in2scienceUK at Abcam: promoting diversity in STEM

Find out about the in2scienceUK program and how scientists at Abcam are helping to mentor the next generation of scientists. 

Who are in2scienceUK?

in2scienceUK is a charity organization that aims to increase diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sector. They achieve this by promoting equal opportunities for the next generation by helping and inspiring young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM. To date, the in2scienceUK program has organized placements and workshops across all the STEM subjects for over 1,000 young people from low-income backgrounds.

Percentage of people in STEM careers from low income families. 

​Currently, in the UK young people from low-income backgrounds are much less likely to go to university than students from wealthier backgrounds: only 10% of life science professionals and 6% of doctors are from a working-class background1. These young people from low-income backgrounds have less access to careers advice and support in their university applications which directly affects their ability to make informed choices for a science career path1. The in2scienceUK program is working to boost the number of STEM workers across the UK by tackling some of these key issues.

The story behind in2scienceUK

We spoke to in2scienceUK founder and CEO, Dr Rebecca McKelvey to find out more. Here she tells us about her inspirations behind the program and how she sees in2scienceUK growing in the future.

Rebecca McKelvey, founder of in2scienceUK

What inspired you to start in2scienceUK?

​When I started my PhD I realized that the odds of these very able students were stacked against them and that a huge amount of potential was wasted.

I had taught science in a secondary school in London for four years where I met many students who were gifted at science and engineering but who were from low income backgrounds. When I started my PhD I realized that the odds of these very able students were stacked against them and that a huge amount of potential was wasted. Working with my academic colleagues made me realize that they were well placed to support young people who desperately needed some help and guidance.

What challenges were you faced with when you initially set up the program?

​Setting up was easy. So many students applied, and many STEM professionals signed up to make a difference. I think the next step, growing nationally, is going to be the biggest challenge. To do this, we’ll need to collaborate with mission aligned organizations to support our growth.

How does it make you feel to see the program grow and turn into such a huge success? 

I am very proud of the growth of the organization, but it highlights the national need for programs like this which aim to support those from low income backgrounds. Most of all I am proud of all the students I have meet through in2scienceUK and who have leveraged the support and guidance of their mentors to progress to STEM degrees and careers. They are a real inspiration. 

How do you see the program growing in the future?

We aim to build a national program where all students from low income backgrounds can access our program be it in the South West or the North East. With this in mind, we are seeking new partners in these areas to support our growth.

Do you have any words of encouragement for those students out there that are thinking of applying to the program?

A career in the science, engineering and technology sector doesn’t just pay well, it’s exciting, and you get to work on pioneering research and technology.

The UK needs more young, enthusiastic students to progress into these careers so if you enjoy science, engineering or technology apply!

in2scienceUK at Abcam

In2scienceUK works alongside STEM researchers in academic and science technology business settings to provide work placements that will give students the skills and confidence they need to progress down a STEM career path. One of the essential ways in which the placements achieve this is through help and guidance from the STEM volunteer mentors who provide the students with one-to-one support. These mentors act as positive role models for the students who can go to them for career advice. 

"The in2science program gives you a lot of opportunities; if you’re not from an academic background, it helps you develop connections at a young age."

Abcam has teamed up with in2scienceUK to offer students the Abcam Scholars program. This gives students the opportunity to spend time in our labs over the summer holidays and the chance to see what life as a scientist is really like. We also highlight STEM careers in departments outside of the lab, such as finance, data science and IT to give students an insight into careers they may not have been aware of. We connect the students with volunteer mentors from across the business and hold a series of mentoring sessions where we offer support with university applications and provide careers guidance. The program also connects Abcam to many motivated young scientists who have the potential to become future employees.

We caught up with Jack Wilson, an in2scienceUK alumnus who now works in the Protein Sciences team in the Abcam Cambridge UK labs. We asked Jack to tell us about his experience with the in2scienceUK program and what it is like to now be mentoring students himself.

