A collage of photos of Dr Anne Bishop and Joshua Matthew, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Inspiring the next generation through our science engagement programme 

Date: 14 May 2024

Meet two science engagement champions from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and discover why they’re passionate about inspiring young people.

As part of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Wellcome Connecting Science’s mission is to enable everyone to explore genomic science, and we are committed to raising the aspirations of young people, encouraging them to explore careers in science.

Last year, we ran 101 in-person events, in collaboration with colleagues from the Sanger Institute and from across the Wellcome Genome Campus, which reached over 6,000 young people.

We caught up with two colleagues from the Sanger Institute, who regularly dedicate time in order to inspire young people, to hear why they get involved in Connecting Science’s engagement activities, and why they champion these opportunities.

“Not all of us at Sanger are scientists, but we all contribute to the science!” Joshua Matthew, Product Manager, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Joshua Matthew, Wellcome Sanger InstituteJoshua is a Product Manager, in the Parasites and Microbes Informatics team at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. He has collaborated with Connecting Science on a careers video and a career profile, featured on Your Genome, and has given a number of talks to teachers and students about his career. “One of my favourite moments was when a T-Level student showed so much interest in being a Product Manager, they kept asking so many questions – I felt like I was in an interview! It felt so rewarding to know that they were inspired by my career insight!”

What made you decide to get involved?

As a continuous learner myself, I am generally driven by the need to advocate for continuous learning, growth and leadership. I run a charity that is dedicated to this purpose, which helps to bridge the socioeconomic gap impeding the chances for disadvantaged kids.

 In a bid to inspire and encourage young STEM enthusiasts, I leverage avenues that offer such opportunities, leading me to enrol as a STEM Ambassador. I wish to inspire and enable as many people as possible, and the Connecting Science engagement activities provide this platform.

What feedback have you received from educators and young people?

I received great feedback after my first talk, and all the other talks and further involvements with Connecting Science have been because of the first. It is quite amazing how less informed people are about the range of careers that a professional could pursue, in a STEM environment without having to be in a STEM role. Not all of us at Sanger are scientists, but we all contribute to the science!

Sharing my career journey has been an eye-opener for most attendees, and has provided a new vista for career progression in STEM fields.

How has being involved benefited your professional development?

Professionally, being able to explain what I do, and exactly how it adds value to the research at Sanger, multiple times over, has improved my consciousness of the importance of my role, while giving me a clearer perspective on ways to contribute even more.

In addition, giving that many presentations and talks has improved my public speaking skills and confidence to communicate effectively, which is a key component of my job as a Product Manager.

Lastly, creating and sustaining a collaborative relationship with Connecting Science has further strengthened my networking and collaboration skills, which I apply when working with stakeholders.

Why do you think it’s important for staff at the Sanger Institute to be involved in science engagement?  

The opportunity to positively impact and inspire young people to greatness and limitless possibilities is totally worth it.

More so, aside from the highlighted skills, the experience gained from these activities are most likely to improve your career perspective, and inspire you to be better, not just for yourself, but for the many young people that you have now become a role model to!

I don’t know what could be more rewarding than that.

“I am delighted to be a visible face for women in science.” Anne Bishop, Postdoctoral Fellow, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Dr Anne Bishop, Wellcome Sanger InstituteDr Anne Bishop is a Postdoctoral Fellow within the Thomson group at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Anne has created a career profile, featured on Your Genome, which illustrates her career journey, and what skills are required for her role.

She also regularly supports Wellcome Connecting Science with on-Campus school visits, discussing her work with young people.

In addition to inspiring the future generation of scientists, Anne has also supported Connecting Science’s broader public engagement work. She worked with a charity Cambridgeshire Older People’s Enterprise (COPE) on their “Talking Together” programme, which promotes life-long learning, and helps combat loneliness. This involved phone-based group discussions with around 10 people aged over 50, over the course of six weeks.

“The different experiences of the participants were fascinating, and their enthusiasm both for clarifying the basics (what a bacterium is versus a virus or eukaryotic parasite), and for the cutting-edge infectious diseases diagnostics, drugs and vaccines stuff, made it enormous fun. We had a lovely time!”

What made you decide to get involved?

I really enjoy talking to diverse audiences, and I feel an obligation to give back to the community, and be involved in science-related discourse in any way that I can.  My excitement about what I do is enormously boosted by interactions with people who don’t often think about the realm of infectious diseases in which I work.

Having to simplify and explain clearly what I do for different audiences, along with answering the fascinating questions that they ask, makes me really think about what I do, and why I do it. Public engagement gives me a massive energy boost and makes me more thoughtful in my own research, and with Connecting Science it’s made very easy.

I am also delighted to be a visible face for women in science. Talking about the increased flexibility and support available for balancing work with other obligations, such as parenting children, is a conversation that I think is important to have with young people. This kind of discussion was totally absent during my school life and I’m delighted that working with Connecting Science also facilitates these kind of interactions.

How has being involved benefited your professional development?

My public engagement experiences have made me more confident to talk to more diverse people about science. I am seriously looking into taking on a new role involving interactions with more diverse audiences, inspired by my immense enjoyment of all my engagement with the public thorough the Connecting Science team, and also through a charity called “Inspiring the Future” in the Nottinghamshire area (where I live), with whom I’ve worked in schools. I discovered this charity through joining the STEM Ambassador national scheme, which is something that Connecting Science facilitated.

Do you have a favourite or stand-out moment from the activities you have been involved with?

My favourite moments are every time that I talk with a school group about how lucky we are to have clean water and sanitation, enabling that shift in our collective focus to the wider world, and when I tell them about my most exciting moments in science, when I was the only person on the planet who knew something brand new, that nobody had ever known in history before.

There was a particularly touching day when a primary school-aged boy quietly told me about his grandma who had died of cancer, as I’d explained that the death of my own grandma was part of my inspiration for doing a cancer research PhD, and we talked about how work to better understand cancer, and hopefully help lengthen other people’s lives, was so important.

In a school classroom, I got to clarify that just because we often say “fireman” doesn’t mean it’s only a job for men, (which one young student genuinely thought), and how we should instead say “firefighter”, and try to change our perceptions of gender biases in work.

There was a lovely moment when a group of primary school children were asked what we should do if we don’t know how something works and they all shouted “do an experiment!”

One child once asked “what about snot?” which led to discussion about different modes of disease transmission. We can help to extend the knowledge of the school biology teachers and give the children fresh perspectives.

Why do you think it’s important for staff at the Sanger Institute to be involved in science engagement?  

It’s so rewarding to share your experiences with people outside of the research world, it can help to make you a better communicator, and give you the benefit of seeing your work through other people’s eyes. It’s made really easy by the Connecting Science team, and if you contribute to school visits on Campus, it only takes 30-45 minutes out of your day.

I often see the teachers nodding their heads and can feel their excitement about biology being increased through access to working scientists.

Follow our science engagement programme

As well as visiting schools and colleges through our Genomic Futures outreach programme, we also run school visits to the Wellcome Sanger Institute, at the Wellcome Genome Campus, where young people can explore the Campus, see one of the world’s largest DNA sequencing facilities at the Sanger Institute, try out some hands-on activities and meet scientists who discuss their careers.

If you’d like to hear more about our science engagement activities, you can follow our Engagement and Society team on X, LinkedIn, or sign up to our newsletters.