Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

Case Study / X Science Skills Academy & Ben Murphy

Since 2017/18 ECCI and SAGES – the network that gives organisations, businesses and policy-makers to access geosciences-related expertise from across Scotland – have been teaming up to offer pioneering career enhancement opportunities for SAGES PhD students.

The programme links students with relevant host organisations and is at the forefront of bringing academia and business together to tackle global environmental challenges. A range of business, third and public sector organisations working in priority areas of interest for SAGES were matched with PhD students to work together on meaningful consultancy projects.

Here we hear from Ben Murphy about his recent placement with Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Science Skills Academy. Ben is a research assistant at the School of Education, University of Glasgow.

What did you do and how did you find the experience?

I completed a SAGES internship with Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Science Skills Academy (SSA) who are a STEM education outreach organisation who deliver activities to schools across the highlands, usually at their inspirational Newton rooms. These activities are based on topics that incorporate science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and integrate global issues into local contexts.

I was tasked with creating a 100-minute lesson plan that would educate S1/S2 pupils on peatlands and COP26 at SSA’s Newton Rooms. The lesson was to be outdoor, engaging and educate pupils in a way that situated local environments in the global climate and ecological crisis. I worked with the team to create pre-work, a 100-min lesson, and post-work that would engage pupils, non-conventionally, about peatlands and climate change. I then delivered a digital training workshop to 10 SSA staff members on the lesson I had designed, in preparation for them doing the activity in the Spring & summer terms.

The lesson begins with explaining what peat is, and its composition process. The pupils will then go on to ‘make’ their own peat with different groups making regional varieties, such as Flow country, Congo basin and Siberian peat types. The lesson incorporated sections on peatlands and biodiversity as well as the relevance of peatlands to climate change and carbon sequestration. A plant identification activity concluded the lessons, encouraging young people to describe, identify and classify different types of mosses and lichens that could be found in their ‘local’ peatland of the flow country. Post-work, to be completed in class, focused on peatland restoration, and used the Sutherland spaceport proposal as a case study for analysing threats to peatlands, as well as opportunities, from local development projects.

Did you learn new skills during the internship?

Yes, I learnt how to design lessons plans, practically and conceptually, whilst ensuring material was inclusive and hands on. I developed my knowledge of the principles of the Scottish curriculum an gained an in-depth understanding of STEM in the curriculum. I also developed my digital design skills and built on my knowledge of peatlands and the natural history of the highlands.

Has this placement helped you to understand how policy-based organisations operate?

Yes, I learnt a lot about educational policy, particularly in relation to climate change education. I furthered my understanding of how SSA and HIE operate in their educational delivery. I also learnt how SSA can work with partners across the environmental sector in creating educational content, and how they, as an educational-outreach organisation can draw on a range of partners to inform activities and deliver meaningful lessons.

Do you think the internships are useful for your future career prospects?

Yes this internship has improved my knowledge of climate education and STEM activities whilst giving me an insight into the barriers pupils face in accessing STEM, and sustainability, education. With Glasgow this year hosting the COP summit, this type of work is invaluable, and to be a part of the wider climate education movement in Scotland has been hugely rewarding. The knowledge gained has shaped my current role – shortly after completing the internship I started a new job as a climate education researcher at the university of Glasgow, and I can safely say the experience with SAGES massively helped in being offered the job and I have carried over the knowledge, skills and experience into my new role. The placement has given me confidence for designing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) activities (albeit classroom based) for the schools in Glasgow I work with. I am also starting a p/t position on an ERASMUS+ project with the University of Valencia, researching women’s representation in STEM educational material, soon. The placement has ignited a passion for increasing participation in STEM subjects and careers for those underrepresented, such as women and minority groups.

“I don’t know of other paid opportunities open to young people in the educational sector that allow you to work with an organisation to create deliverable material. The SAGES internship was a unique opportunity.”
Ben Murphy, SAGES PhD Student

“Ben’s knowledge, expertise and research skills in the field was a real asset as it was an area that we had limited knowledge of in-house. Having the opportunity to work alongside someone who possessed a great deal of knowledge about their field of expertise was a real asset for our organisation, and helped create an excellent collaborative project.”
Emma Robertson, Project Manager, Science Skills Academy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise