Learning from science insights

Learning from science insights

Learning from science insights

STEM Insight placements allow science teachers from across the UK to enrich their experience and gain new content for their lessons by spending a few days working in leading academic and industrial organisations. The placements give teachers the opportunity to get hands-on with cutting-edge science and to broaden their awareness of science career opportunities that are available to their students.

This year, the Babraham Institute hosted two teachers on a STEM Insight placement. In October we welcomed Helen Penketh and Sarah Hyland. Helen is a biology teacher from The Manchester College, the UK’s largest further education college with campuses across Manchester. Sarah is a technician from West Suffolk College a vocational and academic further education college centred in Bury St Edmunds.

Together Helen and Sarah ran experiments with group leaders, postdoc and PhD students in the Cook, Stephens, Casanueva, Okkenhaug and Houseley labs and visited the Institute’s Mass Spectrometry and Imaging facilities. Amongst other things they ran gels, examined worms, carried out flow cytometry tests and investigated genome editing. Over the week they also visited several campus companies including AstraZeneca, Phoremost and Kymab. Through meetings with the Institute’s Impact team, Helen and Sarah also heard about how the Institute maximises the value of our research and communicates it to the wider world.

Reflecting on her expectations of the placement, Sarah said: “I have to be honest and say that I was not really sure what to expect, only that it was going to be a full week. But the variety was great, I really enjoyed experiencing the connections and distinctions between academic research and industry. I’m also especially interested in the public engagement and outreach side of the Institute’s work. I was glad that we were able to get some hands-on experience too.”

When asked about the most interesting part of the week, Helen said: “It really is hard to pinpoint just one aspect; everybody was so accommodating to us and extremely helpful. I found the types of microscopy particularly interesting. The images they produce provide a great resource for examining the structure of cells, which will help me in my teaching of cell biology. I learnt a lot from the sessions in the Immunology lab and with Kymab.  I was able to refresh and update my immunology subject knowledge and learn new technical procedures like flow cytometry and mass spectrometry.”

Both visitors said that they weren’t expecting there to be so much going on at the Institute and that they were inspired and amazed by the work being done here and at the companies on Campus. They learnt a lot about the latest science and have plenty of new ideas and careers advice that they’re keen to take back to their colleges.

Helen is keen to use her experiences to add to her teaching: “I will be using all the subject knowledge to update my lessons and I have loads of new resources to give the students a better learning experience. It was a great insight into the lives of my students, as I now know how it feels to have so much new information to process and learn from. I intend to make the best use of the connections I have made to provide my learners with as much career information as possible, i.e. what possible career paths can be pursued from a scientific qualification.”

Sarah is looking forward to recommending the placement to colleagues: “I would highly recommend this placement to colleagues. It was a full-on week but everyone was really friendly, welcoming and open to give up time in their busy day to talk to us. They provided hands-on experience and spoke to us about their work and their careers so far as well as kindly providing us with copies of presentations and resources.

“Moreover, the campus site is beautiful and it is held together by teams of people from the catering staff (the cheese scones are to die for), the technical support staff, admin staff and security staff who all contribute to a warm and friendly environment and who help in a big way to keep the science happening.”

Both teachers kept daily blogs during their placements. See how Helen got on here, or hear from Sarah here. As well as providing detailed accounts of their week in the Institute, the blogs provide useful teaching tips and resources.

The STEM Insight placements are coordinated across the UK by STEM Learning and currently include around 40 organisations from different areas of science and technology spanning both academia and industry. Teachers from state-funded schools and colleges are able to access funding for their placements thanks to Project ENTHUSE, a fund supported by government, charities and private enterprises to support inspired science teaching by providing continuing professional development for teachers. To find out more about placements at the Institute contact pe@babraham.ac.uk.


Helen Penketh (top left) and Sarah Hyland (bottom left) try out pipetting in the Institute labs. Babraham Hall (right).

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to undertake world-class life sciences research. Its goal is to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Research focuses on signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing.