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School of the Biological Sciences

students from the STEM SMART programme in a lecture theatre

Biology has joined physics and chemistry as part of the innovative Cambridge University widening participation programme – STEM SMART.

STEM SMART is specifically designed for UK state school sixth-form students studying maths and sciences who may have experienced educational disadvantage or are statistically less likely to apply to University. The programme provides weekly homework and online tutorials from University academics in biology, chemistry, physics, maths and further maths, with mentoring support from current Cambridge students.

Coordinated by the Isaac Physics initiative, STEM SMART has over 1000 students enrolled this year, will run from January 2023 through to school exams in May 2024 and includes an academically packed residential, hosted by the Cambridge colleges in August this year.

Dr Lewis Thomson is leading the development of the curriculum for biology. His work includes setting weekly homework questions for the students as well as online tutorials, where they receive individual feedback, focused support and teaching.

In the initial stages of the programme, the biology curriculum covers what has already been taught at school, providing extra resources for further development. As the programme advances, topics are covered more in-depth, with the view to support and prepare students who are considering applying for STEM courses at University.

Lewis said, “STEM SMART is a fantastic programme that helps students in many different ways. The work they do each week helps them develop their subject knowledge and understanding, as well as building up their confidence. And the other parts of the programme (mentoring sessions, Summer residential, tutorials and supervisions, etc.) help prepare them for university applications and interviews, and for their future university studies. It’s great to see biology now included as one of the subjects within STEM SMART, and it’s a real privilege to be part of that!”

In the summer students who have maintained a high level of engagement throughout the first phase of the programme are invited to the residential where they will have the opportunity to visit departments within the University and do experiments in our undergraduate laboratories.

Tim Weil, Deputy Head of School for Undergraduate Teaching said, “We are delighted to be working with Isaac Physics on this project, as part of our commitment to widening participation. We believe that this combination of online resources, tutorials, supervisions and mentoring will give students the encouragement, support and confidence they need to apply to Cambridge and other universities.”

Find out more about the STEM SMART Programme.

Find out more about Isaac Physics.