Updated: Jan 28
Andy Cooksley is an RAF Information and Digital Capability Engineer and a STEM Ambassador. Answering the STEM NOW Q&A, Andy talks of the importance of staying informed both in everyday life and in a fast-paced work environment...
Who or what first inspired your curiosity in STEM?
AC: I grew up watching Skylab and the Space Shuttle programme on TV; as I got older, we were making huge breakthroughs in fundamental physics (discovery of quarks; unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces). BBC's Horizon and Tomorrow's World absolutely fascinated me. I knew I wanted to do something in science or engineering...
What was your personal journey into STEM, or your chosen field?
AC: At 18 I thought I was going to end up in science (Physics) rather than engineering, but then I applied to the RAF for University sponsorship and took that path. As an information / digital / IT engineer I've had to re-train and re-educate myself every few years to stay current - and that's included a Masters Degree. The RAF has also given me wider management and defence policy training, so I also have a Masters in Defence Studies.
Have you encountered/overcome any boundaries along your STEM journey?
AC: I guess I have been very lucky in that my teachers and then employer have been really supportive of my career and aspirations. One of the things I am really passionate about as one of the RAF's senior engineers, though, is identifying and removing barriers that others face. We're getting better at flexible working and the like, but there's still quite a lot to do.
What is something you are working on/have worked on that excites you? Or tell us about a general aspect/topic of STEM that excites you?
AC: Right now I am developing an in-house agile software development for the RAF. This is new ground for the Service, but we know it will be vital to keep our operational edge in the Information Age. It has meant a lot of work learning (another!) new field and setting up all the budgets and programme management, but it will be worth it and very exciting when it's ready.
What has been your most memorable moment as a STEM Ambassador and why?
AC: The RAF got really involved with the Learning Partnership / Bloodhound Supersonic Car 'Race for the Line' event in 2018. Watching STEM teams from schools across the North East building a car - in one hour - that could travel at over 60 mph, and then the excitement of the actual finals, was brilliant.
Why is it important that young people are introduced to STEM?
AC: STEM subjects are obviously massively important for the country, but they are also incredibly rewarding to the individual. And they teach critical, evidence based thinking which, in an age of 'Fake News' is massively important in itself. Finally, even if you aren't involved in STEM, it is definitely involved in your life from answering the climate emergency to keeping you online, so everyone needs to at least understand the basics.
What advice would you give a young person considering a future in STEM?
AC: Really simple - go for it! In more depth - there are so many STEM and STEM related careers, so take the time to look for one that interests you. What motivates you? What concerns you? And then what sort of STEM career might that relate to?
Why is diversity and inclusion in STEM fields important?
AC: Making progress in new fields, or making existing ones relevant and useful to as many people as possible, means we need as many ideas as possible. Diversity of ideas comes from diversity of experience, personality and background. If we exclude people, we don't get that diversity and we don't deliver the solutions that our planet and communities need.
What are your hopes for the future of STEM?
AC: I hope that more people will get involved in STEM careers, but also that those who don't see STEM as their vocation will put in the effort to understand it. STEM can help solve some of our biggest problems, but it also needs serious debate on some big ethical issues. If you aren't able to join the conversation, then your views won't be considered. So I think my big hope is for a baseline of 'STEM literacy' in everyone.