"If not you, then who?" - Science leaders empower school students at Oxford Nanopore event

"Science in the Real World" discussion drove debate about curiosity, resilience, and the power of innovation for students aspiring to a life in science, during STEM student day at Oxford Nanopore’s London Calling conference.

At Oxford Nanopore, our vision is to enable the analysis of anything, by anyone, anywhere. To make this a reality, Oxford Nanopore has a keen focus on enabling the next generation.

STEM event London Calling

Why? Inspiring and enabling young people is an investment in skills for our sector. Broadening opportunities to underrepresented groups can result in increased uptake and longevity in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career, and a greater diversity in the workforce leads to improved innovation. So - more great science. During London Calling 2024, our commitment to creating such opportunity was brought to life in a STEM day where we welcomed 60 UK high school students to speak with science leaders and experience mentoring.

Geared towards inspiring them into pursuing STEM and STEM-adjacent careers, the day included activities on:

  • The range of careers that make up a tech company like Oxford Nanopore.
  • How to conduct a commercial sales pitch, an engineering workshop, and speak with the media.
  • Learn about varied technical roles at Oxford Nanopore, from wet lab to computer science and mechanical engineering.

The highlight of the event was a panel discussion gathered together Nobel Laureate Professor Carol Greider, Bermudian entrepreneur Dr Carika Weldon, early career researcher Jasdeep Ghataora and Oxford Nanopore’s CEO Dr Gordon Sanghera and hosted by Zoe McDougall. Their collective message was clear: reconsider failure as a data point that adds knowledge and enables progress. Be actively curious. Develop resilience. The pursuit of innovation is key to shaping the future of science and technology.

STEM event panel London Calling

Dr Weldon captivated the audience with her empowering message: "If not you, then who?" Emphasising the importance of individual ideas and unique contributions, she reminded everyone that they have the power to achieve anything if they take the initiative and believe in their capabilities. She spoke on how she was and still is the only RNA scientist from her country and was called to lead the Covid-19 testing strategy for Bermuda in the height of the crisis. Although she doubted herself from time to time, being under 30 when her peers making decisions were much older, she drew on the fact that she had the expertise to save lives and if not her, then who else would do it?

Professor Greider urged students to find joy in the small, often unnoticed discoveries and to let their curiosities guide them. By asking themselves, "Where do my interests lie?" they can uncover their true passions and find where they belong in the vast field of science. Greider said people can discover these interests by speaking to as many people as possible; those conversations might lead to a switch or a spark that ignites their passion. She also mentioned the importance of practical work, explaining how hands-on experiences in labs can profoundly influence one’s scientific career.

Dr Jasdeep Ghataora shared his personal story of resilience, recalling how he approached his final exams just days after his father's passing. His message was one of perseverance: "Life throws curve balls at you, but you have to keep powering through it." Jasdeep said students should combine their passions with science and get creative, reminding them that the journey is not linear and filled with valuable lessons and experiences along the way. Channelling Ghandi’s "be the change you want to see in the world”, Jasdeep urged the students to consider the impact they could make. He added that practical work was crucial in his journey, allowing him to see real-world applications of scientific concepts.

Dr Gordon Sanghera's advice was pragmatic and motivational. He spoke to the importance of determination: "You can do it. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. The more they tell you that you cannot do it, the more determined you should be." Gordon also talked about the value of role models and listening to mentors and developing a well-rounded skillset, adding: “Having a good education is one small part. Being a rounded person and knowing what you want to do is essential.”

Gordon STEM event London Calling

Q&A Session

Active questioning is a key skill for science. The students were tutored to design questions for the panellists - considering who they were asking and what advice they were seeking. The students’ questions showed their ‘active listening’:

“How can we channel our curiosity at our age?”

Curiosity-driven exploration is key to a career in science, and practical work fosters a deeper interest in STEM fields. Carol Greider encouraged students to immerse themselves in environments that stimulate their curiosity: "Take every opportunity, to speak to as many people in as many areas of science as you can. Curiosity emerges when you have conversations."

“Have you got any anecdotes of risks that have or have not paid off, and if not, how did you recover from it?”

Gordon shared his perspective that negative results are “just data points. There is no such thing as bad data – a negative result can be important and shows you that the tested route was not correct”. "To progress, to move forward, you need to be bold and ambitious and learn on the way; when you do this, the fear of failure goes away." The panelists discussed risk appetite, whether in scientific research or entrepreneurship – risks are just opportunities to be managed.

“In what way did you face discrimination as a woman in STEM? And what did you do?”

Carika shared experiences and said it was crucial to stand firm in one's expertise: "You have to stand on the grounds that you know you are the expert. Academic titles such as doctor and professor are gender-neutral – reminding us that we are equal.”

“What has motivated you, despite not having any role models?”

Carika shared her absence of role models as a student and that she developed her resilience through inner strength and determination. These themselves were forged by acknowledging the significance of authenticity, transparency when things have not gone according to plan - and prioritising health over the long term.

“How much did practical work impact your desire to explore the field?”

Jasdeep spoke to the significance of hands-on experience in developing a deeper understanding and passion for science. "Practical work allows you to see the real-world applications of what you learn in the classroom, making the concepts come alive and fuelling your curiosity even further." The panelists’ diverse experiences and unwavering determination served as a powerful reminder that with curiosity, resilience, and self-belief, anyone can make significant contributions to the world of science.

  1. Frontiers in Education. The Role of Technology in Education: Challenges and Opportunities. [online] Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/education/articles/10.3389/feduc.2022.674669/full [Accessed 26 June 2024].
  2. Forbes Insights. Diversity Confirmed to Boost Innovation and Financial Results. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesinsights/2020/01/15/diversity-confirmed-to-boost-innovation-and-financial-results/ [Accessed 26 June 2024].