Outcomes from the Next Gen STEM Café conversations

Our “Next Gen STEM” October series of Café meetups focussed on how we can all encourage more of the next gen – particularly girls and younger women- into STEM.  

The STEM Women team collaborated with the Academy’s Education team to create two café experiences that combined research with practical take-aways about  engaging with young people in meaningful ways. You can view the interviews in the recording below:

In Café 1, Science and STEM education researchers Coral Campbell and Linda Hobbs from Deakin University shared insights around ideas of identity and storylines from Girls Future - Our Future: The Invergowrie Foundation STEM Report 2020 Update before participants explored these ideas in our small group conversations. 

In Café 2, we discussed and experimented with tools and techniques for making engagement count with program director of the Wonder of Science (WoS) school initiative, Robyn Bull, University of Queensland (See also the WoS Annual Report 2020). Robyn shared her experience in supporting Young Science Ambassadors (Ph.D students from Queensland Universities) to engage with schools, and what we can all learn about communication, mentoring and role-modelling.  

Ideas include: 

  1. Ask your audience what they know about your field and what they are curious about  

  1. Use an object, photograph or prop to frame interactions and to elicit questions or discussion. 

  1. Summarise your work or research in terms that would be relatable to a nine-year-old. (Check out ways to adjust for audiences here

  1. Describe your work in terms of your disposition/s. What is it that makes you interested in STEM or particularly good at what you do? Ask student to identify these qualities or characteristics in themselves. The key idea being that a combination of content expertise and dispositions make it possible to succeed in STEM.  

  1. Describe your STEM journey or story to your audience. Was your pathway planned, obvious or more unexpected? Students take inspiration from the fact that adult role models may have achieved success in unexpected ways. This is also described in the career maps work of Amelia Travis of Avid Research.  

Using these ideas, participants considered how they might distil their own journey or story for a student audience, how they have been influenced in their interests and related fields and what about their own identity and dispositions has played a significant part in their success. 

They also considered how they might use focus objects relevant to their field to engage a student audience. One seasoned STEM professional suggests that “weird or gross objects” or stories are a proven way to capture the imagination of young children at the beginning of a talk. 

Next Gen STEM Programs seeking STEM professionals 


Further links and reading: 

Professor Lisa Harvey Smith, Australia’s current STEM Ambassador at a recent address to the National Youth Science forum invited students to keep their minds open. Expressing when it comes to your future "fall in love with the subject, but leave yourself open and space for plans to change and evolve”.