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Career Development for STEM professionals

Project leader(s): 
Clem Herman
Theme: 
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Archived

The overall aim of this project was to develop a sustainable framework for supporting students into STEM employment, focusing on careers advice and professional development for those who are seeking to enter, return to or progress their careers in this sector. A specific objective was to ensure that the Open University continues its highly successful and visible role in supporting women returning to STEM after a career break.

The starting point for the project was to evaluate and learn from the post-course experience of participants on the T160 and T161 Return to SET courses which ran from 2005 to 2011. Evidence from an evaluation in 2007 (Dale et al 2007) indicated high value for returners and large numbers of positive outcomes, but also revealed that there were likely to be many different points at which ‘returners’ move in and out of the labour market (Herman and Webster 2010).

Project activities included a survey of students 5 years after completion of the T160 module; in-depth career-biographical interviews; a practitioner focus group; and the development of a prototype animated careers guidance resource – the Racetrack.

Survey data indicated that over 70% of the respondents had found employment mostly in STEM related occupations. About half of these had ‘rebooted’, returning to their professions, while the remainder had ‘rerouted’ or changed career. Key findings included the identification of five on-ramping strategies(getting a foot in the door, networking, retraining, intermediary agency support and self-demotion) which had enabled the women to return to either full time or part time work. There were three main aspects of the T160 course which were particularly helpful in developing employability. Firstly, ‘identity work’ which involved building and improving CVs; secondly, peer support and sense of community which resulted in reduced isolation and increased confidence; and finally the provision of a structured and assessed PDP pathway starting with reflection and culminating in goal setting and an action plan.

Specific recommendations for supporting students back into STEM employment include:

  1. CV support should include guided development and structured feedback
  2. Provision for women returners should include community building and peer support
  3. PDP for mature students can best be achieved using a structured yet flexible pathway that takes into account differing lifecourse experiences
  4. employability interventions need to take account of structural inequalities
  5. networking should be actively promoted as a strategy.

The project has linked closely to the OU’s Employability strategy and worked in partnership with the Careers and Employability Project. As a result of the project, we have now begun to embed employability resources and activities within new modules, and are looking to ways to commercialise the Racetrack animation for a wider audience possibly via Open Learn. 

Related resources

Herman, C. (2013) Career Development for STEM Professionals. eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF)

Herman, Whitelegg, Chicot, Kirkup and Lewis poster (PDF)

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