying to identify the wildlife around me. It was also at junior school that the new headmaster invested in a TRS-80 computer, on which I first experimented with programming BASIC. I liked the logic and feeling of seeing ‘cause and effect’ in action. But despite early adopters being marginalized as geeky; in my eye, technology quickly joined the ‘cool’ list too. While at senior school this interest went further as I learned to program on my home computer, a ZX Spectrum, the principles of which help me adopt an analytical and methodical approach. As an icon of personal importance to my personal development, my Spectrum is still on display in my home.
The credit for the science highlights of my secondary school education (an unremarkable community school), go to Mr. Chamberlain who introduced me to chemistry. His passion for the subject showed in the detail he put into his blackboard experiment diagrams. I always appreciated this as I was raised in a home where architectural drawings were always lying around. I still loved physics because of the girl who sat opposite me but now chemistry became ‘cool’ too.
I couldn’t take biology as a GCSE because I wanted to do design technology, which allowed me to learn electronics and some engineering principles, under the tutorage of Mr. Metcalfe. He looked the engineer with his trimmed beard and calm concentration. People who designed and built things had always had my respect from when I first dismantled and rebuilt an old water pump that my father had given me. But there was time for me to learn biology and experience would again be one of the best drivers for learning I could ever hope for.