Forward thinking - the study of science and engineering

Kate Bellingham, TV presenter, engineer, maths teacher and national Stem careers coordinator, tells us about her love of science, it's importance to our future and what she'll be up to at the Big Bang science fair

What made you want to get involved in science?

Of the two teachers I had in my last two years at primary school, one was a music specialist and one was a maths specialist; the A-levels I did were maths, further maths, physics and music, which I don’t think was any coincidence!

What then took it further is that I went to some public lectures on particle physics at the University of York that were suitable for sixth formers. I was totally blown away – those subjects meant that I was going to be able to understand about these most incredible hidden aspects of our world! That’s what made me apply to physics courses at university.

How was the course?

We always say how studying science is fun and rewarding - which it is - but we seem to avoid saying that it’s also hard work. The reality is that yes, it was quite hard but that also meant it was hugely rewarding. Nobody would expect you to pick up a musical instrument and be instantly brilliant at it – you have to work at it and the same applies here. Some of that practice isn’t laugh a minute but you know why you’re doing it and you value the results - it's given me the basis for an amazing understanding of the world.

What will you be doing at the Big Bang?

On Wednesday I’m going to be visiting all the stands because I want to experience the whole thing! Then for the whole of Thursday I will be locked away in a room meeting the finalists of the National Science competition in the search for the young scientist and young technologist of the year. We’ll also have a very high-profile award ceremony, with a big Oscars-type dinner.

What careers can you go into having studying a science subject?

There is a lack of understanding about where science can take you. With all the concern about the problems of climate change, I don’t think young people are necessarily aware that the most obvious way of solving these is for people to go into science and engineering. If you study chemistry or physics you can go and work in renewable energy resources, and then you can be somebody who has a direct impact on people’s lives. We need to find ways of doing things that are cheaper, more practical and more efficient and reach out to more people in the UK and throughout the world.

If you had someone doing history and arts at A-level say, you would assume they had done it because they were keeping their options open; if you had a student doing physics you might think they had specialised. The truth is that the sciences are springboard subjects as much as art subjects. There have been some reports done recently about graduates going into the workplace, which found that mathematical and analytical skills are highly sought-after. There is also data illustrating that over your work lifetime you will earn a premium above the average across all degrees.

So studying science or engineering really can lead to a rewarding career?

By choosing your subjects carefully you can make sure you’re equipped to go and do things that actually make a difference to the world - we need people out there who can solve these problems and make a difference. If you want to be famous and you want to be valued, never mind the X Factor for getting up on stage: get the X Factor for changing the world.

For more information about studying science, technology, engineering or maths, visit www.scienceandmaths.net and www.futuremorph.org

To find out more about The Big Bang, visit www.thebigbangfair.co.uk - the first day of the fair is Wednesday 4 March

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