I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! End of Week 1…

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Today marks the end of (a very busy) Week 1 of I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!, the award-winning science enrichment and engagement activity, with more than 120 scientists and 5,000 students from over 150 schools taking part. I’m based in the Chromium Zone (one of the 12 general zones, 23 in total) with four other scientists:

  • Tim Millar, a pharmacologist from the University of Southampton’s School of Medicine;
  • Sarah Thomas, a PhD student in bio-organic chemistry at the University of Edinburgh;
  • Derek McKay-Bukowski, an STFC-funded radio telescope project manager currently based in the Arctic (who has been blogging every day);
  • Dalya Soond, a postdoctoral research associate at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge.

Chromium Zone June 2011 scientists

We have been paired with the following schools across the UK:

  • Cardinal Newman Catholic School, Hove
  • Dixons City Academy, Bradford
  • Overton Grange School, London
  • The Rochester Grammar, Rochester
  • Birchfield Independent Girls School, Birmingham
  • Sherrardswood School, Wewlyn
  • Loughborough Grammar School, Loughborough
  • Sanday Community School, Orkney

In brief: Week 1 consisted of nine 30 minute chats with the schools (ranging from Year 9 to Year 12 students), as well as answering over 250 questions offline! The actual commitment required to take an active role in IASGMOOH is probably more than I originally anticipated (especially clashing with marking and examination boards), but it has been a worthwhile and rewarding experience so far. The questions in the chat sessions have ranged from ‘What’s it like to be a scientist?‘, ‘What do you do each day?‘ and ‘How will your research benefit society?‘ (Pathways to Impact anyone?!) through to questions about ‘How did the universe form?‘ and even debating wave-particle duality! I’ve enjoyed answering the more physics and mathematics-related questions (I’m obviously still a physics geek at heart), but there have been a large number of biology and health-related questions, particularly focusing on cancer — definitely not my area of expertise.

As expected, there have been a large number of questions about how religion and science sits together; for example, whether you could be successful as a scientist if you are religious or even specific questions aimed at individual scientists to find out if we are religious. There have been lots of questions about careers and studying; which subjects are best to study if you wanted to be a scientist and how best to revise for exams. There were also random questions like ‘What sort of music do you listen to?‘ or ‘What are your hobbies?‘. While these may not seem to have anything to do with science (or science communication), they were an essential part of building a rapport with the class. We have seen a wide range of engagement from the different groups, which has correlated somewhat with their age, but generally all of the groups had prepared for their sessions and fully engaged as soon as the chats got going. This mode of interaction can be hard at first, with a deluge of hellos, questions, random comments and even stinging rebukes for not answering questions fast enough! Being fast at reading and typing are definitely essential skills for IASGMOOH.

However, it all gets serious next week: the students will be voting for the best scientists. This may be hard to quantify, as it is the best from their viewpoint; it might not be down to our knowledge or experience, or even how we have been able to communicate complex ideas in an engaging way. It may just come down to whether they like us or not! Team Chromium have worked very hard over the last week (practically full attendance at every chat), so it will be interesting to see how the students are going to vote over the coming week. The first scientist will get evicted at 3pm on Tuesday afternoon.

You can follow the event on Twitter (@imascientist) and by keeping an eye on tweets marked #ias2011.

And I unashamedly say: please vote to keep me in!

8 thoughts

  1. Fantastic article! Thanks Tom for writing up such a great summary… excellent for newcomers to the event who want a “single-page” overview. I agree is has been a great event for the scientists as well as the students. I certainly feel that I’ve had my knowledge expanded in lots of areas that I wouldn’t normally come across. Additionally, it has been a great “refresher” course for things I learned long ago, but have since forgotten.

    The contrast between the so-called “off-line questions” and the “chat sessions” has been great. And the questions posed by the students have been very interesting (and at times challenging). I’ve also enjoyed the teamwork that has existing between the Team Chromium scientists. As we pass questions back and forth, effectively consulting each other’s expertise, it has been both invigorating and encouraging for our own work, as well as educational.

    And from the response so far, I have little doubt that the students are enjoying it and are getting a lot out of it.

    So, that’s again for the great article. I agree with everything you say…

    … except the very last sentence! 😉

    1. Thanks Derek — I totally agree about the comradeship within Team Chromium; it will be odd when someone is voted off tomorrow.

      Lots of questions to answer tonight!

  2. Thanks for the offer to us to comment here while the IAS site is down! I said they’d need more powerful servers for the world-domination attempt.

    But now I can’t even tweet about it either! I’m getting that ‘Sorry, we did something wrong. Try to send your tweet again in a minute’ error. Stranded in cyberspace with no communications!

  3. I’m Emily from the Copper zone and I couldn’t agree more with all the great things you have said about the scheme. I can’t believe we have only been doing this for a week as I feel like I have answered so many questions already… and actually learnt quite alot about other areas of science myself from my brilliant copper zone team mates. I have already been telling everyone I know about the scheme and convinced quite a few to try out next year. This is the best form of public engagement I have seen to actually break down the barriers between scientists and the general public. Long may it continue!

  4. Thanks for your comments guys — the last week has been hard work but enormously fun; I would certainly recommend IASGMOOH to friends and colleagues if they are serious about public engagement and science communication!

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