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Rooting for a STEM career extends beyond the classroom

Perfect A-Level results don't guarantee a successful career... and less-than-perfect results don't mean you're doomed, says GitHub's Joe Nash

Posted by Hannah Vickers | September 15, 2017 | Secondary

A-Level results can feel like the be-all and end-all. Students put so much time and effort into their studies to get their desired grades, but one answer on one exam paper shouldn’t and doesn’t determine future success or failure. Gone are the days when a string of A*’s guarantees you success. Increasingly, employers and universities are looking for how you’ve gone above and beyond to demonstrate passion and show you can go the extra mile. A-Levels are just one element of the whole picture and candidates need to take a broader view.

The proof is in the practice

Gaining practical skills and hands-on experience can set candidates apart from their competition as it enables them to demonstrate skills that academic qualifications do not offer - and STEM subjects are no exception to this rule. Developing skills outside the classroom can bring huge benefits to students in the long-term. These skills do not just embellish course applications, but are fantastic talking points for candidates. Students need to put their thinking into practice through applying their thoughts and learnt knowledge outside of the classroom.

Detour from the mainstream  

There are a range of reasons for pursuing STEM subjects outside school, especially as students can tailor their learning to their interests. Rather than just understanding the basic skills addressed in the national curriculum (which thousands of students across the UK are learning), students can gain a niche or specialist understanding of a subject that perhaps their peers aren’t familiar with. For example, an aspiring software developer could begin to learn a complex coding language such as Ruby on Rails, and therefore stand out further than someone who just has a basic understanding of HTML.

Through exploring topics not addressed in the national curriculum, students can demonstrate their passion and commitment to their subject and therefore become unique candidates with unique skill sets.

Thinking outside the school box 

When it comes to learning STEM skills, students must look at a number of different ways they can enhance their skills, after all a textbook can’t teach you everything. If a student is looking to become a software developer, being able to speak the language of coders and understanding how applications and solutions are built, are strong assets that can make candidates stand out. Students pursuing a career in tech should explore collaborative, communication platforms - where developers can come together to share best practices and ideas. These platforms offer a depth of information and resources for students and are based on popular coding devices such as Raspberry Pi. Here developers of all abilities can continue to develop their skill set. This method of inclusive working is just one of the reasons for the high proportion of talented self-taught individuals who, despite the lack of a formal qualification, have made their mark on the sector.  

Good grades might be a contributing factor and can help students secure a university placement, but they don’t test your full capabilities. Whoever you are trying to impress, you need to show them intuition and passion, that’s what will make you really stand out

So, do A-Level grades determine a successful STEM career? Of course not! Good grades might be a contributing factor and can help students secure a university placement, but they don’t test your full capabilities. Whoever you are trying to impress, you need to show them intuition and passion, that’s what will make you really stand out. 

Joe Nash is Student Program Manager at GitHub

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