Joana is a 16 year old STEM enthusiast who gives talks and presentations in schools, universities and groups to engage them in STEM subjects. She is passionate about engaging more girls in STEM, and actively runs clubs, social groups and campaigns in order to do this. She loves all areas of science, and especially loves answering impossible questions. She blogs at jowhoblogs.wordpress.com.
You've probably seen the word STEM almost everywhere in the media, in school or just going about your day-to-day life. Simply typing in STEM education brings up hundreds of thousands of different articles debating the reason for its existence, its impact on the world and perhaps most importantly, why it should be taught.
I have always had a passion for STEM subjects, and coupled with the fact I have had a very privileged education, it was always strange to imagine the world where people do not get a STEM education, and even worse, do not believe in the importance of one. I am here to share with you the top three things I have learned from a STEM education, and why I think it is so fundamental to education today.
1. VALUABLE LIFE SKILLS
Whether you want to work in the STEM field or not, I guarantee you will need to implement and call on skills you have learned while studying STEM subjects. First and foremost, the advancing world of Computer Science within the working world has led to a shortage of those with the necessary skills to complete the ever more demanding and frequent tasks needed. Aside from that, the ability to problem-solve and think your way around hurdles are key skills that you learn while exploring the world of any STEM subjects which are super important when entering the working world. Most of all, however, the dedication, perseverance, and passion you display when pursuing your love for a STEM subject, for example, the sciences, is a quality that is highly valued.
2. DEVELOP A LIFE-LONG LOVE FOR THE SUBJECTS
Some people are born with a love of a certain subject, other's develop it. Before studying STEM subjects, I thought they were nerdy and boring, but the more I delved deeper into them I discovered that they all had a certain beauty about them. Chemistry, for example, teaches you about how it is that jelly jiggles, or helium is lighter than air, allowing you to have those balloons at your birthday party. In Physics, you discover how it is you're currently stood on Earth and not floating in space, not to mention why it is we circle the sun and learn about billions and billions of other space bodies out there. Science, and other STEM subjects for that matter, help you answer all the 'Why?' questions you had, but your parents could never answer, and there is a certain beauty in that.
3. MEET NEW, INTERESTING PEOPLE
The thing about the STEM community is that everyone shares similar interests. They are curious, always interested in learning more, and share a common passion for getting more people involved in the subjects they love. Approach anyone in a conference with a similar love for STEM, and you'll find something to talk about straight away. Some of my best friendships have come from meeting people from within this community and finding an instant connection with someone so like-minded. This is not to say that everyone within the STEM community is the same as you, and sometimes this can be even more beneficial. Meeting someone who has a totally different view on the same subject as you can help you develop your perspective of the world around you, and generate a more open minded approach to future questions you investigate. It's a win-win.
There are so many more reasons as to the importance of a STEM education, but only so many lines of text you will read before getting bored so I will leave you with this:
"The future belongs to the CURIOUS. The ones who are not afraid to TRY it, EXPLORE it, POKE at it, QUESTION it, and turn it inside out."
Dr. Helen Hynes is a lecturer in Clinical Medicine at University College Cork and has worked both in Emergency Medicine and as a GP. Misprescription by doctors has been identified as a significant contributor to antibiotic resistance, so Lablinn interviewed Helen to get an insight into the GP's point of view.
A significant amount of antibiotics are mis-prescribed (at least 30% in the US, according to the CDC). What do you think causes that, apart from limitations of diagnostics? Could anything change in medical school/practice to help?
I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it would be preferable to have diagnostic techniques available to ensure that an antibiotic is warranted, and that the correct antibiotic is being prescribed, but given limitations in facilities and the costs involved, this is not possible in many cases.
Secondly, patient education would help. Some patients still expect an antibiotic when they present to the doctor with an upper respiratory tract infection, sore throat etc. Better health education in schools would help, and possibly media based public education initiatives.
Medical students are taught how and when to prescribe antibiotics. They also receive communication skills training, but If I could think of 1 thing that might help, it would be to ensure that all medical students are taught how to deal with confrontation and difficult consultations so that they would be better able to refuse an inappropriate request for a prescription. If doctors were less busy and had more time to explain their reasoning for prescribing / not prescribing to patients, that would also help, but in the current context, many general practices are understaffed, and GPs are very pressed for time.
What do you think should be top priority in tackling antibiotic resistance and why? Educating the public, courses for doctors, interventions in the agricultural industry?
I think the joint top priorities should be changes in agriculture and educating the public. The use of antibiotics in agriculture to promote animal growth and to prevent infection (unless for specific case) should be discouraged.
I think doctors are well aware of antibiotic resistance issues. If antibiotics get prescribed inappropriately, I think it is because of a breakdown in communication between doctor and patient, with the doctor unwilling to refuse the patient's request for a prescription, to avoid confrontation.
