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Q&A with alumni: How an MA in STEM Education acted as a catalyst to launch into new adventures

Aylin Ozkan and Francis Jones, two recent alumni of the STEM Education MA, reflect on how the Master’s has given them the knowledge and confidence to explore new areas of STEM education – the policy sector and the entrepreneurial side of industry. They explain what motivated them to enrol, detail how they funded their Master’s, share their experiences on the programme, and tell us more about the impact of the MA on their lives.

One has started a new job in the policy sector, the other his own business. Both were science teachers in the UK before, and decided to further develop their practice by enrolling on King’s STEM Education MA, offered by the School of Education, Communication & Society.

Full of her experience in schools and armed with the theoretical framework offered by the programme, Aylin Ozkan has joined the Royal Society of Chemistry, where she works on the organisation’s policy positioning and statements.

After months of developing his STEM@Home startup and its offering throughout the MA, Francis Jones is now scaling it up, after just receiving its first major angel investment.

They both answer our questions about their experiences on the STEM Education MA, how they funded their studies with the help of the WIPRO scholarship, and why they decided to pivot in their career while staying in the sector.

Why did you decide to apply for the STEM Education MA?

Aylin: I applied for the STEM Education MA because I felt like I didn't quite understand how policies on a national and international level were influencing education happening in schools and I wanted my teaching to be further shaped and improved by educational research. I thought that this Master's would help me form the links between school level decisions and national research and policies.

The course is ideal for part-time students like me, with the workload being manageable on top of a full-time teaching job! I really appreciated the support of my tutors and everyone in the department that has been so kind and approachable.– Aylin Ozkan, alumna of the STEM Education MA

Francis: I was a Chemistry teacher and head of higher ability in an inner-London, local-authority school for around five years. After I kept persistently seeing how science was slowly being turned into a ‘tick-box’ discipline, due to pressures from Ofsted and the exam boards, I decided to start the MA in STEM Education. I wanted to see how science could turn back into a subject about investigation, discovery and most importantly, self-enlightenment.

How did you fund your Master’s?

Aylin: I was able to apply for this programme with the help of a scholarship from WIPRO, who have kindly sponsored a large majority of my fees. Without their support, I wouldn't have been able to undertake a Master’s, so this was a deciding factor.

Francis: I would not have done this MA without the financial support of the WIPRO scholarship. The time and financial commitment to doing a Master’s were the two main roadblocks I had but since the WIPRO scholarship covered the vast majority of the financial costs, all I had to worry about was the time commitment.

Without WIPRO providing this scholarship, I would not have done this MA in STEM education, and without this MA opening my eyes to how science education should be, I would not have started STEM@Home. STEM@Home provides curated boxes of GCSE science experiments to schools and parents so students can access their full science education whenever and wherever they want. We place emphasis on supporting SEND students so they can have all the time and support needed to complete their science practicals.

What was your favourite module?

Francis: Originally, I was meant to do the STEM Making and Creating module but that had to be cancelled due to the hands-on nature of the module not working when we had the 2nd lockdown in the UK. But I was able to audit the course and participate a year later!

It was unfortunate that I was not assessed for that module since I really enjoyed it and took advantage of it. The skills I learnt from it (eg making items, 3D printing, vacuum forming) all went straight into STEM@Home. A lot of items within my products are made with 3D printers at my office space at the Central Research Laboratory in Hayes.

Aylin: The STEM Education MA has really opened my eyes to the STEM education landscape both in England and abroad. My favourite module by far was the Environmental Education and Sustainability module.

Did you receive any support from peers and/or lecturers on the MA?

Aylin: My dissertation supervisor and personal tutor have been incredibly supportive, I couldn't have completed the course without them!

Francis: Due to starting this MA in 2020, the lockdowns made it hard to build a network on the course, with everything being online. The teachers on our MA did form a bond, though, since we all understood how difficult it was to be teaching in schools during Covid, and we ended up forming a supportive network of teachers trying to balance teaching and studying.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities?

Aylin: I wasn't involved in any societies at King's, as I found it difficult to get to campus and didn't have any spare time. However, I did do Spanish after work and used the King's student discount code to access discounted lessons.

Francis: I tutored A2 Chemistry students as part of KCL’s K+ widening participation programme.

How has the MA influenced your life decisions?

Aylin: My learning journey on this MA has motivated me further to help to shape education within my future career: I didn't know enough about policy before this Master’s to have wanted to apply for a job within this sector. The STEM Education MA programme has really motivated me to want to ‘do more’ and work within the policy sector.

I am excited that I get to experience a different facet of the education landscape within my new role at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Moreover, I draw upon the variety of knowledge I have gained from the course on a day-to-day basis in my work. My job requires strong researching and writing skills, as well as being able to critically analyse data on education. The course has helped me develop these skills over the last two years.

Francis: The MA opened my eyes to what STEM education should be like and how we, as a nation, are letting down our students. Originally, I became a teacher to help the younger generation but this MA made me realise that no matter how much I wanted to change my pedagogical practice, it would all be in vain because the nail that sticks out is the nail that gets hammered down.

I then undertook a microcourse at King’s about the combination of art and science. This made me realise how scientific concepts can be presented in a tangible fashion. Art and science are not in two separate silos, they should be joined together. Thus, I realised I had to be pragmatic if I wanted to try and help the younger generation receive the high-quality science education they deserve.

The MA educated me in how pedagogical practices within the science classroom should be more open, more interconnected and allow for development of critical thinking. Thus, I creatively implemented all of this together to make STEM@Home.– Francis Jones, alumnus of the STEM Education MA

In this story

Francis Jones

Francis Jones

Alumnus of the STEM Education MA

Melissa Glackin

Melissa Glackin

Reader in Science & Environmental Education

Richard Brock

Richard Brock

Senior Lecturer in Science Education

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