Destination STEMM: reach your full potential
In addition to our Broadening Horizons in the Chemical Sciences programme, another important commitment in our Missing Elements action plan to address racial and ethnic inequalities is Destination STEMM - Chemical Sciences. Partnering with the Windsor Fellowship, we are aiming to change ambitions for Black and minority ethnic Year 12 students considering a degree or career in chemistry. One year into Destination STEMM we caught up with some of the students and their mentors from industry and academia.
“My mentor was very informative and helpful,” says Taksha a biology, chemistry, maths and sociology student, “providing me information on university courses and careers I am interested in and also giving me detailed insight into a career in chemistry. The ability to talk first hand with my mentor was extremely valuable, as I gained insight and knowledge into industry and research, as I did not know anything about this area of chemistry before joining the Fellowship.”
The mentors are also impressed by their students: “We get on very well” says Jenny Zhang, a research fellow at Cambridge University. “He has a very admirable work ethic and is very bright. I have tried to give him more perspectives for universities and beyond.”
These are the kind of discussions that play out at the monthly mentor-mentee meetings that form the backbone of Destination STEMM. This programme from the Royal Society of Chemistry is delivered in partnership with The Windsor Fellowship and supported by the Chemists’ Community Fund. It complements the RSC’s Broadening Horizons in the Chemical Sciences programme, a new three-year pilot in which early-career chemists from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds receive support and access to opportunities enabling them to pursue careers in chemical sciences industry (see p8-9). Destination STEMM students come from a range of backgrounds and locations across the UK. The support their mentors offer might be academic, or personal to the individual student’s needs.
Being involved has changed my mind on options for my future in the chemical sciences. I have an array of degrees, careers and apprenticeships to choose from within the chemical sciences, which I simply wasn’t aware of before joining.
It’s not just the students who gain something from the programme. “I wanted to give to someone the opportunities and cultural capital that I wish I had growing up” says Jenny Zhang. “Reflecting back, I can see how difficult my journey was as a first-generation immigrant from a low social economical background to become a scientist.
“I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the mental barriers holding back under-represented students. This will help me professionally as an educator and recruiter of students. It will also help me to challenge my own self beliefs in the future perhaps.”
Dr Bhaven Patel, Course Leader for Pharmaceutical Science at London Metropolitan University, had similar motivations: “I believe in giving everyone an opportunity and this programme gives students from under-represented groups a chance to shine in an area that I specialise in.
“Being a mentor has helped me understand the pressures that young students face in the current climate of doing exams after the pandemic but also family pressures. I have also had to do my own research in helping someone grow and improve. I believe over the year more trust has been gained.”
Richard Brett is an Audit Manager at GSK: “As someone who comes from quite an ordinary background, I wanted to help others in a similar position achieve their full potential.
“I’ve got an immense amount out of the process, both personally and professionally. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing when your mentee has got a significant insight into whatever was on their mind, worked out a way forward and their enthusiasm is fired up.”
There are challenges for mentors too. One told us: “My mentee is a private person. Due to cultural conflict, she is struggling between what she wants to do and meeting her family’s expectations and public acceptance. For example, she prefers going to a university far from home but is not sure if it would be OK for her parents.”
The students are now at the midpoint of both their A-level studies and Destination STEMM. So far, they’ve attended workshops on goal setting, personal statements and university and career choices, with further seminars on teamwork, leadership, interview technique and preparing for exams still to come. Two of the mentors have also gone above and beyond the Destination STEMM programme to arrange visits at GSK and Hertford College, Oxford, with financial support from the RSC Inclusion and Diversity Fund.
“The workshop at Oxford University was fantastic” says Keera, who is taking A-levels in biology, chemistry and maths. “I learnt about the work of Robert Mokaya whose paper I later read. It helped me immensely in shaping and confirming my decision to study science at university.
“At GSK I was able to visit HPLC and NMR spectroscopy labs” adds Taksha, “putting my A-level knowledge into context and giving me invaluable first-hand experience of what working in chemistry really looks like.”
Laura Reyes is programme leader for Destination STEMM – Chemical Sciences for the Royal Society of Chemistry: “By working with the Windsor Fellowship, we are supporting the next generation of aspiring chemistry students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds to pursue a future in the chemical sciences. From our Missing Elements research, we know that students from these backgrounds are less likely to stay in our discipline – and we know how important mentors are in overcoming the barriers faced through individual support and guidance.
“I have been overwhelmed by the response from our members to step forward and volunteer as mentors. It is clear that our community shares our enthusiasm to make a difference and ensure that everyone is given every opportunity they can to fulfil their potential. It has been wonderful to receive feedback from mentees and mentors alike on how they are benefitting from the programme.”
With Destination STEMM now fully underway, how do the students feel about their future? Taksha’s thoughts sum up the aims of Destination STEMM perfectly: “Being involved has changed my mind on options for my future in the chemical sciences. I have an array of degrees, careers and apprenticeships to choose from within the chemical sciences, which I simply wasn’t aware of before joining. I have a lot more options to choose from now!”