What do you think are the most important messages to get across to the public?
Take your doctor's advice on whether an antibiotic is needed in your case or not. Don't take antibiotics that have not been prescribed for you. Head colds, the flu and most sore throats are viral and will usually resolve in a couple of days with rest, fluids and simple analgesia (for example paracetamol). Don't stock up on antibiotics that you can buy over the counter in other less regulated countries.
An opinion piece called “The antibiotic course has had its day” was published in the British Medical Journal on 26 July saying that we should stop advising patients to complete the course of antibiotics prescribed. It argues that overuse is the real danger for antibiotic resistance, saying that different patients respond differently, that the 10-14 day treatment period for beta-lactam antibiotics is not based on evidence, that for example a shorter course is just as effective as a longer one for hospital-acquired pneumonia and contributes less to antibiotic resistance and that medical professionals and educators should tell the public we were wrong. The piece has also had a lot of pushback, and global public health organisations still advise completing the course. Where do you stand on the matter? Practically, what should we say when educating people?
This article makes a number of excellent points. We must ensure that the antibiotics prescribed and the duration of treatment are evidence based. Longer courses are not necessarily better. However, the responsibility here should rest with the prescriber to ensure that the appropriate drug, dose and duration are selected. We should not ask the patent to decide when he / she is better. Stopping an antibiotic too soon can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. Encouraging patients to stop antibiotics early also increases the likelihood of them having left over antibiotics at home, which they may take inappropriately on a later occasion.
Lots of research is underway looking for alternatives to antibiotics, like phage therapy and predatory bacteria. Do you see any potential there? What do you think the future looks like for bacterial infections?
Phage therapy holds definite potential for the future, but more trials and research are needed.
Thank you! For more information on what you can do to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, click here. For more on new tools science is trying to defeat bacteria, click here.
Anastazija is an 18-year-old science enthusiast from Slovenia. She is also passionate about the environment and a devoted Greenpeace volunteer. She's currently a student of the IB Diplomma Programme and doing research in the field of chemistry in collaboration with the National Institute of Chemistry.
SCIENCE AND ME
In all honesty, I never thought I’d end up wanting to study science.
Ever since I was little I’ve dreamt about learning languages and reading books and probably studying literature because all I’ve ever wanted was to understand more and to be surrounded by stories. In school I excelled in languages, writing and chemistry, but I never paid chemistry any mind until a little over a year ago.
Chemistry class was suddenly the most fun, and learning about the human body in biology was the most interesting thing I’d ever learnt. I remember actually looking forward to exams because it meant I’d have to make notes and study the topics in more depth. I remember looking forward to lab practicals to see colours changing when I added two substances together or to see actual cells under a microscope, and I remember thinking that this is what I want to do with my life. Science is something I will never get tired of and I think that was the time when I fell in love with it. I admit it sounds overly cheesy and like I’m making it all up but that's actually how it happened. One day I just came home and said that this is it, that science, specifically chemistry and biology, is what I want to study, what I want to do with my life. I remember my mom being so surprised because this was a completely new thing for her.
Anyway, after I decided to study science I also decided to change schools. I'm now doing the IB Diploma Programme which allows me to study fewer subjects but in greater depth. Two of these subjects are chemistry and biology, both at a higher level. Additionally, I was offered the opportunity to do research in chemistry as a side project. My friend and I volunteered and the experience is everything I’ve hoped for and more. We got an outside mentor, a doctor from our national institute of chemistry, who had an idea for a project and we were invited to join. I won’t go into detail about the nature of the project itself but what I do want to point out is that it has been an incredible experience. I got the opportunity to work in the lab of our national institute with chemicals and processes I didn’t have access to in our school lab, I'm working under a doctor and got to meet a whole bunch of amazing people who were as enthusiastic about science as I was and I’ve gained knowledge I never knew I would, at least not in high school.
I don’t think my interest in science would be this big if it weren’t for supportive teachers and experiments. It was through practical experiments that I found that science isn’t just memorising facts by heart but is so much more. It’s constant wondering and experimenting. This is also one of the reasons I’ve changed schools; in the Diploma Programme, I have lab practicals almost every other week and 20% of my final grade is a research project I have to come up with and conduct on my own. It's very important to understand that research projects can be done by complete beginners and will surely spark more interest for science then just memorizing textbooks.
“Research projects can be done by complete beginners and will surely spark more interest in science than just memorizing textbooks.”
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it's possible that my interests changed so drastically, from languages and stories to molecules and reactions and I’ve come to a realisation: all I want to do is to understand as much of this world as possible. Science offers a peek through the looking glass into the inner workings of life on earth. It offers an opportunity to understand all the whys and the hows. But most importantly for me, science unravels the secret stories hidden in us and around us: the story about how we breathe or about why some plants can survive in a certain environment and others can’t.
Science is something I want to keep learning about for as long as I possibly can.