What do STEM backgrounds bring to the classroom, and what’s to gain?

29 April 2018

We asked team members from various STEM backgrounds – engineering, science communication and physics – to reflect on their skills and potential within the Leadership Development Program.


Josh studied Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

1. What skills and mindsets does a background in engineering bring to the program?

Engineering is about solving complex problems. The ability to enter a classroom with the optimistic mindset that any problem can be solved, along with the strategic thinking that an engineering degree teaches, empowers you to be a highly impactful teacher.

Will all your first solutions be perfect? No. But as engineers, we don’t give up, we iterate, and we work until we find a solution that works.

2. What skills and mindsets can engineers gain from the program?

A quick LinkedIn search of “engineer” finds more than 97,000 in Melbourne alone. A search of “engineer” + “teacher” produces just 2,000. You are almost fifty times more likely to stand out having combined two different skill sets.

Engineers focus on process. Teaching focuses on people first, process second. As a leader, the opportunity to combine these two sets of skills and mindsets is unique, and will not only make you stand out throughout your career, but will also help you succeed, regardless of whether you stay in the classroom, or pursue your next opportunity after the two years.

Science communication

Ollie has worked with the In2Science program, as well as Questacon and the CSIRO.

1. What skills and mindsets does a background in science communication bring to the program?

The field of science communication is all about bringing STEM out of the lab and making it accessible to people who are not specialists or experts in those fields.

Children in particular are born natural scientists, testing, experimenting, curious and endlessly asking why. Science communicators, as the name suggests, are trained to be able to communicate scientific concepts clearly – without their audience needing extensive prior knowledge. On a deeper level though, effective communication requires empathy and understanding of what an audience cares about in order to pitch the information at their level and relate it to their interests. It also requires a level of humility and self-awareness: realise not everyone may be as immediately excited about the topics you deal with as you. It’s your job to find a way to draw your audience in, and get them excited too.

2. What skills and mindsets can science communicators gain from the program?

It’s no accident that many science communicators go into teaching. There is no shortage of enthusiastic STEM graduates in Australia. The opportunity of the Leadership Development Program to inspire, empower and connect people who are passionate about sharing the wonder of STEM with society enables them to reach students who have the most to gain and have a direct and lasting impact on the next generation.


Tim studied Theoretical Physics at the Australian National University.

1. What skills and mindsets does a background in physics bring to the program?As a Theoretical Physics major, I studied the fundamental principles of physics to then apply to real-world problems, which often involved ambiguity. The main areas of skill development for those who undertake studies in physics are:

  • Connecting the principles and results of physics to the benefits of others, and communicating this to various audiences.
  • Using high-level mathematical and computational skills to solve problems involving quantitative data.
  • Collecting and criticising evidence, conclusions and systems constructively during research phases.

The Teach For Australia Leadership Development Program provides an opportunity to exemplify these skills in the education sector, and then also improve them in a rapidly changing space.

As a classroom teacher and physics content specialist, you have the opportunity to provide real world connections for the scientific principles being investigated with your students. You will be able to share a logical and analytical approach to study, as well as make use of various technology, equipment, and your expert connections in the classroom to inspire and encourage students to explore their curiosity.

2. What skills and mindsets can physicists gain from the program?

During the program, you will build upon your communication and analytical skills as you work with a diverse cohort of students. You will apply theoretical teaching models to your classroom then assess and critique the impact of your engagements.

To plan future content, regular evaluation of their understanding will enlist your data collection, computational and creative skills. Specialising in physics provides a strong base for problem solving, especially problems that may involve ambiguity, uncertainty and the application of multiple principles. Your problem solving ability will be developed daily as you work to explain theories and principles in different ways to support your students’ learning.

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