Watsonians Linked

WatsoniansLinked - A former pupil's report on the MacQuarrie fellowship

The MacQuarrie Fellowship, established in 2018, aims to promote and enhance Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for pupils at George Watson’s College and our partner schools. The role of the MacQuarrie Fellow seeks to span across and engage with all STEM based subjects in the school, prompting pupils to draw on their ever increasing subject-based knowledge and begin to think about how this can be applied in a multidisciplinary manner. MacQuarrie Fellow 2019/20, Robert Hamilton (class of 2011), shares with us his experience in STEM after GWC along with the achievements and future goals of the MacQuarrie Fellowship.

Having finished Watson’s in 2011, I found myself several years into an integrated master’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by National Grid (the electricity system operator for GB and electricity transmission system owner in England) through the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Power Academy Scholarship. This scheme, designed to recruit engineering graduates to engineering organisations involved with the application of electrical power, gave me exposure to the wider industry with summer placement opportunities within various departments of National Grid's electricity transmission business. Mentorship and encouragement is provided by graduates of the scheme, lighting the path for current scholars to progress into a STEM career in the power sector. Through this, I developed an interest in the imminent challenges that decarbonisation of the electricity system brings, as a result of the connection of increasing volumes of renewable generation. 

In my fourth year of study at Strathclyde, the opportunity to live and study in Singapore at Nanyang Technological University for a year arose. During this time I undertook a research project in the Energy Research Institute there, where I learned about the opportunities for clean energy solutions in Singapore. On returning to the UK and completing my final year of the master’s degree program, I was delighted to be offered a place in the Future Power Networks and Smart Grids Centre for Doctoral Training run to undertake a PhD – and am still working towards this goal. The scheme, jointly run by the University of Strathclyde and Imperial College London, aims to tackle some of the emerging challenges that decarbonisation of the energy sector brings including my personal area of interest - the impact of climate change on the frequency of extreme weather events resulting in damage to the power system and challenges to power system operation win the context of high volumes of renewable generation.

Nanyang Technological University

Having benefited enormously from the IET Power Academy as an undergraduate, I saw the MacQuarrie Fellowship as the perfect opportunity to draw on my experiences, using them to help shape this new pioneering scheme at GWC for a younger cohort of STEM enthusiasts. Established in 2018, the MacQuarrie Fellowship was still in its infancy when I took over in August 2019. This meant there was ample room for me, along with colleagues from across all STEM subject areas at GWC, to build and shape the role of the MacQuarrie Fellow with the fundamental goal of promoting and enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for pupils at GWC and our partner schools. 

In this role, I constantly try to think back to my time as an enthusiastic pupil (well, most of the time), and think “what would I have benefited from at school in my future STEM career?” One of the main drawbacks I found progressing through school was the configuration of the nation-wide school curriculum, and how it attempts to compartmentalise complex topics into specific subjects. I feel that this can be a restrictive way of thinking that can often suppress the creativity of pupils. Whilst I appreciate that this may be the only practical means of fairly assessing pupils, I don’t see it as a valid reason to deny pupils a sense of how important cross-disciplinary thinking is when faced with real world problems. In a move to address this, session 2018/19 saw the first roll out of STEM in S1 through specific timetabled lessons, which has been well reviewed by pupils, parents and staff alike.

The main aim this session was to host a STEM Showcase for S2-S6 pupils, which was scheduled to take place on April 22, sadly cancelled as a result of COVID-19. Pupils were asked to conduct a STEM based project, then distil their findings onto an academic A3 style poster and prepare a short ‘elevator-pitch’ style presentation with the support of myself, as MacQuarrie Fellow. The project scope was intentionally left completely open and with no content restrictions, provided the project was STEM based. The academic prowess, and the quality of the poster and presentation was to be assessed by a panel of judges consisting of industry professionals and prizes awarded. The STEM Showcase intended to not only provide a platform for pupils to exhibit their work, but also help them develop skills in condensing complex information for a lay audience and build presenting experience. It is no understatement to say that I was blown away with the enthusiasm and range of the responses from pupils across all year groups. Projects ranged from solving complex mathematical problems, analysing climbing chalks, designing and building an electric racing car, finding the respiration of yeast and much, much more! In the light of the COVID-19, it was not possible to finish the training sessions required in the lead up to the event so we unfortunately had to cancel the event for 2020. Please do keep an eye out for updates on the 2021 showcase next term though!

The MacQuarrie Fellowship at GWC is a unique pioneering educational pilot scheme that is being used to test and develop new forms of teaching that can accompany conventional subject-based learning. As we learn from our experiences, the role of the MacQuarrie Fellow continues to grow, evolve and inspire pupils to explore the wide variety of opportunities available in STEM based careers. I wholeheartedly look forward to schools reopening in August and getting back to work building on the progress made so far.