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STEM 2020: the British Fertility Society's educational initiative for schools

12 October 2020
By Kevin McEleny
Consultant Urologist, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Secretary Elect for the British Fertility Society
Appeared in BioNews 1067

2020 has been a year to remember and the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our health, our work and our way of life in many ways. It may be some time before the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people's education is fully understood, but some already feel that the lockdown has accentuated pre-existing inequalities in the life prospects of young people. Where the government's response is lacking, professional organisations that are in a position to encourage and support the education of young people can play a positive role by teaching about the work they do.

The British Fertility Society (BFS) has run a highly successful annual STEM event, where up to 200 young people studying A-level Biology, from predominantly state schools in the Tyneside area, were offered career talks from fertility practitioners and scientists.

A careers 'speed dating' session where young people got the chance to chat in small groups to people working in a wide range of areas within reproductive health and science was incredibly popular. Alongside, was a large 'hands on' interactive exhibition, which included delivering a baby using a pelvic model, having a go on a laparoscopic trainer, and finding out how embryos are made and graded. 'Fertility in the Toon' was also an opportunity to show the BFS's Fertility Education Initiative (FEI) animations, that have proved so successful internationally.

Due to social distancing requirements the event this year, STEM 2020, sadly couldn't be held, which was disappointing indeed as we felt that younger people need extra encouragement and motivation to achieve their full potential now more than ever.

Like all organisations, the BFS has had to look at the way it ran its events. A key part of our calendar is the annual study week, which has been held in London in June for many years. This couldn't be organised as a face-to-face training event and so the entire study week was conducted as asynchronous virtual lectures, which proved very popular with a greater number of people being able to participate. This gave us the confidence to try the same thing with our STEM initiative, which has also become virtual.

The aims of the online STEM initiative are to:

  1. Make young people aware of the career options available in reproductive health and science.

  2. Explain some of the areas within our work that tie in with their A Level biology studies.

  3. Educate young people about their own fertility.

We have recorded a number of short video PowerPoint presentations, delivered by people who are national leaders in the field, in which they talk about their chosen career paths. We are a multidisciplinary society and these informal 'day in the life of' presentations reflect that.

BFS Chair, Dr Jane Stewart, talks about her life in reproductive medicine. Professor Allan Pacey, professor of Andrology at at the University of Sheffield, discusses the pleasures of a career in academic science. Dr Marta Jansa Perez, director of embryology at British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), explains why embryology is the best job that you can do. Eilis Moody, senior nurse at Newcastle Fertility Centre, outlines the breadth of role a fertility nurse has in the UK, and Dr Sofia Gameiro, senior lecturer at the school of psychology at Cardiff University, tells us about her life as a clinical psychologist. A special guest star, Sarah Norcross, director at Progress Educational Trust, the charity which publishes BioNews, discusses ethical issues relating to fertility practice, knowing that this is of interest to young people. We have also included two excellent FEI animations, that are well worth watching.

We are making schools across the UK aware that the STEM education package can be accessed from the BFS website, free of charge. We are really keen to encourage people to support their own local schools and we would be very happy for this package to be used as part of a STEM event that you might wish to organise. If you need any advice or help on how to use the package as part of your own STEM event, please feel free to contact us on bfs@profileproductions.co.uk.

By motivating young people to opt for careers in health care and the life sciences, you could really be improving their future life prospects and who knows, the next Sir Robert Edwards, a physiologist whose work led to the first 'test-tube baby,' and who won the 2010 Nobel prize in Medicine for the development of IVF, could be out there somewhere, waiting to be inspired...

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