Jen Barfoot is a STEM enthusiast, volunteers as a Civilian Instructor with the Air Cadets and is also a STEM Ambassador. Answering the STEM NOW Q&A, she paints a picture of how fascinating STEM can be...
Who or what first inspired your curiosity in STEM?
JB: I can never remember not having an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn. At home, my family encouraged me to pursue my interests. To never give up exploring, learning and enjoying the universe and all the mysteries and adventures it had to offer. They took me and my sibling to local places including the zoo, museums and science centre. On rainy days there were components to use to make circuits, fossils and rocks to examine and a box of Lego to build whatever came to mind. During crisp winter nights I would sit in the garden and stare at celestial objects through binoculars until the cold caused me to retreat indoors. All of this paired with a love of reading fueled my imagination and my passion for STEM.
What was your personal journey into STEM, or your chosen field?
JB: At school I had some really great teachers who took me deeper into the world of STEM. I enjoyed the science experiments during lessons and field trips including a visit to the coastline and cliffs of Hengistbury Head. For GCSEs I took the STEM subjects of double science, maths, geography and systems and control. For the latter, I was one of just three females taking the subject out of the whole year group. At college there was a bump in the road and I drifted from the path for a short time. Despite this I later became a Civilian Instructor for the Air Cadets. Then, in 2017 I became a STEM Ambassador and have not looked back since. During my journey to try and inspire young people into STEM I am now inspired by them and have recently decided to pursue my STEM ambitions and dreams once more.
Have you encountered/overcome any boundaries along your STEM journey?
JB: Suffering disappointment can be a major setback for anyone. On results day after my first year at college it soon became apparent things had not gone according to plan. Yes, I had passed my first year in science, but only just. For a subject I was passionate about, it was a major blow. I was overcome with a sense of failure. How could this have happened after putting so much hard work in? After speaking with an advisor, I left with a false understanding that I was not good enough to achieve in science. I could not see any alternatives, nor was I directed to any other options, so I cut my losses and went off to focus on other subjects. Despite this, as time passed I found myself being drawn back to the wonders of science every day. In recent years I found out that I have some difficulties with maths. Looking back I now know the main reason for my results that day. I have since found new strategies to overcome this and as a bonus have gained a new appreciation for maths. Now, my STEM journey continues, I just took a detour along the way.
What is something you are working on/have worked on that excites you?
JB: Space has always fascinated me. We live in exciting times, technologies are advancing and new projects for reaching further into space are already in motion. Whilst looking out to the stars it also reminds us of our own amazing planet. To understand Earth we can study other planets, sometimes finding answers in the most unlikely of places. Whether being grounded by our awe-inspiring home or allowing our curiosity to journey amongst the stars there is no end in sight for the adventures and possibilities.
What has been your most memorable moment as a STEM Ambassador and why?
JB: There have been so many but if I were to choose one it would be taking part as a judge on the project panel for First Lego League in 2019. The ideas and teamwork displayed amongst participants was great to see. Everyone had something to contribute to their group and if something went wrong they would discuss ideas, value each other’s views and adapt to come up with a solution. It is a great reminder that teamwork in STEM is essential and that STEM can help bring people together to achieve a set goal.
Why is it important that young people are introduced to STEM?
JB: The future depends on it, there are always going to be problems that need solving and new discoveries to find. There are roles that have not even been invented yet and it is key we have individuals who are eager and excited by such opportunities. Even more importantly may we show young people that there is no stereotypical image of a scientist, engineer or mathematician, the world of STEM is a great place to just be yourself, to develop as an individual but to also have the opportunity to work as a team. Whether someone chooses to go into a STEM career or not, STEM is everywhere and even the basic skills can be something to take forward into everyday life.
What advice would you give a young person considering a future in STEM?
JB: Go for it! Follow what you enjoy and look into all the possibilities on offer. Ask questions and see if you can speak with companies or those working in the sector/role you wish to explore. Most importantly remember it is OK to change and adapt your plans and ideas, people learn more about themselves as they move through life and as such interests can alter. During the pursuit of your chosen career you may come across a few obstacles along the way. If you experience setbacks do not let that stop you, if it is something you are passionate about there is always more than one way to achieve your goals.
Why is diversity and inclusion in STEM fields important?
JB: STEM is a place where we can celebrate and embrace differences and variety. Each individual is unique and has their own attributes to bring to the table of STEM. Therefore it is important to encourage as many people as possible to be involved. It is through this that new perspectives, ideas and approaches can lead to many more discoveries, solutions and make the future of STEM a bright and welcoming place to be.
What are your hopes for the future of STEM?
JB: STEM has endless possibilities and opens up countless opportunities. Therefore it is important that we continue to inspire people to participate in this ever evolving area. As STEM goes from strength to strength, may we find new innovative and creative ways to share STEM with others, making it accessible for all to experience it.