Tag Archives: IASGMOOH

IASGMOOH: Chromium Zone winner!

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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.

Chromium zone winner

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

IASGMOOH certificate

(You can also listen to my IASGMOOH interview on Episode 90 of the Pod Delusion podcast, with Calcium Zone winner Drew Rae)


IASGMOOH: third eviction

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The third consecutive day of evictions for I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!…and next to go in the Chromium Zone was…Tim Millar, a Lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Southampton.

Chromium Zone third eviction

For some reason, it seemed strangely subdued today — we’ve had little direct interaction with students since Monday beyond answering the remaining offline questions. Moreover, our chat today with Loughborough Grammar School was scheduled at 3pm, so we actually knew Tim had been evicted just as we started. But with only two scientists in the chat it was an eye-opening experience, a genuine deluge of questions. I barely had time to look at what was going on (or how Sarah was doing) before new questions were being peppered at us. For the first time, I actually had a significant number of computing and technology-related questions, ranging from suggesting appropriate software tools to whether more programming should be taught at schools; as always, I tried to clearly distinguish between ICT and “digital literacy” and the rigorous academic discipline of computing, its mathematical foundations and how it underpins modern science and engineering. The relevance of my research cropped up a few times, with a few students appreciating our dependency on microprocessors and how power consumption (and efficiency) will be the next challenge. Overall, frenetic but enjoyable.

So, down to the final two…who will be triumphant at 3pm: Sarah or myself? Tomorrow’s 10:30am chat with Sherrardswood School could seal the deal.


IASGMOOH: second eviction

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The second day of evictions for I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!…next to go in the Chromium Zone was…Derek McKay-Bukowski, a radio telescope project manager currently based in Finland.

Chromium Zone second eviction

This was a big surprise to me, as I thought Derek has been the stand-out performer in the offline questions (possibly by exploiting his hugely unfair timezone advantage); he will be missed! Take a look at his thoughtful evaluation of IASGMOOH, especially how it has helped him reflect on his work, including the benefits of engaging with scientists outside of your field, as well as improving his science communication skills.

However, the pressure is definitely on now, as we have had no chats this week (due to server issues and school no-shows) and the offline questions have dried up (at the latest count, we have answered over 450 questions). Will it all now depend on last week’s chat performances, as well as the mammoth question answering session over the weekend? We do have a chat scheduled for tomorrow at 3pm, but that will probably be too late to save one of us…

(Oh, and I’ve definitely jinxed myself by being interviewed today for an IASGMOOH segment on Friday’s Pod Delusion podcast!)


IASGMOOH: surviving the first eviction!

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At 3pm today, the first I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! evictions were announced.

In the Chromium Zone, the first person to be evicted was…Dalya Soond, a postdoctoral research associate at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge; the dreaded “Evicted” banner is now stamped across her profile picture.

Chromium Zone first eviction

In all honesty, this was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience (a feeling shared by Derek)! From around midday onwards, I was acutely aware of my remaining Chromium Zone questions, as well as second-guessing how I had performed in the chats over the previous week. Furthermore, it feels odd that we will be one team member down — the first week had quickly developed a strong team spirit and comradeship in Team Chromium, with practically perfect attendance at all of the previous chats, as well as moral and intellectual support for some of the more controversial questions (and comments).

However, the brief respite is over and the focus is now on surviving the second eviction tomorrow at 3pm — back to answering my remaining questions!


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!


I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!

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On Friday I was very pleased to hear that I’d been accepted for I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!, running over two weeks from Monday 13th to Friday 24th June 2011. It’s an award-winning science enrichment and engagement activity, funded by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust. It is hugely popular: in the June 2010 event over 100 scientists and 5,000 students from 150 schools took part, with 7,500 questions asked and 68,000 visits to the site!

In essence, IASGMOOH is an X Factor-style competition for scientists, where students are the judges (watch the 60 second intro). For two weeks, students read about the scientists’ work, ask them questions and engage in live text chats with them. The students vote for the scientist they want to win the £500 prize (to be used for science communication activities). The event is split into zones, and in each zone there are five scientists and around 400 students. At the start of the second week, the scientists with the fewest votes are evicted until only one is left to be crowned the winner in each zone.

The primary objective of this science dialogue event is to change students’ attitudes to science, and make them feel it is something they can relate to and informally discuss by talking to real scientists. The event is supported by carefully developed and tested teaching resources that develop students’ skills and deepen their understanding. I am very much looking forward to the live chats to do some rapid science communication.

You can follow the event on Twitter (@imascientist) and keep an eye on tweets marked #ias2011; I will be in the Chromium Zone and will be blogging throughout the event (in fact, it might take over my life for the two weeks). My primary aim is to use my research to get the students thinking about Computing and its application across the sciences, as well as why it is important to develop skills such as computational thinking, abstraction, reasoning and problem-solving.

And I unashamedly say: please vote for me!