Why scientists give science a bad name - Financial Times – Paid Post by BP

Increasing the pool of talent

While efforts have been made over the past generation to improve the take up of STEM subjects, now there is an emphasis on broadening the net by building the cultural appreciation for science and the role science skills have in society. The theory is that by attracting more people to study science in general, the pool of STEM talent will increase.

“My understanding of physics is that it gives you a whole range of skills that are useful anywhere in the modern world.”

“I think science is not seen as an enabling subject by most students and parents,” says Prof Archer. “So people say English is useful for everything, maths is seen as useful for everyday life, but people don’t tend to see science in the same way.

“Yet my understanding of physics is that it gives you a whole range of skills – problem solving, data analysis, critical thinking, numeracy – that are useful anywhere in the modern world.”

That view is borne out by the high proportion of business leaders who have a science background. In fact, among the CEOs of the top 350 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2013, 98 of them graduated in science subjects, according to research by business intelligence company QlikTech.

Prof Archer, meanwhile, is keen to stick up for any scientists – and potential scientists – out there who might just happen to have Albert Einstein-like shock hair. “I don’t think scientists themselves are the problem per se,” she says. “I think the culture of science is part of the problem and we could usefully do more to open it up.”

The science of success

How STEM subjects can lead to more than just being a scientist

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg is an engineer by background and he says the training equipped him for leadership positions.

“The fact is no education is as broad as engineering, you get everything from organisation to economics,” he said in an interview for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. As their careers progress the vast majority of engineers, he says, “end up in leadership positions throughout companies, dealing with sales, organisation, production, political contacts, but most of them are not still in the real, true engineering role.”

Mr Svanberg is joined at the top of BP by CEO Bob Dudley who has a degree in chemical engineering. And while you might not be surprised to see scientists at the head of technology or industrial companies, they also appear at the top of other industries including consumer goods, packaging and banking.

Skills for life

If you study STEM subjects you are likely to be highly numerate and able to interpret and handle data. You will have a methodical, rational approach to problem solving and be used to working in teams to get projects done.

They are all useful skills in the modern knowledge economy with its increasing emphasis on technology and data. And they are also important skills for life says Professor Louise Archer: “Having a scientifically literate workforce is important – so that they can do good jobs that benefit society, but also for their own lives. With the scale of scientific and technological advancement and change in areas like sequencing the human genome, understanding science is important in all sorts of ways.”

Three top leaders you might not expect to have a STEM background

Mike Coupe

Chief Executive


Physics degree

Birmingham University

Michael Treschow



Engineering degree

Lund University, Sweden

Dame Pamela Louise Makin



Metallurgy PhD

Cambridge University

Mobile phones are science too

For young people to choose to study STEM subjects, they need to realise science is all around them

Even in an age where young people are often glued to mobile phones full of the latest technology, educators are still finding that science is not seen as something you need for everyday life.

“We’ve interviewed parents who say things like “Well, you don’t get much to do with science in your daily life, do you?” says Professor Louise Archer. “Whereas people in science would say: “Yes, it’s everywhere. It’s in the cup you are holding, the electricity when you turn on the light or the kettle.” And your mobile phone.

Making science relevant

Now King’s College London, in partnership with the Science Museum and BP, is trying to act on that insight and help teachers bring the science curriculum alive and most of all, make it relevant to young people’s lives, to try to increase participation in STEM subjects.

As part of that push, the BP Educational Service (BPES) has launched a series of new educational tools called “Where’s the Science in that?” for primary and secondary school students, involving videos, teachers’ notes, and printouts. Developed in consultation with teachers, they look at everyday settings such as the park, the airport, the beach and photography, and draw out the links to curriculum science to be found in each one. More topics are planned over the next couple of years.

Signs of progress

Teachers can use them to spark off their lesson, form the structure of a whole lesson, or support a series of lessons. More than 7,000 schools have used BPES resources this year, and in the last 12 months they were used by 51 per cent of secondary schools.

With government figures showing entries into STEM subjects for GCSE rose by more than 78,000 last year, Ian Duffy, community development manager for BP, is cautiously optimistic that the overall approach, underpinned by the ASPIRES research, is paying off: “People have been trying to increase the uptake of STEM subjects for the past 30 years so we need to see a consistent upward trend to really believe we are making progress, but we are starting to see the first signs of that.”