In September 2019, Dr Dorottya (Dory) Polos joined Oundle as its first ever Imperial College London Outreach Fellow on a two year contract. We ask Dory to reflect upon her experiences.
What was it about the role here at Oundle that appealed to you in the first instance?
It was the opportunity to carry out meaningful Science outreach that most appealed to me. I also wanted to teach and whilst I knew it would be a steep learning curve, it would also be the fastest path into the profession. The role has re-affirmed my passion for teaching and outreach as well as my enthusiasm for science. Since joining Oundle and being part of the outreach team, I have frequently been able to discuss my enthusiasm and ambition for science, both with colleagues and a host of external speakers, which has been really rewarding and inspiring.
What were you doing before starting at Oundle? What is your background?
I was a postgraduate research student at Imperial College London, where I am still working in the Dallman lab on my PhD research, investigating bone marrow transplantation using zebra fish as a model organism. I have spent many long hours in dark rooms carrying out microscopy to collect data! Alongside my PhD studies I was also very involved with a Dance society and Imperial’s outreach team which ultimately led me to Oundle.
How much of your role is outreach and what does that mean?
In terms of timetabling, my time is split equally between Oundle and three of our partner schools: Oundle Primary School, Kettering Buccleuch Academy (KBA) and Thomas Deacon Academy (TDA). My work with these schools has enabled me to observe lessons and gain an insight into different teaching styles and classroom management techniques. I also run Science Clubs which, whilst requiring significant preparation, have been the most rewarding part of my week. They present pupils with the rare opportunity to enjoy hands-on experience outside the classroom in addition to further, small group tutorial style sessions.
For me, outreach is about trying to raise aspirations and attainment of children from under-represented groups and under-privileged backgrounds. This is at the heart of the Imperial College London programme which is now being extended regionally through STEM Potential at Oundle. We are working with groups from Years 10 – 13 across our partner schools and we see each year group once per half term for a day of STEM workshops in SciTec. These sessions are not just another lesson, but rather extension and enrichment of what they do in their own schools, using all the resources at our disposal at SciTec. For example, we might aid the classroom teaching of acids and bases through a practical Chemistry session on making bath bombs which the pupils would then take home. One of the joys has been the ability to mentor these pupils, building productive and sustainable relationships throughout the course of the programme. We have also established links between them and Imperial College’s own STEM Ambassadors, raising awareness of higher education opportunities.
“The creation of this role adds an important strand to our partnerships programme whilst developing further our close relationship with Imperial College London in the provision of STEM education to our pupils. We remain true to our engineering roots as a school and by drawing on our shared vision and resources, we are able to extend the learning and excitement of stem subjects to as many children as possible in the schools around us.”Sarah Kerr-Dineen, Head of Oundle School
Where would you like your own career to take you?
Teaching and STEM outreach is my passion. That is why I came to Oundle and that is the path I want to continue on. I am currently applying to teacher training programmes, including both PGCEs and Researchers in Schools which also offers an outreach element. It has been my work with the younger years that I have found most satisfying – seeing a glimmer of excitement in a pupil’s eyes that may just inspire and motivate them to learn more, to find out more and perhaps to think about STEM in new ways. I’ve also been inspired by the staff here at Oundle – seeing just how much they give of themselves to their pupils outside the classroom.
How have you managed to continue and adapt the outreach programme through lockdown? We have definitely tried to maintain some momentum with STEM Potential. We have kept in touch with pupils through one to one online tutorials, both with children and their parents. We currently run virtual sessions via Teams, using the time to cover tricky topics and add an element of excitement and real world application to the syllabus content. We’ve had some amazing speakers talk about their research too and we hope these sessions will increase our reach significantly as we will be opening them up to children and parents from multiple partner schools. Much of our work has been focussing on the younger pupils, Year 4 up to Year 8. This gives us the best chance to address from the outset the biases that exist in STEM and open up opportunity from an early age.
Why is the teaching of Science/STEM so important to you?
STEM can often be perceived as tricky and there are certain biases that have been associated with it. At undergraduate level life, Sciences (such as Biology and Chemistry) have a good gender balance. However, when we look at Physics, Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, this balance is lost and there are fewer women studying these subjects. Currently only 35% of STEM students in the UK are women. Similarly, BAME students are significantly underrepresented in STEM. If we then look at positions of leadership and seniority within universities and research institutions, these figures get much more disheartening. An important aspect of addressing these inequalities is about providing accessible high-quality education and inspiration to all. I believe that a good foundation in Science education is crucial for everyone and without this, issues such as the increase in the antivaxxers that we are currently seeing, are more likely to arise.
More than ever there is a spotlight on scientists but I worry that there is still a lot of mistrust over the role of Science and scientists themselves. There remains a lack of popular familiarity with scientific method and terminology, as well as the mechanisms itself and education of these factors is key. It has been really encouraging to me that at TDA we have had more girls than boys attend Science Club and I hope that by being a female role model and showing pupils what real-life scientists look like, we can start to change this tide.
Imperial College London Outreach Fellow