Time to tackle the reluctance to embrace science-related subjects

Report examines why students, especially females, continue to avoid STEM subjects in school

AbbVie recently hosted a Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) focused event, in partnership with The Irish Times, which aimed to explore how Irish industry, educators, professional bodies and other interested stakeholders can work together to deliver optimum student engagement in the STEM disciplines and help steer our young people to future career success.

The STEM Paths meeting and subsequent report examined the barriers to engagement in science-related subjects amongst Irish students and outlined a series of recommendations to improve Irish student engagement in science and science-related careers.

The report explores the negative impact this trend could potentially have on Ireland’s talent pipeline, particularly in key pharma and biopharma sectors.

AbbVie supported the initiative because the company is interested in exploring why students and young people – and particularly females – continue to avoid STEM subjects in school, despite there being a diverse array of high quality opportunities with Irish-based companies in the key life sciences sector.


Despite numerous initiatives already in place to promote STEM, research shows that many Irish students are not choosing to study these subjects at third level. This is largely due to the persisting negative perceptions of science, some of which are passed on by parents.

So, some tips for parents to help ignite a greater interest in STEM, STEM-related subjects and careers:

1) Demystify STEM; challenge misconceptions and stereotypes – including your own. As parents, we need to be aware that, unconsciously, we can frame our child's thoughts about a particular subject and potential career paths from an early age. And, importantly, display curiosity yourself.

2) Actively encourage curiosity. Encourage your children to watch science and technology-related TV programmes. There are many excellent age-appropriate programmes which cater for early learners and older students. There are also a variety of good websites that children can visit (with parental supervision where necessary). Take these opportunities to open their eyes to areas including the natural world, space, technology and the environment. Watch these programmes with your children and talk about what you viewed afterwards.

3) Visit museums, exhibitions, science and technology fairs and events with your children, such as Science Week and look out for other Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-supported activities. Enable your child to get up close to exhibits – if there's an opportunity, parents should participate in and engage with the various experiments too.

There’s an abundance of other extra-curricular STEM-related activities and many of these are free e.g. coding, Lego clubs and robotics.

STEM is all around your house/home. You can weave scientific thinking into tasks such as cooking, baking, gardening, repairs – anything that requires observation, investigation, planning and problem solving.

4) Get involved in your child's schoolwork – not only will it help you identify your child's development potential, but it will also give you an insight into their curriculum. One evening a week ask them to explain to you a STEM-related lesson or science experiment that they may have learned in school that week.

5) Help teenagers open their eyes to the vast choice of career paths and opportunities available to them in the STEM and associated life sciences sector. This includes college open days and career events.

Smart Futures is a collaborative government-industry-education programme that provides second-level school students in Ireland with information about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) through free online resources and by linking students to STEM professionals through STEM events nationwide.

Caroline McClafferty is HR Director with AbbVie in Ireland. She is based in Sligo and has two young children.