This week is British Science Week, a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which aims to inspire the next generation of innovators to pursue careers in one of these fields. When I reflect on my own experience, STEM subjects appealed to me from as far back as I can remember and this fascination carried through to University, where I studied biochemistry. The time spent working and learning in the laboratory, was a wonderful foundation for the career I have today at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and I will be forever curious and inspired by the possibilities of science to cure and treat serious diseases.
At Vertex, we have adopted STEAM rather than STEM as our preferred terminology, as we believe art has a critical role to play in what we do. As this Forbes article explains, “21st-century jobs require creative confidence, critical thinking, and collaboration.”
STEAM education is not without its challenges: barriers continue to prevent a diverse range of people from being able to pursue these careers. One study found that low socioeconomic status was the biggest barrier to STEAM participation. In the U.S., women account for only 27% of employees in STEAM fields. Black, Asian, and Hispanic representation in STEAM careers has barely changed in the last few years despite companies and universities pledging to promote diversity. Yet in biotech we know diverse teams are critical to success — they allow us to draw on our collective differences to find innovative solutions and ultimately make better, more informed decisions for patients.
Our commitment to STEAM education aims to spark excitement in science, with a significant focus on overcoming barriers that prevent certain groups from engaging with science during multiple stages of their education journeys.
Guided by this approach, Vertex supports a variety of STEAM initiatives including through the work of the Vertex Foundation, our Learning Labs in Boston, San Diego and Oxford, and our global early careers programs.
Forming STEAM partnerships through the Vertex Foundation
The Vertex Foundation has a long running partnership with the U.K. organization, STEM Learning and provides grant funding to its ENTHUSE programme. This program delivers professional development in STEAM subjects for teachers, making science real and exciting for students. To date, we’ve supported 221 teachers impacting the futures of more than 21,000 students. We also provide programming and resources, working directly with primary schools that serve students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to provide STEAM resources, lesson plans, and more. This innovative approach supports under-resourced students while also providing valuable mentorship opportunities for our Vertex employees.
Vertex Learning Labs: A community hub for learning
Through our Oxford Learning Lab, we expand upon our global commitment to equipping students with the tools and resources they need to consider a future career in STEAM. We’re proud to be one of a few organizations that offers paid work experience, enabling students from under-resourced backgrounds to participate when they may otherwise be unable to take an unpaid opportunity. The Learning Lab’s three-week summer program empowers students to learn about drug discovery, explore STEAM careers, connect with Vertex employees, engage with local community partners, and more.
Additionally, our ‘Researcher in Residence’ program gives Vertex scientists the opportunity to step out of their daily duties in the lab to develop and deliver the ‘Making Medicine’ curriculum for students in our local communities. To date, this program has been virtual, but we look forward to welcoming students to Oxford for some hands-on lab experience this year.
Vertex Early Careers Program: Gaining real-life experience
As part of our efforts to drive greater inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) in STEAM careers, we enroll a diverse range of candidates onto our apprentice schemes, internships, and industrial placements. We do this through building relationships with targeted universities, using specialist tools to identify underrepresented groups when advertising roles, and implementing ID&E best practices across all recruitment.
Most recently, we’re excited to partner with 10,000 Black Interns, an organization committed to transforming the horizons and prospects of young Black people in the U.K. by offering paid internships in a wide range of industries. We will be welcoming a cohort of talented interns into our business for a six-week program at our international headquarters this summer.
Nurturing diversity with international growth
As our organizational footprint continues to expand so do our intentions to expand our STEAM education footprint. It’s a challenge taken on by Vertex employees from around the world. Most recently, during our annual Day of Service, employees in Brazil chose to mentor young people, sharing their own experiences of STEAM careers, while our Poland employees hosted an online career day with local students, helping students to refine their CVs and prepare for interviews.
Breaking down barriers in STEAM education
As an industry, building partnerships to show the next generation that a STEAM career is achievable and exciting, is critical. But we cannot stop there. We must continue to collaborate to overcome the barriers that still exist for underrepresented groups and provide the opportunities they deserve to advance and thrive in STEAM. By inspiring young talent from a wealth of diverse communities and continuing to foster inclusive workplaces we stand a real chance of solving some of the biggest challenges of tomorrow.