Vertex launches new STEM education programmes and Learning Lab

Pharmaceutical company and Advanced Oxford member, Vertex, has launched several new STEM education programmes and a new state-of-the-art Learning Lab space at the global biotech’s European research site at Milton Park in Science Vale.

The Lab space and programmes are designed to create fun, hands-on experiences for students to explore science in the real world alongside Vertex scientists and mentors, giving them the skills needed to succeed in a STEM career. It forms part of Vertex’s broader commitment to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM, including a £36.5 million investment globally through to 2028 to equip underserved students to engage with STEM. Vertex operates similar STEM programs for students in Boston and San Diego, where its other two research sites are located.

Results from a recent survey conducted by Vertex in the UK found that more than two thirds (38%) of students are more likely to consider studying STEM subjects now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. It also found that STEM subjects are among the most popular subjects to study at school. However, a disparity remains amongst young people; while 58% would be interested in studying a STEM subject at university, boys are still more likely to show an interest than girls. The survey found that less than 10% of girls want to study IT, computer science, economics, and engineering.

Survey results show stark contrast between private and state school STEM participation at A level

The research also found a stark contrast in students from private and state schools; 90% of privately educated young people said they will study a STEM subject at A-level, compared with 70% of students from state schools. It was also found that 75% of private school respondents plan to study STEM at university, compared with only 57% of state school students. These findings suggest an urgent need for programmes, like those offered by the Learning Lab, to support young women and students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM careers to pursue and succeed in STEM fields.

Vertex completed the build of the Learning Lab in early 2021 despite COVID-19 and just concluded a paid virtual Learning Lab work experience to ensure students did not miss out on much-needed educational opportunities during the pandemic. The team adapted and created new virtual STEM activities in addition to providing online career support and mentorship opportunities for students from the Oxford and London area. Vertex looks forward to welcoming students and teachers to the Lab in person as soon as it is safe to do so.

“We are delighted to be launching our Learning Lab in Oxford where we seek to inspire a new generation of scientists and support young people from the local community at this crucial stage of their education,” said David Price, Vice President and Oxford Research Site Head at Vertex. “We continue to see the impact of the pandemic across society and education, particularly for those from underserved groups, even after we emerged from lockdown. That’s why we’re investing in the development of future STEM leaders and collaborating with students and teachers to provide an invaluable hands-on STEM learning experience both virtually and in person.”

The Learning Lab is envisioned as an ‘inspiration hub’ for students, enabling them to gain unique insight into STEM careers within the pharmaceutical sector, covering concepts from identifying disease areas to how the Research and Development process works to develop new and innovative medicines for patients. Students also strengthen their STEM skills by designing experiments, using cutting-edge technologies, as well as developing professional contacts to help improve their career readiness.

“There is a huge gap to be filled to ensure that those studying STEM subjects are representative of our society,” Samantha Knowlton, Principal of UTC Oxfordshire commented. “Programmes such as those taking place at Vertex’s Learning Lab are crucial for providing positive and hands-on learning experiences to inspire the next generation of scientists. My students have been so excited to work at Vertex, learning from leading scientists and furthering their understanding of a career in STEM, and I look forward to seeing how this partnership continues to develop over the coming years.”

The survey also found that the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the polarised views of students: those who were already interested in STEM now feel even more motivated to continue to study and work in STEM; whilst those who were not previously interested now feel even less drawn to a STEM degree or career.