“Encouragement needs to be shown for STEM in both men and women”

Science Apprentice, UCD Institute for Discovery

On Monday, I was interviewed by Keith Finnegan on Galway Bay FM about the Science Apprentice book series. I contributed to the fourth book in the series, Computers and Data’, which is out this Saturday, November 19, as part of Science Week.

KF: “You’re really bringing it down to the younger people.”

JB: “I think it’s really important that we encourage science, technology, engineering and maths amongst the younger generation, and the earlier the better to create that awareness because I know certainly when I was growing up, an awareness of, for example, engineering and what that was really only happened at the very later stages of school. These books – the Science Apprentice series of books – are answering a lot of the questions that children have, but also that their parents would have about science and engineering and technology, and how it relates to the world around us, and simple stuff like, how do people travel to space, where does electricity come from, what is big data, all of these things that are part of our lives, and also part of our future lives, and changing a lot, because of these new technologies.”

KF: “They are being distributed in the Irish Independent, and in Tesco stores as well.”

JB: “They’ve been actually for the past two or three weeks part of the Irish Independent on Saturdays, and for the next two or three weeks as well you can pick up a copy. Next week is actually the Computers and Data’ one that I was involved in, so that’s available on Saturday, and the following Saturday it’s one on what’s called the ‘Connected Future’.”

KF: “‘Connected Future’. Is it all changing very quickly John?

JB: “I think we’re pretty aware that everything has changed so much in the past, even, 10 years. So if you think about 2007, which is just nine years ago, the iPhone came out, and that was really the first of the smartphones that now, so many people have. Even in that period of nine years, we’ve seen a huge change in the way people are interacting with communications and with computers, that we now all have these very sophisticated computers in our pockets. So that’s one indication of how quickly things can change, and certainly the indications are it’s going to continue into the future.”

KF: “We’re in Science Week, and it runs indeed for nearly two weeks now at this stage. Again, there’s great interest though in it, and those that started this, including the former Minister Noel Treacy, are to be commended for the great work that they do in keeping this very much alive and very successful.”

JB: “I think it’s important to realise the practicalities of this, in terms of jobs, and future employability for our young people. There’s definitely a shortage of people who have strong science, engineering, technology and maths skills, so the more that we can encourage this during Science Week the better.

“It’s also important to think about the ratio of men and women in science at the moment and technology and engineering, and it’s a well-known fact that there is less women involved in STEM-related education and also jobs for no good reason. I’ve seen various studies where, for example, in terms of programmers, in a blind test, women programmers perform better than men. Certainly, there’s a lot of encouragement that needs to be shown for STEM in both men and women. I’ll give you a couple of interesting stories.

“One of the first women programmers in the world was actually from the West of Ireland, she was from Donegal, Kay McNulty. She worked on a computer called the ENIAC, which was the world’s first programmable computer. She would have been part of that first team. We have some great examples of very famous Irish people – both men and women – who’ve done very well in the world of science, technology and engineering.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at an event in Dublin where Susan McKenna-Lawlor, who is an Irish scientist, was honoured for her pioneering work in the area of space travel. We have some great standard bearers for STEM in Ireland, and I think on both sides, for men and women, we need to promote those and again encourage numbers from young people into our courses.”

KF: “The beauty of studying what we’re talking about today, be it, if they go into engineering, if they go into whatever field that they go into, be it science or engineering or whatever, they’re automatically employable.”

JB: “Absolutely, there’s great opportunities for jobs, if I think of some of the companies around Galway, for example, we’ve got lots of big names like Valeo, which is employing hundreds of people out in Tuam, we have Intel down in Shannon, not too far away from us in Galway, we have SAP, HP Enterprise, Avaya, Cisco, there’s lots of big names there. But we also have our own up-and-coming Irish companies like PlanNet21, and CBE, which is a company in Mayo doing stuff in the checkout systems space. So we have a lot of really interesting companies and they are really crying out for people to join them. For example, I’m in the Engineering Department in the College and all of our graduates are snapped up straightaway.”

The Science Apprentice books are free to collect with the Irish Independent in Tesco stores every Saturday until November 26.

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