In a first for British Science Week, the British Science Association (BSA) hosted a ‘Question Time’ style panel discussion on Thursday 9 March at Science Gallery London (London Bridge). In the audience were students from around London and representatives from the science sector including the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturing and learned societies.

Watch the full event

Young people and science

Previous surveys conducted for British Science Week found that 34% of 14-to-18-year-olds in the UK think science is relevant to their life and only 12% think scientists represent their views and values. In addition, just 8% said they could think of a scientist who looks like them

To start tackling these worrying statistics, a panel of experts from a range of backgrounds answered questions from school students in the audience, discussing the barriers to science experienced by the next generation, and putting forward solutions for the science sector to reach young people more effectively. The speakers on the panel were:

  • George Freeman MP, Minister at the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology. Minister Freeman provided the policy viewpoint.
  • Aisha Kukoyi, A-level student studying Further Maths, Physics and Product Design. Aisha provided the young person’s perspective.
  • Ali Speechly, football coach and Community Champion (Women & Girls, London), the FA. Ali brought learnings from sport to the panel.
  • Michael Sulu, Lecturer in Biochemical Engineering, UCL. Michael has taken part in various science public engagement activities with young people including via the I’m a scientist
  • Bob Ward, Deputy Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership. The latest Future Forum (the BSA’s youth voice programme) revealed that, unsurprisingly, climate change is the biggest concern for 14-to-18-year-olds, so Bob was able to comment from an environmental perspective.

The youth perspective

Naturally with an audience of students, science education was an ardent topic of discussion. One question posed from a pupil at Deptford Green School was around the GCSE curriculum, and whether it concentrated too much on fact learning. Aisha Kukoyi responded by saying she understood that the curriculum couldn’t be inspiring and engaging for all, but that fact-based learning is particularly problematic when it comes to assessments. Having a foundation of scientific knowledge is helpful, she says, but at present there is no meaningful, direct link between the content being taught and its application to the real world. So, whilst facts are important, examples of how students will use these facts is essential.

The portrayal of scientists, or people in science, in the media was also brought to the fore. Aisha painted the picture we are all familiar with of a scientist in popular culture – namely a young, brilliant child who has achieved awards, invented products, and experienced multiple successes before they’ve even reached their teenage years – and explained that it’s unrelatable, unrealistic and off-putting. Though she’s an aspiring engineer, she decided on that path by chance. Had she based her future career choice on the depiction of engineers in the media, she would not have felt as confident about it. There’s a real need for role models that the next generation can see themselves in. British Science Week’s Smashing Stereotypes campaign is one that Aisha drew attention to, which showcases young people in science who might not have taken the standard route into their careers, but are thriving.

Watch the #SmashingStereotypes short films

Another question took the discussion to the future of the planet, and what young people can do to affect change. Aisha simply answered, with a laugh, “Stop asking me. Stop asking us!” explaining that the climate crisis was created by people who are our current decision makers, and who have the power to make the necessary choices to mitigate the consequences of climate change. As a student in full-time education, and not much real-world experience, Aisha made the point clear that the responsibility of solving the climate crisis should not fall on future generations alone, something the audience and panel agreed wholeheartedly with.

Aisha Kukoyi, A-Level student from Essex, says:

“Even though I was a bit nervous, this British Science Week event was a great opportunity to tell an MP directly what I, and many of my peers, think are some of the problems that science has when trying to connect with young people.

“As we discussed, it can be really hard for people my age to think science is something they can pursue if they don’t fit the typical ‘science-y’ mould. In an ideal world, science lessons would make the subject more relatable to real life and the careers we’ll end up in. At the moment, it’s not quite like that.”


Thank you to all the students, teachers and other guests who attended the Question Time event. Students - we want to hear from you! What do you think of the panellists responses to the questions? Get in touch at [email protected].

British Science Week is an annual 10-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths with events and activities being organised across the country. British Science Week is taking place right now, 10-19 March. To find out more, visit