Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.1 Why STEM?

This course has been created because there are thousands of people in the United Kingdom (and many more worldwide), who are qualified in STEM subjects but are no longer working in the STEM professions. The UK government, and industry leaders, continue to be very concerned about what some people have called the ‘leaky pipeline’, with women leaving STEM education and employment at different points in their lives. This is not just a UK concern, though. In her book Off Ramps and On Ramps (2007), Sylvia Hewlett outlines a study carried out in the USA about women leaving STEM industries – a trend labelled ‘The Hidden Brain Drain’.

This course is aimed at people who have taken a break from their STEM careers. The most common reason for taking a career break is to care for children or other family members. However, people leave the profession for a variety of reasons, and getting back to work can be a difficult transition, both practically and emotionally. This can be even more difficult when returning to STEM occupations as opposed to other professions, because, as the STEM sectors continue to employ more men than women, expectations about working patterns in these sectors remain modelled on the uninterrupted career that is more usual for men. Therefore, the focus of the course material and examples is on the typical experiences of women returning to STEM. That said, this course isn’t just for women – there are plenty of men who have also had time out of work and face similar issues in getting back.

In this video, Carolien describes her reasons for taking a break from her engineering career and what motivated her to return.

Download this video clip.Video player: return_to_stem_week1vid2_512x256.mp4
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

For each of you, your life stories will differ and your circumstances and reasons for being out of work, as well as the length of your career break, will all be different. You will also have different constraints and difficulties to overcome, whether these are to do with juggling your family commitments with work, with the availability and location of suitable jobs, or needing to update your skills. With this in mind, this course has been designed to be flexible enough to encompass a variety of needs and expectations.

This course is a bit different from other types of courses that you may have studied in the past. Rather than learning about a subject, you will reflect on your own experiences and aspirations and learn about yourself – the course is very practical and activity focused and will help you build up your CV, networks and action plan.

Now is a great time to be looking to return to STEM careers after a break. As you’ll discover during the course, more and more STEM employers and recruiters are seeing STEM-qualified returners as a source to fill their vacancies in these areas. As you progress, you will encounter examples of employers who have special schemes to help you or can offer specialist advice about opportunities in the sector. You’ll also discover new employment opportunities and trends.

Throughout the BOC, there are case study videos that show how other people have navigated their careers. Most importantly, you will find out how they’ve returned to STEM employment after a career break.

This course draws upon the experiences of people who have had similar experiences to your own. Getting back to work can be a difficult process and sharing your experiences with others who are in a similar situation can be enormously helpful.

Finally, you will get the chance to interact with others through a private online forum that has been set up specifically for this course. This will enable you to share your thoughts and experiences with other people who are also studying this course and are ‘in the same boat’, so to speak, and to find useful new contacts to help you in your journey towards returning to work.