"STEM: Branching Out" project puts down strong roots

Dr James Stones & Dr Catherine Jewell | January 2018

This month, the Beck Greener "STEM: Branching Out" project turns two years old.  As we enter a new year, it seems appropriate that we take a look back over the first two years to see just how far the project has grown.

The seeds of the project were sown in January 2016 when Beck Greener joined the STEM Ambassadors programme, now run by STEM Learning UK (part of The National STEM Learning Centre and Network).  The goal of the Network is to provide enrichment opportunities to inspire young people to engage more with and consider careers involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). The role of the STEM Ambassador is to help teachers and other educators achieve this goal, for example by mentoring students and participating in STEM clubs and careers events.

To date, of the eligible fee earners in the firm, over 80% have become STEM Ambassadors.   We have Ambassadors from a range of technical backgrounds including astrophysics, materials science, computing, physics, chemistry and biotechnology, and at all levels of the firm, including the Senior Partner, demonstrating the broad support within the firm for the project.  

We have taken part in careers speed networking events and Big Bang fairs, have judged science competitions and have provided one-to-one mentoring for exams.  We have also developed a "spot-the-invention" workshop where students are given old and new versions of ordinary household gadgets and have to identify the differences between the two versions, and what is clever about those differences.

STEM Ambassador, Dr Sarah-Jane Poingdestre, hosting the “invention spotting” workshop at the Big Bang fair at Westminster Academy in June 2016

From January 2016 to date, our Ambassadors have devoted over 120 hours to student engagement, reaching in excess of 1850 students from Years 5 to 12. 

In September 2016, we introduced pro bono assistance for school-aged students.  Here we provide advice regarding patent protection for potential inventions coming out of school science or engineering projects, and work with students to prepare and file UK patent applications for their inventions where appropriate.  The first pro bono application was filed in September 2017.

To facilitate and encourage staff participation in the project (or indeed any other volunteering), we introduced 1 day’s paid leave for voluntary work.

Alongside our work as STEM Ambassadors, we have introduced a full time paid internship for IT students on industrial placement, as part of their degree course.  Our first student joined us in January 2016, and our second in September that same year.  The first student, Harrison, commented:

“…The opportunities within the role and the wide scope of knowledge which accompanies this allowed me to understand what aspects of both the IT industry and general business which I enjoyed the most and therefore has allowed me to make an evaluated decision for where I would like to progress my career in the future…”

Our second student, Jacob, found the placement equally useful, and said:

“…If you’re looking for a placement that will push you to perform you best, offer you a diverse range of opportunities and experiences, which is supported by knowledgeable people who are always willing to help, then Beck Greener is a good choice…”

We were very pleased to have our early efforts rewarded.  Indeed, after only 6 months in the programme, Beck Greener was short-listed for the National STEM Inspiration Awards 2016 in the category “Most Dedicated Employer”.  This category recognised those STEM sector employers who were not ordinarily involved in inspiring young people in STEM, that have supported their employees to become STEM Ambassadors and then to actively engage with their local schools.

In July 2017, we expanded our project and hosted our first insight placement in association with the SThree Foundation and the charity Generating Genius.  Two Year 12 students joined us for one week to learn more about IP rights, and how to obtain and defend them.  Both students found the course engaging, with one of the students, Hari, who found the experience “memorable and though-provoking”, saying in his feedback:

“…This placement made me more aware of the broad nature of chemistry, a subject I am interested in studying at university level, as well as science more broadly.  I saw how the skills developed in the sciences were vital in this kind of job.  Not only did a degree in the sciences allow the team at Beck Greener to have greater product knowledge of what their clients wanted to patent, but also the skills involved in a science degree.  There were so many important skills, such as analysis, objective thinking, gathering solid evidence to support arguments, making comparisons, solving problems with absolute evidence and having an eye for detail, as this could change a claim altogether.”

Beck Greener STEM Ambassadors with the Year 12 students on the insight placement

Generating Genius is keen to expand its ties with the IP profession and, impressed by the student feedback from our placement, asked if they could roll out our insight placement programme to other firms.  Recognising the need for further engagement opportunities in IP, we were delighted to share details of our programme with Generating Genius and look forward to hearing that other firms have adopted it. 

In September 2017, we were very pleased to be short-listed as finalists for the Heart of the City Award for Best New Community Programme, in the 30th Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards.   This annual Award recognises companies that have implemented a strategic approach to community engagement for the first time in the last three years. 

Our Runner Up Certificate

Beck Greener STEM Ambassadors, Drs. James Stones and Sarah-Jane Poingdestre attended the awards dinner in September 2017 at Mansion House, together with Dr Ajay Sharman, Regional Network Lead – London & South East, STEM Learning UK.  We did not bring back the Dragon Award on that occasion but were suitably inspired to find ways to further our engagement work.

STEM Ambassador, Dr Poingdestre, with Dr Sharman of STEM Learning UK at the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards Dinner at Mansion House in September 2017

We work closely with STEM Learning UK and were more than happy to assist them and Engineering UK with the re-launch of Big Bang London.  There were two re-launch events in November 2017, the first for schools which took place at the Natural History Museum and the second for businesses which took place at City Hall in London.  Our CSR Partner, Dr James Stones, was invited to speak at both events to discuss engagement with Big Bang from a business perspective.

STEM Ambassador, Dr James Stones, speaking at the Big Bang London re-launch event for businesses at City Hall on 24 November 2017

At Beck Greener, we are very pleased to note that engagement with the STEM Ambassador programme within the IP profession appears to be increasing.  Indeed, following an invitation from STEM learning, in December 2017 we met with an IP lawyer from another firm in London.  Together with a number of her colleagues, she had recently joined the STEM Ambassador programme and was interested in learning more about our STEM: Branching Out project.  We were only too happy to discuss the project and to share our experiences from the first couple of years with a fellow IP attorney. 

Over the coming year, Beck Greener is hoping to strengthen its ties with Generating Genius, who themselves work very closely with the groups of students amongst whom we are most keen to promote STEM careers in general and the IP profession in particular.  In this regard and in parallel with our other engagement work, we hope to offer an internship during the summer holidays to a university student interested in pursuing a career in IP.

Overall, we are very proud of our project and how it has developed over the first two years.  In this regard, Dr Stones, comments:

“…The project has delivered on all of its expected objectives in helping to raise the profile of STEM careers with school-aged students, to develop the so-called "soft" skills of our Ambassadors and other members of the firm and to raise the profile of the firm. 

However, the real bonus has been in providing non-work-critical opportunities for our people to develop their core skills, and in attracting potential new members of staff already having the character and values aligned with those of the firm.”

We believe that the "STEM: Branching Out" project has put down strong roots in the first two years and with careful nurturing will continue to grow over the next few years.

Dr Catherine Jewell
Project leader, “STEM: Branching Out”