For the students gathered in our historical library at Burlington House, yesterday was a chance to celebrate a dual achievement: completing their Access to Science Higher Education Diploma, and being awarded the status of Registered Science Technician (RSciTech), both achievements the result of hard work in both the classroom and the research lab.
The Access to Science Diploma is a qualification that prepares students who may not have the necessary A-levels for study at degree level. In collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society of Biology, and a number of industry partners, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation is supporting exceptional diploma students to gain RSciTech status by carrying out a research project in an industry or academic setting as part of their diploma course.
Sarah Matthews was always determined to become a personal trainer, and her A-level in Sport equipped her well for a fulfilling career assisting her clients with a range of personal goals, from losing weight to climbing Mount Everest. Over the years however she became more and more interested in the nutrition side of things, and started to feel held back by not having a science degree.
With no science A-level, she started looking into her options and came across the Access to Science course at Cambridge Regional College. "I just went for it", she says. "It had been 8 years since I had been at school, and apart from the odd personal training course I hadn’t done any science, especially maths, so it was a shock to the system."
As part of her course she worked at Johnson Matthey, carrying out research into potential treatments for Chagas disease, a tropical parasitic disease that damages the heart and nervous system. She is now a Registered Science Technician, and studying Molecular Biology and Genetics at UEA, Norwich. "Science doesn’t come naturally to me so I had to really work for it, and it feels really good to have achieved this now," she says.
"Broadening my science knowledge will help me as a personal trainer", explains Sarah. "I’d like to get into epigenetic testing – that’s looking at how your environment affects how your genes are expressed. For example if I had a client leading quite an unhealthy lifestyle, I could do some tests and tell them their current health status – their chance of developing heart disease or certain cancers, and so on. I could then take that specific scientific information and put them on a personalised nutrition and exercise plan – it’s similar to what I do now but at the next level."
According to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry last year, one-third of businesses have or expect difficulties in recruiting STEM graduates, but even more – nearly half – face a shortfall in technicians.
Our president, Professor Sir John Holman, presenting the students with their RSciTech certificates, emphasised how important the dual scheme is in addressing the shortfall. "We need to give more people the opportunity to develop technical skills and get ‘hands on’ experience in industry", he said.
"Being accredited as a Registered Science Technician is a great asset – it’s a nationally recognised quality stamp showing your expertise and experience. It’s not just a ‘chemistry thing’ – it applies to a wide range of fields from education to engineering, and it’s a great framework for building your career. From RSciTech you can work toward Registered Scientist and finally Chartered Chemist status."
"Science is vital for the UK economy and for progress, and we need people like you with great technical and scientific skills, so congratulations on gaining the RSciTech and taking this important first step in your scientific careers."