Rebecca McKelveyPrior to co-founding in2Science, Rebecca was a Teach First teacher and Head of Science at an East London-based school for four years.

Her experiences during this period brought to her attention the extreme lack of information on and opportunities to pursue STEM careers for students who come from poor backgrounds.

In 2010, Rebecca decided to set up in2Science to bring this issue to light in the UK, with the intention of supporting young people from low income backgrounds to progress to university to study STEM degrees and ultimately progress into a professional STEM career.

Since its inception, in2Science has supported thousands of UK students. Each year, Rebecca receives 1,000 student applications to join her programme. To date, 75% of her participants progress onto STEM degrees.

Looking ahead, Rebecca has ambitious plans to expand across the UK in the next five years. Her ultimate goal is to bring diversity to the STEM sector, enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue their academic and professional dreams, as well as support the country’s growing problem of a lack of STEM professionals.

Rebecca holds a PhD in neuroscience from the University College London.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the CEO of In2scienceUK, a charity with a mission to improve social mobility and diversity in STEM. Following my degree, I completed the Teach First graduate programme, taught for two years at a school in Walthamstow and then progressed to Head of Science at the same STEM specialist Academy.

I taught young people from year 7 to A-levels; many of who were from low income backgrounds and despite being very intelligent, weren’t progressing to university or realising their potential.  I subsequently left teaching after four years and began studying a masters in neuroscience. Seeing the lack of diversity in research and the fact that some of the amazing students I’d encountered were never going to access such a career compelled me to set up in2scienceUK during my master’s, and I ran it as a side project during my PhD.

The programme works by enabling 17-year old students from poor backgrounds the opportunity to gain work placements in a STEM setting, working alongside STEM professionals and in turn, increasing the likelihood of them being interested in attending university and a career in STEM. Participants also get access to high quality information and guidance on university and career pathways as part of the programme. We support over 350 young people a year from low income backgrounds, predominantly in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter. In 2020, we are expanding to another region which we’re incredibly excited about and will be announcing soon.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not. Planning out your career is something that’s incredibly difficult for anyone, particularly in this day and age. You’re still learning about yourself, what you enjoy doing and what you really excel at, on top of a thousand other things. Plus, there are jobs that exist today and probably in the future that weren’t a consideration years ago; the world of work is moving very quickly.

There are limitless jobs in technology and the broader STEM sector for example, and quite often, students I encounter are completely unaware of the diversity of STEM careers, so the need for constant education and awareness is crucial.

I initially believed a career as a teacher would be my path. However, the realisation of the lack of opportunities for students from low income backgrounds to gain high quality information and STEM opportunities has taken me in a completely different direction as the Founder of a non-profit. My focus now is on driving more awareness of STEM and helping students believe in themselves and follow a path that may not have been previously accessible to them.

Most importantly, following your heart and passions tends to steer you in the right direction of your calling; certainly in my case, but also for the students I see go through the programme who may not have realised they have an interest to be a video game designer, automotive engineer, or perhaps go in to space one day!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

At the end of my PhD I was at a career crossroads and unsure if I should follow a research career or take a leap of faith in setting up in2scienceUK. I followed my heart as I really wanted to make a change in the UK and help bright young people from low income backgrounds achieve their potential and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Thankfully, the desire to make a difference in this area is shared by so many others, and I was blown away by the appetite from research volunteers, academic institutes and corporate partners to be involved. Even programme alumni have come back to volunteer during their studies because they’ve experienced first-hand, the benefits this experience can afford. It’s that collaboration which has seen us grow so exponentially and the success stories coming out of the programme seek only to inspire wider participation. So, despite the initial hard work, it’s very rewarding to want to go further in making this programme as accessible as possible.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Expanding in2scienceUK outside of London. There are a lot of charities operating in London which is great as there is a clear need, but research shows that poverty is worse and opportunity less outside the capital. Facilitating over 1000 STEM placements for our students was also an amazing feat for us and a milestone we want to keep building on through continued regional expansion.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

It’s hard to say. There’s always more than one factor as to why something or someone becomes successful. We wouldn’t be a success if we didn’t have the passion and hard work of the research and STEM community and volunteers who have come together to support our cause. Since 2011, we have worked with over 800 volunteers from STEM researchers in academic settings.

Our charity really made the leap when we started to partner with the likes of Roche, UCL, and NESTA. The support and engagement from a variety of organisations has been incredible, and as we continue to grow, we’re continuing to lock in more and more partners to support even more students across the UK.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The obvious thing is to build your professional network. There is such a wealth of information and expertise available through industry events, mentoring programmes and membership organisations, to name a few. Beyond this, staying on top of the latest trends is important, particularly for such a fast-moving sector which continues to revolutionise the way we work and live. Following businesses or individuals on social channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn is a great way to get short, snappy insights on particular sectors or themes. LinkedIn is also great for group conversations whereby you can often pose questions or prompt debate among like-minded individuals and start a conversation. Finally, never stop learning. I don’t think anyone, regardless of how established they are in their chosen profession, ever gets to a point whereby learning new things isn’t valuable.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Women make up 49 per cent of the British workforce, but just 19 per cent of the digital tech workforce, so there is still work to be done. That said, I do think we are generally more aware of this shortfall and better at understanding the barriers to entry. We’re seeing more proactivity from the sector as a result, such as Mastercard’s Girls4Tech STEM education platform, which aims to reach out to one million girls globally by 2025. Ultimately, we need to get young women to be motivated and excited by the professions that a career in tech affords. Encouragingly, the recent A-level results demonstrated the number of girls taking science A-levels has overtaken boys for the first time in history, suggesting that we are seeing a shift in uptake among girls.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

They should do two things. First, promote women. Be deliberate. It is likely that when two individuals attend an interview, they will both be very smart and hard working. If you are an organisation where men outnumber women in the top jobs, promote the women.

Second, as a mother of two children under the age of five, flexibility is king for me. I would only work in a role where I can be flexible regardless of the salary or other perks. I work hard, I put in the hours, just not always between 9-6. I’m writing this at 22:15 on a Wednesday night and I think flexible working is becoming the increasing expectation from people in the modern age.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Technology in early years primary education needs to improve. I would have every primary school teacher trained to deliver a creative and engaging technology curriculum which includes coding. Then every young person (regardless of gender) would be engaged and skilled.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

LinkedIn is fantastic for connecting with like-minded individuals in the tech space, as is the likes of Tech City UK and Tech Nation. Codefirst:Girls is a social enterprise which delivers free education to young women across the UK to increase the number of women in tech. I think it depends on the stage of your career and your preferred method of getting information, but the reassuring thing is there is an abundance of information and a vibrant community out there dedicated to ensuring the number of women in tech continues to prosper.