In the second session of the day, many of the issues highlighted in the introductory session were re-iterated by Professor Louise Archer, including the need for robust qualitative research into what careers young people go into, and why some young people avoid STEM subjects.

The ASPIRES project sought to understand how young people’s aspirations develop, particularly exploring what influences the likelihood of them aspiring to a science-related career.

One of the key findings was that young people aspired to a varied range of careers and were generally ambitious for their careers, but they sort themselves into either 'STEM students' or 'non-STEM' at an early age, which affected the careers they aspired to.  

Gender perceptions also play a role in the minds of young people and their influencers when choosing careers.

The concept of science capital gives us insight into why and how some people engage with STEM and others do not.


What is science capital?

Science capital can be likened to a holdall that carries all science related experiences a person has. These include:

  1. Science literacy ('what you know')
  2. Science-related attitudes and values ('how you think')
  3. Out of school science behaviours ('What you do')
  4. Science at home ('who you know')

The more science capital you have, the more engaged you are with science and feel it is useful and important in your life.


Science capital in the UK

A nationally representative survey conducted with 3,658 11- to 15-year-olds in England (as part of the Enterprising Science project in 2014) found that:

  • 5% of young people have ‘high’ science capital (they are more likely to be socially advantaged, and male)
  • 68% of young people have medium levels of science capital
  • 27% of young people have low science capital


How does science capital affect engagement?

Any science engagement experience has the potential to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds with the opportunities and wonders of STEM.

Taking an approach informed by science capital will enable you to be accessible and open for the widest possible audience.

It challenges us to look critically at how we deliver and develop experiences so that we value and build on the different knowledge and cultural experiences people bring with them.

By helping everyone to feel included and to have a positive experience with science, you can help more people to engage with STEM, which, over time, will help grow their science capital.