From student to mentor: Jack's story

How did you hear about the in2scienceUK program and what did you need to do to apply?

​We had a 6th form assembly, and one of my science teachers outlined what the in2scienceUK program was and said if anyone would be interested in getting involved with the program to let her know. Based on her recommendation I filled out an application form for the program. The initial application asked for standard information, for example the subjects I had chosen for A-level. It also asks for a broad area of interest to help find you a suitable placement. For this I chose biological science. 

Jack Wilson, in2scienceUK alumnus and mentor

After this, there was an interview round. This was a great experience for me as it gave me a feel for what a real university-level interview would be like. It was my first experience of what to expect from this type of interview which helped prepare me for that type of situation. The interview itself was aimed at getting to know the candidates better and then use this to find a placement which would suit you best. I got the chance to talk about the subject areas which interested me, and they took all this into account when they chose my placement.

Where did you carry out your placement and what did you do?

I carried out my placement at University College London (UCL), and this was a two-week placement in a neuroscience lab looking at mitochondrial dynamics. I mostly shadowed the scientists there and did some basic techniques, but this gave me a feel of what it was like to work in a lab on a day-to-day basis.

Before this, as a student doing A levels, I didn’t understand what it was a scientist did as it is entirely detached from the lessons and textbooks you have in school. Also, the topic I was working on in the lab came up again in my university modules, so this helped me as I already had a good understanding of this research field.

Has the in2scienceUK program helped progress your career?

Yes, definitely. After carrying out my placement I decided I wanted to do a degree in biochemistry and genetics. I did this at the University of Sheffield. After this, I did a master’s degree in molecular medicine also at the University of Sheffield. This covered molecular biology related to human diseases.

The placement made me realize what the field encompasses and encouraged me to take the route I was going to take. The A levels I was doing were very much a fifty-fifty split between science subjects and humanities so that I could have gone down one of two very different paths. The in2scienceUK placement helped solidify my choice to do a science subject for my degree.

"I’m still in contact with my placement supervisor today, and he always checks in to see how I’m getting on in my career."

In addition to this, I got a lot of help from my mentor and the other scientists in the lab at UCL where I did my placement. They were all happy to look through my university applications and give feedback, and they offered recommendations for the universities I applied to. Even the people in the lab who were not directly involved in mentoring me offered help with my applications. They were extremely kind and helpful, and it made the whole placement a positive experience for me. I’m still in contact with my placement supervisor today, and he always checks in to see how I’m getting on in my career.

Now you're a mentor yourself, teaching In2scienceUK students at Abcam. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

Abcam runs follow up sessions in addition to the placements that the students will carry out in a university or institute lab. We run sessions to help the students get an idea of the variety of careers you can do with a science degree and to give help with their university applications. We set up a panel discussion where they can ask questions about university in general, for example, what we would do differently if we went back to university. We did another session that ran like a workshop for interview practice giving the students a chance to practice things like thinking on the spot and using the right body language.

Why would you recommend the in2scienceUK?

The in2science program gives you a lot of opportunities; if you’re not from an academic background, it helps you develop connections at a young age. It gives you people to keep in contact with in a field that you are interested in. It is a great program; I continue to be involved with In2scienceUK because I know how much benefit I got out of it and I’m able to watch the program grow over time.

More about in2scienceUK

The in2scienceUK program is proven to work; in2scienceUK students are significantly more likely to apply and be offered a place at university1. The program helps students gain confidence to apply, but they may also get help and guidance from their mentors when they make the applications. 78% of in2scienceUK students wrote their university personal statements during their time on placement. The program also helps students feel confident that they can do a STEM subject at degree level and succeed. When asked, 93% of in2scienceUK students say that completing the program made them confident that they could complete a STEM degree.

To find out more, visit the in2science website.



1)  In2scienceUK impact report 2018 data obtained from Social Mobility Commission, 2017. 

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