Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock: "STEM is for everyone. It is fun and exciting"
What would you do to make science more accessible and fun for kids who wouldn't ordinarily think it’s fun?
Making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fun for everyone is one of my challenges in life. I try and hop back to my youth and think what got me excited about science. The first thing that got me excited about science was space. It’s one of those subjects that get people really excited. So I try and utilize science wherever possible. You talk about the possibility of life in the universe. Is there life in our solar system? What happens to other planets? There are so many fundamental questions that people want answered. Although most of my focus is on children, I do like to speak to everybody about science. STEM in society is really important. As scientists, we are making decisions every day about what we should research but I don’t think it should just be up to the scientists. It’s also up to the public to have an ethical dimension as well, to look at what they think about where science should be going. So if the public is not informed about science, it’ll be very hard for them to do that. So I believe science is for everyone. It is fun and exciting. STEM tells us about how our world around us works and we need to sell it much better. There is a whole new school of people gauging STEM and also having dialogues in STEM, which I think is critical.
What's the biggest challenge in improving science education in schools today?
I think one of the biggest challenges in science education is the perception of STEM. Today, if you get kids to draw scientists they generally draw someone with gray hair, wearing a white coat, usually male and mostly in his fifties. So most people have that perception of STEM. But STEM comes with a diversity of different characters and everybody has a heritage in STEM. As an astronomer and a space scientist, I look across the world and virtually every culture across the Earth has an interest in the stars – it’s the heritage of all of us so it’s important to show that.
Not everyone will become a scientist, so how much science does one need?
When I go out, I try to encourage kids to look at science. I know a very small percentage will actually become scientists and that should be the way of the world. But there are two aspects to this. The kids who do become scientists, I want some of them to stay in science but I want other scientists to go into other fields because they can have a scientific influence on other areas. To the kids who don’t want to become scientists, I just want them to have an awareness of science so that they can help in taking ethical decisions in the future. Now what level do you need to take such decisions? That’s up for debate but I think having a scientifically literate society is very important across the globe. Technology and science is what is shaping our world today and I think every member of society needs to be part of that.