After two weeks of chatting and answering questions, I was delighted to be crowned the winner of the Chromium Zone in this year’s I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!. Sarah Thomas, a PhD student in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, was the final evictee from our Zone.
Even though this is a week late (I haven’t been celebrating all week!), I want to say a massive thanks to my fellow Chromium Zone scientists: Dalya, Derek (with his insightful and reflective blogging), Tim and Sarah — it has been a hugely enjoyable two weeks, challenging but certainly rewarding. It was competitive right from the start (with the IASGMOOH team remarking that this was one of the strongest zones), but there was also support and a strong team spirit throughout. It would be nice to actually meet up in person at some point, after spending countless hours chatting and answering questions with each other!
So, after two weeks, 14 chat sessions and over 500 questions, what can I say about IASGMOOH?
Get involved next year! Without hesitation, I recommend it to any scientist of any discipline at any stage of their career. While it needs a certain level of commitment (you need to make sure that you have very little planned for those two weeks), it is a hugely effective way of engaging with a large audience about your research and your role as a scientist. The mode of interaction breaks down a number of barriers but you still need to develop a relationship with the students: the adage of getting out what you put in is certainly true here. Be prepared for probing questions; be prepared for silly questions! But make sure that you challenge the students back — while they have the power of the vote (which is key for this event), try and initiate a dialogue and get them thinking about why they are asking certain types of questions, what do they think the answer is and whether it has any wider relevance. Wherever possible, try and give them a range of sources and references for further reading: it can be very easy to rely on Wikipedia and let it turn into the “magic fact show”. A related issue is the concern that our answers to any question, irrespective of topic or our own expertise, are blindly trusted because we are “scientists”. Sometimes it is good to say “I don’t know” or to point them in the direction of a good primer on the relevant topic.
But overall, it is fun and a crucial part of being a researcher. Science communication and public engagement activities complement my research and teaching, putting it all into context. Now I need to have a think about how best to spend my £500 prize money for science communication activities, whilst drinking coffee out of my IASGMOOH mug…